St Matthews Digital
What do we mean by?
10 November 2019
Helen Jacobi explores one of the big questions - why does a loving God allow suffering?
Rev Helen Jacobi
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Many moons ago when I was first studying, theology, one of the papers that was compulsory in the degree that I took was philosophy of religion and I really hated it. I found it so abstract and so hard to get a handle on. We had to learn the philosophical proofs for the existence of God, and that really didn't excite me. And we had to Grapple with theories of the existence of evil and suffering thinking about what did religious language mean.
And proofs for life after death. It was all really tough. Going, I found biblical studies and church history a lot more fun. But in the early years, after I was ordained, I said many times that I should have done more philosophy of religion because of course, I found that the questions. I was always great playing with that funerals and bedsides and in people's lounges were the questions, we studied. Why is my child?
And suffering is there life after death? Is there any point to what? I'm going through? And don't worry, even though I was very young and inexperienced. I didn't take people through the proofs from my philosophy class but knowing and being able to say that the greatest minds of our world had grappled with those issues and not really come up with any satisfactory answers. That was a help. And I hope it stops me from ushering too many platitudes.
The Book of Job from which we've heard a short extract this morning as written about those questions. It's a lament.
A lament about suffering, which tackles the big question. Head on, why do bad things happen to good people?
Why is there suffering in our world?
If God is all-powerful, and God is all good. Then how come there is disease and tornadoes, and earthquakes.
And the story of job job is a good and righteous man and in the tail, God allows Satan to test him to see if he will stay loyal to God. And so, Calamity after Calamity is visited upon poor job.
Has initial responses. The lord gave the Lord has taken away blessed, be the name of the Lord.
As time goes on, it gets tougher and job debates with three of his friends. Why he is suffering? When he is after all a good man, an Old Testament times, there was a very clear correlation between obedience to God and well-being. If you were suffering, clearly you had done something wrong. It was very clear-cut, so drove therefore must have offended God, but job maintains his innocence and at the same time remains steadfast in his face.
If that God is just, I know that my redeemer lives. He says, so he demands to know, from God what God's charges are against him like in a court of law, he demands to know the charges, he seeks to know for what he is being punished.
And eventually after a long, wait, God does speak. And God says, well, where were you? When I laid the foundations of the earth and then goes on to describe the wonders of Creation in the natural world. Putting job in his place as one. Tiny part of the whole he says, have you commanded the morning since your days began and caused the dawn to know its place, have you entered into the Springs of the sea or walked in the recesses?
Sisters of the deep.
God goes on like that for some chapters, it's actually, very beautiful poetry, but he does not say why the suffering has happened to job.
And then, finally, at the end with no explanation, he restores jobs Fortune who has blessed once to get once again, with family and job do dies. We are told old and full of days.
Now, the story of job is not considered historical, it's a tail to help us grapple with the true reality of suffering the suffering, which is real and not to be understated or Swept Away with platitudes that we sometimes fall into the story of Job can gives a. Give us words to lament and rail against God when we need them.
But it does not in the end. Give an answer to the question, why?
Walter Brueggemann says the dramatic power of the Book of Job, attests to the reality that Faith Beyond easy convictions, as a demanding way to live that thrives on Kanda and requires immense courage.
faith of this kind is no Enterprise for wimps or sissies Like the Beatitudes that we read last week, we are called to name and face the realities of what we see in our world. And what we as individuals are experiencing And then we continue to hunger for what is good and what is right and in that hungering, will we find God?
Job, never gave up.
In the same way I and our Gospel reading Jesus directs his audience to seek life and not deaf.
It's a tricky story gave and said as he came in, what sense are you going to make of that story this morning?
Well, some religious leaders, the Sadducees are trying to trap Jesus. The story is set after Palm Sunday before, Good Friday. When Jesus is, teaching in the temple week of high tension and they try to chap, geez, trap Jesus, with what they see is a complicated theological question. The Sadducees as a group did not believe in life after death, the Pharisees did another very powerful group and Jesus taught that there was life after death So the Sadducees set, Jesus up with a Christian based in the practice of their time that if a woman died childless. And so therefore with no sun to protect her she would then marry her husband's brother.
And then, in the Sadducees example, the woman has passed like a chettle along the seven brothers because each time the brother dies and she still childless, it's an example of the religious Elite, using the suffering of the powerless and the marginalized to try and score points against Jesus, one writer calls, it human suffering, abstracted for the sake of argument debate and Theological comeuppance.
But Jesus has none of it.
A week later. Why do you look for the living? Among the dead will be the question. The Angels asked, Mary Magdalene at the tomb, and Jesus makes the same claim. God is the God is, God not of the dead, but of the living like job. Jesus calls us forward to embrace life with all its paradoxes, and confusion.
And with all our unanswered questions, After our service today, we're going to be beginning a conversation around disability. We're wanting to listen to our parishioners who have disabilities, or as some might put it differently abled to check in and see if there are barriers that need removing for their fall inclusion in the life of our Parish.
There are we know some practical things to attend to like doors and ramps and microphones and Lighting.
But the much more challenging conversation if we're willing to enter into it is to look is to listen to the story of faith of those who live with a disability. Those who have every right, like, job to rail against God. And say, why me and how long, oh, God, how long?
Those who may feel uncomfortable when they hear Biblical verses, which paint a picture of redemption. Like this one from Isaiah, that will here in Advent. The eyes of the blind shall be opened, the ears of the deaf unstopped, the lame shall leap like a deer and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.
Those who indeed are blind or deaf or lame or unable to speak, can feel that the Bible paints them as imperfect or not hole.
They would want to say. They are whole and loved by God as they are and do not need any fixing or healing and some Churches might teach. Thank you very much.
One writer Nancy mayor's, who has multiple sclerosis asks the question. If a cure were found, would I take it?
She sees all the same if a cure were found, would I take it in a minute? I may be a cripple but I'm only occasionally a loony and never a saint anyway, in my brand of theology. God doesn't give bonus points for a limp.
I'd take a cure, I just don't need one.
A friend who also has Ms, startled me by. Once asking, do you ever say to yourself, why me, Lord.
No Michael. I don't I told him because whenever I try the only response I can think of is why not me.
If I could make a cosmic deal, who would I put in my place? What in my life? What I give up in exchange for sound Limbs and a thrilling Rush of energy.
No one and nothing. I might as well do the job myself. Now that I'm getting the hang of it.
So how do we understand wholeness and healing? What do we do with our faith when the bad times? Roll around? Where is God, when these things happen?
these are the questions that the poet, who wrote the Book of Job wanted to Grapple with And these are also the reasons that Jesus came among us as a living breathing and suffering human being.
As I learned in my philosophy of religion class, the answers are not to be found in the books and theories. But in the living of our faith, As Debbie Thomas puts it. The life of faith is not a spectator sport to know it. We have to live it.
We have to enter into the joy, the loss, the sacrifice, the Wonder, the mystery, the grief, and the challenge of Life In Christ.
Resurrection, knowing is a lived knowing