Archive for September, 2002

Monday Week 26 Year II

We are going to be hearing a lot from Job in the next week so it might be a good idea to put his story into some context.
The Book of Job deals with probably the hardest question in theology—why do bad things happen to good people? It’s a hard question in two ways: first because it is pretty much an intractable one. Not only is it difficult in itself—I’ve never heard and answer that satisfies—but any answer you try to give so easily shades over into obscenity. How am I supposed to speak about your pain without undervaluing it and betraying you? I never do know how you are feeling or what you are suffering.
And that’s the second way this problem is intractable—it isn’t found in theology books—it’s not like the theology of the Trinity which is complex and abstruse and … who cares. This question is asked by a grieving mother who has lost her baby. By a heartbroken man whose wife has died. By the child who can’t explain the pain of her cancer. By our friends and our neighbours and our lovers—by our own aching hearts.
So how does the book of Job handle this mess? Well … it tells a story. This is the only book of the bible which makes no claim to authenticity—it is as plainly a fantasy as if it began with “once upon a time”.
But a story has certain advantages over a treatise. If the author tells it well enough we get caught up in it—we begin to care about Job, we let our own lives emerge to colour his, we enter his experience. And we ask the question his way. And we see what happens.
Job gets an answer, of sorts, at the end but you might wonder whether it is much of an answer when you hear it. Yet if you enter the story enough to care at all … then maybe there in itself is the seed of the only answer that counts.
If the story draws us in and defeats the distance we make to keep from pain, if it puts us in touching distance of compassion, then maybe we learn a little about love, a little about ourselves, and a little about God.

September 30th, 2002

Saturday Week 25 Year II

What a miserable first reading! Full of foreboding, ripe with the warning that good times always end and fancies flee away. Yet it is poetic—beautiful in a way—it moves me even though I don’t want to go where it is going.
And it’s full of a conflict too. It seems impossible to read that piece of scripture in a single voice. It’s more like a chorus or a duet. The first voice we hear is promising and permissive—“rejoice, take joy, listen to your heart, and follow your desires.” But the second is cynical and punishing: rejoice now and you’ll pay for it later!
There’s a hardness there, almost a delight in death: youth will pass, old age will haunt you and even that will be whisked from under your aching feet and no sooner will you buried than forgotten. Vanity, all is vanity! … Blah!
I prefer the first voice, I rely on the first voice: cast worry from your heart, it says, shield your flesh from pain; it is harvest time, a time of plenty, rejoice, enjoy, live!
We each have our own duelling duet inside us, our own two voices each trying to drown out the other and win our hearts. One urges us to life, to love, to living, to ease and to joy. The other bullies us with worry and waste, with fear and difficulty and death. Which is God’s voice? Do you know? Do you hope?
That’s the thing about retreat … maybe the real voice of the real God gets a little clearer, a little harder to resist, a little more attractive. And maybe it gets a little easier to tune out the voice of doom and gloom and loss.
That’s my prayer for us all today: that we might learn to love the voice of God and believe its blessings.

September 28th, 2002


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