ST. STEPHEN’S PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH OCTOBER 25, 2015
DOES GOD CARE? ICU
Job 42:1-6, 10-17; Mark 10:46-52
Today is the last lectionary reading from The Book of Job. Although we could reflect on the subject of suffering endlessly, this is the last week for this series. Every time we experience a hardship or loss, a betrayal or violation, questions about God’s response to suffering resurface. While I hope you’ll be spared from suffering, we know that’s not likely and so I pray that some of what has been said this month will remain with you, strengthen you and encourage your faith.
Last week God spoke to Job out of the whirlwind reminding Job that God is sovereign over everything and far beyond the limited understanding of humanity. The Book of Job leaves us with a humbling response to human suffering: God is God and we are not; God being God can do whatever he likes. The supreme Creator is not accountable to the creation. To ask the question, “Does God care?” and be told “How dare we question God” may be a little less than we’d hoped for. For some it’s comforting to know “The Lord is in his holy temple” (Habakkuk 2:20); for others – not so much. We still wonder if God cares, if God sees us when we’re in the ICU of life. We recall, Job is the earliest of all scriptures and the author of Job offered the best answer possible at his time in history, but his vision was limited – he didn’t have the whole picture. He was blind to the fact that his last chapter isn’t God’s last chapter.
Job responds to God in meekness. He recognized his audacity in questioning God and his foolishness in presuming he could understand the mind of God. He confesses, “I have uttered what I did not understand, things too awesome for me, which I did not know.” (Job 42: 3) Job also realizes his suffering has brought him into an authentic relationship with God, “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you.” (vs. 5) Job, who had been blameless and faithful, realizes he had not known God, he had known of God. His suffering has brought him face to face with his Maker. Now a broken man, Job repents in sack cloth and ashes. He mourns his losses and he grieves over his arrogance which had blinded him to God.
Job wasn’t the only person in scripture who suffered due to blindness. In the gospel reading we encounter Bartimaeus, a blind man begging by the roadside, forced into poverty by his affliction. Bartimaeus was a fixture in his community. People rarely saw him anymore. No doubt Bartimaeus had sought and suffered through many cures during his lifetime. Nothing had worked. Bartimaeus was blind, poor, marginalized and despairing. Jesus, on the other hand, had gained a broad reputation as a miracle worker and healer. Everywhere he went people were excited to see him. Perhaps hearing of Jesus had given Bartimaeus a flicker of hope; maybe this Jesus had the power to heal him. But Bartimaeus had no way of seeking Jesus out and so he accepted his lot in life. Then one day he overheard someone saying that Jesus of Nazareth was entering Jericho. He sensed the crowd gathering in front of him. He knew Jesus was approaching, this was his one chance – in a brief moment Jesus would pass by and be gone. Bartimaeus began shouting, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Mark 10: 48) Voices around him told him, “Sit down” “Shut up” “Stop creating a scene” “Disappear would you” “Why would Jesus care about a pitiful nobody like you?” Bartimaeus shouted more loudly still. Then something happened. Jesus saw Bartimaeus. Jesus saw this poor, blind beggar whom no one else wanted to see. Jesus saw Bartimaeus well before Bartimaeus could see him. Jesus healed him. No doubt Bartimaeus resonated with Job, “I had heard of you, but now my eye sees you.”
Does God care? Apparently he does. The God that saw Bartimaeus’ suffering, sees our suffering. More specifically, God sees your suffering and God does not turn a blind eye to you. Before we can see God, God sees us. There is a thread running through the story of Job which is most interesting. The writer of Job intuits that the sovereign God is also loving and merciful. Job has a premonition of a divine being who will come to his rescue. In 16:19 Job is certain “my witness is in heaven, and he that vouches for me is on high.” In 19: 25 he hangs on to this one hope, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth”. In chapter 33 Job speaks with hope of a “mediator” who is “gracious”; one who will “deliver” and “ransom” him; one who “redeems my soul”. The language is eerily Christian. It foreshadows God’s response to our suffering and our questions.
Moved by human suffering God came, as Jesus of Nazareth, to our global village to lift us out of the dirt and heal our blindness so we can see him as he sees us – face to face. Because God longs for us to know him, rather than know about him, he came to us in person. Not only did God see our suffering, in Jesus, God took on flesh and blood and stood in solidarity with us in our suffering. Suffering is at the core of Jesus’ life and our faith. Rather than remove himself from our suffering, on the cross Jesus suffered with us. On the cross, God said, “Me too”. In fact Jesus, the ultimate ‘Job,’ is the only truly, fully innocent sufferer. Not only did Jesus suffer with us, he suffered for us. He suffered out of love.
Suffering is bearable when we know God loves us; that God is for us and with us. A woman had been treated for breast cancer and was well for a long time. Then one day, the cancer returned. She didn’t ask “Why?” or curse God or wonder if God loved her, she said, “I know Jesus will walk with me through this as well.” Knowing she was loved by God and held in the palm of his hand, she could suffer, physically and emotionally but spiritually she had the peace that comes when we know God sees us and loves us. Her previous suffering had shifted her from knowing about God to knowing God. Her eyes had seen Jesus. You may recall that in my first sermon on Job, I compared suffering to going into a dark, cavernous cave. Where we can’t see our way forward or find our way back. The deeper our suffering goes, the more that our familiar life outside the cave fades away. All we can do is exist inside our suffering. In the darkness of the cave, we may not be able to see, but God sees us and wraps us in his loving arms. Our redeemer transforms the cave from a place of pain and death to a womb. As the Psalmist assures us, God sees us even in the womb, “My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.” (139: 15 & 16). It is in that womb where we are seen, held and loved by our sovereign God, that we are formed and reborn.
To some, the image of a tortured person dying is a symbol of defeat. What good is a God who suffers? The cross isn’t simply about suffering, it’s the expression of the deepest love. On the cross God tells us, “I see you; I love you; I suffer with you; I will never abandon you; I will heal you; I will redeem you; I will deliver you from your suffering.” The sign that God has delivered us is resurrection and resurrection is not just consolation — it’s restoration. At the end of Jobs story, he forgives his friends and pleads with God to spare them. God is pleased and the story ends happily. Job’s health and fortunes are restored; he is given another family and he dies at a ripe old age. At the end of Bartimaeus’ story, his sight is restored – worlds of possibility are open to him; Bartimaeus can rise out of the dirt and live an abundant life. We live with the promise that our lives will be restored for eternity in new, unimaginable degrees of glory, joy and strength. Suffering leads to resurrection and resurrection is restoration and rebirth. In the dark, despair of suffering new life is our hope. In answer to the question “Does God care?” Jesus responds “ICU”; you do not suffer alone; there is still another chapter to this story”.
A Christian woman was always bright, cheerful, and optimistic, even though she was confined to her room because of illness. She lived in an attic apartment on the fifth floor of an old, rundown building. A friend decided to visit her one day and brought along another woman. Since there was no elevator, the two ladies began the long climb upward. When they reached the second floor, the woman commented, “What a dark and filthy place!” Her friend replied, “Its better higher up.” When they arrived at the third landing, the remark was made, “Things look even worse here.” Again the reply, “Its better higher up.” The two women finally reached the attic level, where they found the bedridden saint of God. A smile on her face radiated the joy that filled her heart. Although the room was clean it was sparsely furnished and cold, the visiting woman could not get over the suffering this woman endured or the stark surroundings in which she lived. She blurted out, “It must be very difficult for you to be here like this!” Without a moment’s hesitation the shut-in responded, “Its better higher up.”