Archive for April, 2012

Job. Mirage.

I’ve long been fascinated by the story of the Titanic.  April 15th,  2012, marked the 100th anniversary of the sinking of that mighty ship. Television specials included one on recreating the final meals served that fateful evening. (Why would we want to know this?)

Actually, a lot of new information and fantastic graphics have resulted from 33 on-site dives by director James Cameron and his team with their nifty remote rovers and state-of-the-art cameras. All you folks who saw the movie, Titanic, the first time helped fund this high-tech research.  And, by the way, the April issue of National Geographic has a stunning foldout on the ship’s tragic 2½ mile plunge to the bottom.

Then there was the 2 hour program on the work of English writer and historian, Tim Maltin. He was never satisfied with the theories as to why the lookouts on Titanic (who were not, by the way, issued binoculars) did not see the iceberg until 37 seconds before the ship struck it. A  300-foot gash through 6 watertight compartments sank the 46,000 ton vessel in less than 3 hours.

1492 souls perished.

It was a remarkably clear night, moonless, and brilliant with stars. Captain Edward Smith had remarked that the sea was “flat calm.”  While life lessons to be learned from this disaster will never be exhausted, I will quickly point out that:

1) Captain Smith had been receiving a steady stream of messages throughout the day from ships moving through the North Atlantic warning of icebergs,

2) speed was actually increased, making it likely Titanic would arrive earlier than expected in New York, a big deal in that era, and,

3) (you’ve heard this) there were 16 lifeboats for more than 2,200 passengers.

But, again, why was the iceberg not visible sooner?

Maltin began piecing together meteorological data. Titanic was moving into an area of the North Atlantic where the freezing water of the Labrador Current was pushing into the warm water of the Gulf Stream. Perfect conditions were now being created for a cold-water mirage, or refraction. This mirage would have “lifted” the horizon, cloaking an iceberg that should have been visible at least 30 minutes before impact.  It was, the captain of one ship said, “a most deceiving night,” making it impossible to see where sky ended and sea began.

I think about this while reading Job’s searing words in chapter 10:

Why have you brought me out of the womb? O, that I had perished and no one had seen me! Stop! Leave me alone, that I may take a little comfort before I go . . . to the land of darkness and the shadow of death, without any order . . . where even the light is like the darkness.

Job gazes across a dark, silent expanse of pain and sees an indistinct horizon. Suffering distorts his vision. Even death seems just a vaporous refraction. He won’t sink. But he’s in a tough place.

Are you willing to take an honest look at current conditions? 

Are difficult circumstances distorting your view of your future – which, in reality, you know is in God’s hands?

 

Job. Compassion.

Compassion: sorrow for the trouble of another, accompanied by (this is important) the urge to help; from the Latin “com” = together and “pati” = to suffer

“Lost their faith.” Or at least it’s badly damaged. We’ve all known someone. Maybe you’re one of those someones.

I, like most of you, suffer at times from Good God Syndrome.  When adversity leaves me broken and bleeding on the sidewalk of life, my swollen lips want to scream: “How could a Good God allow this?”

That god, of course, is not really God at all. That god is a giant aspirin, or a cosmic nanny. Or maybe he’s like a heavenly proprietor of Powell’s Sweet Shoppe, a local candy store that stocks every treat likely ever produced in the United States. The responsibility of that god is to dispense goodness. Period.

Fact is, the real God’s way of helping us process difficulty is often the gift of each other. Fellow believers. Spiritual, yet in-the-flesh, compassionate brothers and sisters.

Those times, however, when calamity strikes someone I know, and the very foundations of faith tremble, can be very disconcerting.

What should my response be?

In chapter 6, Job makes this statement: “When desperate people give up on God Almighty, their friends, at least, should stick with them.” Now, Job is not saying that he’s actually given up on God. He is asserting one of two things: 1) had he given up on God, his friends should still have shown him kindness, or 2) their not showing him kindness is the very way to drive him to abandoning his faith.

Either way, an unkind, or hysterical, or in-your-face reaction to shaken faith can hasten its demise. Sometimes all that is required is for me to simply sit in the ashes with that broken friend.

They don’t need a discourse on Why Bad Things Happen to Good People Like You.

They don’t need a discussion of motive or history.

Very often, what they need is someone near, quiet.

They may simply need a presence (careful, prayerful). A hand.

Or they may need to vent, like Job, the senselessness and fear and disbelief.

My job is to listen, not lecture. My job is to pray – in a smile, or tears, or a touch.

Several years ago, I found myself sitting on the floor of a small bedroom in my parent’s house. My father had taken his own life. My family was drowning in shock and grief. Two of my friends would call, at night, in those terrible early days. I would sit on the floor with the phone pressed to my ear and try to make some sense of the wreckage. And weep.

I could not pray.

But they listened and prayed. And listened and prayed. They sat in the ashes with me.  They knew that com pati was what I needed.

Sometimes we try to smother grief or questions or shaky faith with words. Lots of words, like Job’s friends. We act like questioning God and His reasons is a sin. Well, here’s some truth: He’s big enough to take it. And He knows when we are ready to hear what He’s ready to say. He knows when we are ready for chapter 38. Until then, our task may simply be to quietly represent God’s presence in the middle of the pain.

One reason why I love the Book of Job is the way it takes hard things, sets them smack in the middle of the table, and says: Think about this.

So here we are, thinking. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Has your faith been shaken by adversity/calamity/loss? Do you agree with Job?

Job. Enosh.

I’m a little concerned about returning to the Book of Job after Passion Week and Easter.

Our family enjoys a beautiful Resurrection Sunday service, and an afternoon of food and rest.

Then Monday. And Job.

I read chapters 4 & 5, feeling like I’ve inadvertently stepped off into storm drain.

I know the framework of the book. I know this is the part where Job has broken his 7 day silence, and said some harsh things. Now, his friend, Eliphaz, speaks up and I’m already irritated. He delivers his message with sincerity and sarcasm.

Eli makes me tired. I suspect all of the friends will make me tired.                                                                    

The Cliff notes version of his message is: You are being afflicted because of secret sin. A spirit visited me in a dream and asked, “Can a mortal be more just than God?”

The obvious answer is “no,” but it is “mortal” that grabs my attention.

The Greek word for mortal is “enosh”: man in his frailty and imperfection. The Aramaic equivalent is bar’enash, a messianic term.  Jesus called Himself the Son of Man. Repeatedly.

Eliphaz inadvertently drops a marvelous thought into his diatribe. Jesus will, by choice, sit for 3 1/2 years in the ashes of humankind (sinlessly, make no mistake).  They will be years of  deprivation, false accusations, and a constant questioning of His motives. “Friends” will fall away.

A mere mortal, to answer the spirit’s question, cannot be more just than God. But Bar’enash will be God-in-flesh and unfailingly just.

It is a whisper of things to come.

I’m sorry to say, Job is going to have to listen to a lot more unsolicited advice.

Fortunately, he didn’t live in the 21st century where his plight would likely have attracted the attention of social media and he would have been receiving that advice from . . . sigh. I don’t even want to think about it.

Are you able to speak the truth – with love?

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday. Rejoice!

I read Matthew 28:1-10

This blessed, blessed day dawns.

When you read the gospel accounts of resurrection morning, it soon becomes clear that there was a great deal of traffic back and forth to the tomb. The women, the disciples.  Confusion, disbelief.

I have particularly enjoyed reading where the women first approach the tomb. Prior to their arrival, an angel “descended from heaven,” sending the soldiers of Rome into a catatonic state.  A very satisfying scene.

The angel not only rolls the stone from the tomb entrance, but sits on it, waiting for the women. (Peter Marshall makes a great point: “The stone was rolled away from the door, not to permit Christ to come out, but to enable the disciples to go in.”)

His words to them are wonderful: “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified.

Think about those words. They will be preached in churches all over the world this morning. Don’t be afraid. Seek Jesus, who was crucified. The cross is empty, the tomb is empty. But, if your heart is empty, He will gladly fill it.

Blessed, blessed day.

And there is the Lord’s command when He met the women as they were hurrying back to Jerusalem: Rejoice!

With overflowing hearts, we will rejoice. Our debt is paid. We are reconciled to God through the precious blood of the risen Christ.

 

Saturday. Waiting.

I read Matthew 27:62-66 and John 12:24-26

I imagine it as a day of unearthly calm.

Between the horror and terror of Friday, and the inexpressible joy of Sunday morning, there is a day. I take the liberty of speculating. The bodies have been removed, the crosses stand empty. Saturday dawns bright and warm.

Jesus’ disciples and followers: in hiding, in shock, and grief-stricken.

Roman soldiers: unsure, and, after the events they witness, not quite so arrogant.

Chief priests and their minions: also unsure, to the point of requesting a military guard at the grave.

Everyone else: needing to get on with Passover, but very, very curious.

There is a stillness, as though nature is holding its breath.

For us, it is a day to contemplate great mystery and great miracle. I think of a quote from Amy Carmichael’s book, If: “If I refuse to be a corn of wheat that falls into the ground and dies (is separated from all in which it lived before), then I know nothing of Calvary love.”

It is a severe little book, but she was on to something. Jesus Himself had made this point. The fact is that Christ calls us to die to our self-ness, and emerge with the imprint of His likeness.

Jesus was broken and spilled out. No half-measures. On this day we might reflect on that fact, and pray for a heart like His.


Friday. We Remember.

I read Matthew 27.

Two years ago. Early April.

We are eagerly awaiting the birth of our first grandchild. Sorrow has rocked our small family recently. The promise of this springtime baby has been a balm to our sore hearts.  Early on Good Friday morning, labor begins in earnest.  Our families wait in the living room of the Birthing Center.

As the morning progresses so do the sounds of travail.  I am standing by the microwave making my husband a cup of coffee when Dana’s voice sounds high and piercing.  It is the sound of being lifted and driven by a hard wave and she rides it with a long, undulating cry.

Time is now marked for us by her pain.

Love.

My mind shifts suddenly to that first Good Friday when the “pangs of death”, as the Psalmist calls them, wrack the Man on the Cross.

That, too, was a birthing.

It was a birthing of man’s redemption through extreme and unrelieved suffering.  In an unfathomable mystery, eternal life is inextricably linked with monstrous death. Life, physical and spiritual, emerges bathed in blood.

And those cries from the cross pound down through the millennia and echo in the pangs of every birthing mother.

Thus the love of God is remembered even in the most elemental places.

Our awe at first sight of our baby girl, so chubby and perfect, is the awe of the ages. In that mystical moment of every birth we wonder, how can this be?  It is a shadow of the instant when a soul, newborn and washed in the blood of Jesus Christ, ponders that same question.

This evening our church fellowship will gather around the bread and the cup and remember. We will remember that our sin beat Him almost to death, and then killed Him. Horrifically. Together we will ponder the unimaginable depths of Christ’s love for us. And we will give thanks (with tears, likely) that Love found us and washed us clean.

With blood.

Thursday. As I Have Loved.

I read the Gospel of John, chapters 13 – 17

These 5 chapters are, in my opinion, among the most beautiful in scripture.

From the moment Jesus enters the Passover room until He hears the approach of the mob in the Garden, love overshadows every word.

As a servant, He kneels and washes their feet and says, You do not know what I am doing now, but you will understand later.

I wonder. Do we understand?

Before Jesus shows His love through suffering and death, He expresses His love in words. They pour from Him in a torrent of affection and tenderness: Dear ones, love each other as I love you. Do not fear. I’m going away, but I will return for you. Love. Obey my commands. Love. I will send the Comforter. I give you my joy. Love. And I have overcome the world.

These words have comforted the Church through the ages. If we let them, they purge resentment and bitterness. They soften hard places, rough places. I speak these words to you that you may have peace.

Jesus prays for Himself and for us.

Within a few hours, He will be kneeling in a garden on the slopes of the Mount of Olives. His agony will be so great that an angel will minister to Him. Regarding this terrible scene, G. Gordon Campbell writes: “He began to enter into the consciousness of His absolute isolation.”

He passes the test. Not my will. Your will alone.

And tonight, on the eve of Calvary, I will worship, and pray that prayer.

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