Sunday, May 22, 2011

Job Searching (as in 'the book of Job'.... but if you hear of anything...)

So things have been a bit difficult around our homestead lately. I'm not going to get into it here, because that's not what this blog is for, but suffice it to say, the hits just keep on coming! Well, my wife and I have taken to joking that we are like Job as we are 'suffering many tribulations'.
So my whole life, I had heard the expression "the patience of Job." as in, "those kids are so rambunctious, their mother must have the patience of Job."
Well, I had never actually read the book of job and figuring that after all I heard it must be a stellar example of patience through adversity, which I am certainly running short on, maybe I should give it a look. So I did.

First off, it's pretty long. Forty-two chapters! How am I supposed to suffer through this to find patience? But I forged ahead and over two days, I read the book of Job. As a side note, I was finishing it during down time at work by reading it online. When you're reading something online that says "Job" across the top of the page, it's a good idea to keep an eye out for your boss. Just a tip from your uncle P.D.O.

Anyway, after my initial reading I was left perplexed. 'What?' I thought, 'This is the patience of Job?!? The guy complained to all his friends for like, fifteen chapters? What can I learn from this, I'm just as bad!'
Then it dawned on me that nearly two thousand years of biblical interpretation is a pretty serious body of evidence against a guy who read something while he was nodding off and in between fielding calls from cranky customers, so I looked a bit online. I was careful to try not to find someone that would interpret it for me entirely and I found, instead, a site that simply broke down the structure into synopses of each chapter. Sorry, I didn't save the link, otherwise I would share it here. The site pointed out something important that I had missed, but I'll come around to that in a bit. First, a bit about the story of Job.

Job was a pious and righteous man, so much so that God, while talking with Satan one day, points him out as an example. Satan basically says,"Job. Big deal, of course he loves you, you've given him protection and anything he wants. Let him have some hard times and we'll see how righteous he is!" For the record, I am just paraphrasing Satan here, it's not some laid-back, Cali, stoner translation or anything.

So God pulls His protection from Job leading to two trials from Satan. In the first, Job loses everything important to him, including all of his children, and he says, "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I shall go back again. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord!" (Job 1:21)
For the second trial, Satan attacked Job directly, giving him severe boils from head to toe, causing even Job's wife to question him by telling him to "Curse God and die." But Job says to her, "We accept good things from God; and should we not accept evil?" (Job 2:10)

Next, a group of people show up, among them three of Job's friends. Job and his friends then go back and forth speaking. His friends are convinced that since Job is suffering, he must be hiding some awful sins that only God knows about and he is therefore being punished. Job asserts his innocence, saying that he doesn't understand why he is suffering. He does point out that God is doing it, which is where my original opinion of his complaining came from. At this point, Job's patience is extremely tried. Not only is he suffering horribly, but most of his friends and family have abandoned him, and these friends are mercilessly attacking his character. In his duress he does speak angrily about God and asks Him why he was even born and why he cannot be taken now. Eventually, after the debate between Job and his friends, a young man stands up and speaks to Job about repentance for the things he has done and the way he has been speaking.

The next to speak is the Lord. He reprimands Job for demanding an explanation, and Job ask forgiveness, disowns what he has said, and repents. The Lord then defends Job to his friends saying that He is angry with them because they had not spoken rightly about Him as Job had. The Lord then tells them to offer a sacrifice (it IS the Old Testament, you know) and let Job pray for them. Job's prosperity is then returned to him doubly and for the rest of his life he is more blessed than ever.

What I realized after the second time I read it, is that at no point, even in his duress, does Job doubt God. He is frustrated, he is confused, he is upset, but at no point does he question God's love, His justice or His wisdom. Job only wants to understand:

"He has barred my way and I cannot pass; He has veiled my path in darkness" Job 19:8

Later in the same discourse, he re-affirms his faith while asserting his innocence:

"But as for me, I know that my Vindicator lives. And that he will at last stand forth upon the dust." Job 19:25

So now that I feel I have a better understanding, Job's patience is in the way he never cursed God. He never doubts God's love for him. He accepts and endures his suffering as the workings of a just God that are simply beyond his understanding. The Lord rewards him because when things got tough, Job was still seeking God for the answers. The amazing thing is that I got that message by searching in God's word for the patience I need to endure the things we are going through. Incidentally, our tribulations are pale in comparison to Job's, lest anyone be concerned.

What Job's story leads me to ask is what we do when we are in a similar position? When you come to the realization, as we all sometimes do, that God's plan and your plan have some irreconcilable differences, what do you do?

Do you rebel?

I was a staunch atheist for a while. It was during a time when I was certain that God had no plan for me. So I assumed then, that there was no God and that anyone who believed or gave any time to that notion was a sad, misguided, ignorant person refusing to see the science right before their eyes. I was completely miserable for cutting  myself off from Him and I didn't even realize it at the time.

Do you run away?

How many times do we put off going to reconciliation because certainly our sins are so grave that the Lord could never forgive them! Or perhaps some people will leave one church for a theology or philosophy that aligns more with their desires. It's all just losing faith and running away, denying that the Lord is loving or wise enough to want what is best for us.

Or, do you run toward Him and pray for understanding?

Do you have faith that the Lord loves you and wants what's best for you? The only way to understand His plan is to go to Him and ask for that understanding. God talks to us in a million different ways, but to hear, you need to open your ears and your heart to what He wants for you.

I was speaking to my father about destiny recently and realized that there was never any point in time when I did not think I would get married and have a family one day. There was a brief time (just before I met my wife, by the way) when I resigned myself to the idea that if I was not 'destined' to be a husband and a father, then I would make the best of it. But there is no question that this vocation was a part of me for as long as I can remember. Is it an easy vocation? No. Does it involve sacrifice? Yes. I struggle every day to go to a job which, albeit a great company, and a good job, is without a doubt, not the right fit for me. I don't do it for my health. I don't do it for fun. I do it for the benefit that it brings to my family. I have been searching for something more bearable for a while, but it is God's plan for me to be here right now. I don't understand it. I don't enjoy it. And a lot of times it seems like I am really suffering. But it is in God's hands and I know that He is leading me toward something that is best for me in my vocation. I wouldn't trade my wife and daughters for the world, and if this is where God has led me to provide for them for now, then this is where I need to be.

Guess I'll just have to pray that the Lord gives me 'the patience of Job'.

God bless,

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Today's Gospel Reading, or, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Emmaus!

My wife and I generally celebrate Mothers' Day on the Saturday rather than on the Sunday as we are both fortunate enough to still have our moms with us, and spend Sunday visiting with them. So last night, we drove out to the beach with our two daughters to spend some time together as a family and have dinner.
While we were eating dinner, we saw a woman outside, accompanied by a man, and both appeared intoxicated. The woman was impaired to the point that she could no longer walk without falling down. And though her friend was doing the best he could, they were not getting very far.

Most people (including us, for a time) were amused by the scene. The woman would fall down in the middle of the street, her friend would offer her a piggy-back, she would belligerently turn him down, and so on. We sat in the restaurant commenting on if she was going to the concert at the Hampton Casino and if they would let her in or not, but nobody thought to try to help. They really needed police, or an ambulance kind of help too, not just another pair of hands to hold her up. We had the kids with us, and had both left our cell phones in the car, so we were limited in our options, but I did ask the waitress if someone behind the bar should call 911 to get the couple some help. Her reply was to point out that the couple had not been there, so "I don't know what we can really do..."

At that point, we had finished eating and were about to leave. We had lost sight of the couple, but decided to walk in the direction they were headed to see if they were still out there and if anyone was helping them. They had only gotten about 75 feet or so, and were sitting on the sidewalk. 'Well, at least they are stationary for now', we thought, and continued walking to the other end of the beach. When we walked by them on the way back, a police car had just pulled up to them and the gentleman was trying to talk the officer into getting them "a cab to bring them back to the Ashworth." (a hotel about 1/4 mile from their current location).

I'm not sure if someone called the police or if the officer had just noticed them there and decided to stop, but I was glad that they were going to get some assistance, albeit possibly with some unintended consequences, but at least they (in particular, she) was going to be safe.

I thought more about this when I read the Gospel reading for today. It is a fairly familiar part of Luke's Gospel where two of Jesus' disciples were walking the seven miles to Emmaus, and talking about the recent events of His crucifixion. Jesus then starts walking with them, but they do not recognize Him initially. He continues along with them discussing the scriptures and why things had to happen the way that they did and they still do not recognize Him until they invite Him to stay with them.

"And it happened that, while he was with them at table,
he took bread, said the blessing,
broke it, and gave it to them.
With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him,
but he vanished from their sight." Luke 24:30-31

It made me wonder: How many times do we fail to recognize Christ in our lives? He told us whatever we do to the least of these, you do unto Me. So, the drunk woman who needed help that she was not getting last night, was, in a way, Christ. Perhaps I should have gone in the opposite direction after dinner, gotten my phone and called for help. Maybe I should have gone to them and stayed there while that help came. It's hard to know what would have been the correct thing to do while in a situation like that and balancing the responsibility to protect my family, especially since she had shown signs of belligerence. But I still questioned if I had done the right thing. Sometimes, He doesn't appear the way we think He 'should', and we don't recognize Him because the opportunity to help Him goes against our desire to 'not get involved'.

The disciples on the way to Emmaus express their disappointment that Jesus was crucified, saying that they they were hoping that "he would be the one to redeem Israel". Well, that was Jesus' whole purpose, and not just to redeem Israel, but to redeem all people. But the disciples were disappointed because this hope was not answered in a way that they could understand. Sometimes we don't recognize Him because He doesn't fulfill our needs the way we think He should.

And we have gotten to a point in today's society where a lot of people will tell you that we should not speak Jesus' word because it is not inclusive or tolerant according to their expectations. But Jesus was, and is today, very tolerant and inclusive, almost to the point of scandal in His time on earth. He did come to redeem us, and that we might have forgiveness for our sins. Today's idea of inclusion and tolerance, however, is to deny that there is any sin. Jesus never said, 'you have not sinned, because there is no sin'. He said,"your sins are forgiven.". He said, "Go and sin no more". But sometimes we do not recognize Him because His truth does not mesh with our desires.

When thinking about sin, however, an important thing to remember about this Gospel, is that Jesus met these disciples where they were. He did not wait for them to come to a place where they were 'comfortable' with the idea of seeing Him.

He talked to them about the scriptures, and His plan from the beginning. He taught them and clarified for them what had happened. He did not wait for them to become scriptural scholars.

In the end, they recognized Him in the breaking of the bread, and then He was no longer visible to them. But they were nourished with His words and teachings, and they could not wait to go out into the world and share their witness.

This is the same thing that Christians are called to do today. The Deacon's homily pointed out the similarity between this Gospel and the mass. There is teaching of scripture, clarification of His word, we recognize Him in the breaking of the bread, and then, most importantly, like the disciples, we are sent out to witness to these teachings. We are sent out to be examples of Jesus, by seeing Jesus in everyone else.

I know I mention this a lot, but none of us will be perfect. I know I have a LOT of work to do, myself. But if we are conscience of this mission, we can be better.

God bless,