Help My Unbelief:
Job, Worried Parents and the Longing to Believe
October 11, 2015
Job 23:1-9, 16, 17
23Then Job answered: 2“Today also my complaint is bitter; his hand is heavy despite my groaning. 3Oh, that I knew where I might find him, that I might come even to his dwelling! 4I would lay my case before him, and fill my mouth with arguments. 5I would learn what he would answer me, and understand what he would say to me. 6Would he contend with me in the greatness of his power? No; but he would give heed to me. 7There an upright person could reason with him, and I should be acquitted forever by my judge.
8“If I go forward, he is not there; or backward, I cannot perceive him; 9on the left he hides, and I cannot behold him; I turn to the right, but I cannot see him.
16God has made my heart faint; the Almighty has terrified me; 17If only I could vanish in darkness, and thick darkness would cover my face!
The Lone Wild Bird, the folk song the choir just sang, speaks of the elusive, holy spirit, the ephemeral presence that cannot be comprehended, understood, fully known. Like a wild goose sailing above us, we feel so different, so mortal, so stuck in the earth and its problems, yet we long to soar with and know this bird, the Divine One.
To the scripture: Job has lost nearly everything: his children, his property, his health; and when he asks questions, when he insists that the injustice done him be acknowledged by God, his friends chide him for not respecting the Diety. Surely he brought this on himself. Anyway, The Holy One is not to be questioned.
Job answers them by continuing to ask the questions and to state what surely all of them felt:
I look to the east, the west, the north the south,
I cannot grasp God,
That lone, wild bird is out of my sight.
Yet, he has faith enough to pray, to cry aloud, to make his complaint known without fear of offending the God who made him. It is that readiness to question, combined with that longing for a just and loving God that we will consider today.
We are addressing the big questions people asked;
Sometimes, I am afraid that I don’t believe,
I try to the best I can
but if I don’t believe isn’t it enough?
Is it enough?
One day, Jesus was debating religious ideas with some of the leaders of the synagogue, when a man came among them. He had a sick child,
Teacher, I brought you my son;
he has a spirit that makes him unable to speak;
and whenever it seizes him,
it dashes him down; and he foams and grinds his teeth
and becomes rigid;
and I asked your disciples to cast it out,
but they could not do so.”
What does this illness sound like to you? Epilepsy. You hear the desperateness in this father, who has been told that there is an evil spirit in his child. That he or his wife or the child must have done something wrong, that this was punishment from a just God. How hard it would be to believe in or trust your child to such a God.
But he comes before this man from Galilee, maybe he is different, maybe he will help. What it took for him to go to Jesus.
And the moment he is before Jesus, the little boy had a seizure. And his father begs Jesus: “If you are able to do anything, have pity and help us.”
Jesus responds, “Anything is possible for the one who believes.”
And when Jesus says this, the man weeps, and out of love of his child, whom he would walk into hell for, makes a confession that Job would appreciate, one that comes from the deep darkness:
Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.
You have been there, at the end of your rope, in the presence of death or conflict or disappointment, when we can’t fix things, can’t bring people back, can’t find enough faith in ourselves to confess anything but this:
“Lord, I believe, help my unbelief!”
And we realize between these two stories of Job and the Worried Father, that to ask questions, to speak, without fear, the deepest truths of our existence, is honored by our tradition, as holy text.
Most Humans, which means, people of the earth, live our lives between belief and unbelief, faith and doubt. Even Mother Teresa did, St. Mother Teresa, did.
Great teachers of the faith through the centuries have affirmed those who live with doubt.
St. Augustine was a bishop of the church in the year 400 and he said: “If you understand, it is not God.”
Martin Luther, who helped the church, mired in tradition, open up to the truth, he spoke of the “hiddenness of God,” like Job experienced and taught that
“faith is the acceptance of insecurity,
living in trust of a God who remains a mystery.”
I think of the young people in our congregation and around us, they can ask their phones questions and get answers.
They may feel, and you may feel to some degree, that you don’t fit here, because if you are here, it means that you are supposed to be certain about things, accept unquestioningly.
When the whole point of being a young person indeed, what’s the point of being human, if not to question, to push the boundaries?
Why is it that breakthroughs in science cause upheavals in the religious world?
If we discover that there is life in the water on Mars, does that mean that God does not love the earth? Or that God is big enough to love the universe?
When the evidence that sexual orientation is genetic becomes overwhelming and accepted, does that mean that God got it wrong in scripture? Or that we got God wrong, all along?
Every time religion tries to confine us, keep us in a box and says, don’t challenge how things are, Job, accept that your son’s case is your fault, Dad. Then religion is too small for the breadth of human existence, and it is irrelevant to us, and timid in the face of lies and injustice.
But it isn’t that we stand still, stand in the middle, uncommitted. Each of us is called to act with the faith we have.
I think of all these shootings carried out by people who feel like life sold them short, that the easy answers of the world, perhaps including religion, didn’t work and they take it out on those who seem to have it easy. The gunman asked: Are you Christian? Yes, then that’s good, you know where you are going. And then they lift a semi-automatic weapon and do battle with living
Think of what it meant for that young person to confess their faith, that young person that has the same doubts as you might, and he or she says, in that moment, yes.
To act rightly, to choose goodness, to speak out and sacrifice something less important. For what is more important? Is the sign of faith, more than any creed?
And think of those people that are left behind and how this experience has showed them in its raw and naked truth: how infinitely precious and vulnerable life is, how beyond any social media or tests, they/we are deeply connected to one another, how they love one another. And ultimately, that is what matters.
They will have questions, Job has questions, the worried parent has questions, but he comes on his knees trusting what is beyond his comprehension with the life of his son and so his own.
“He brings to Jesus what he has.
his belief, his unbelief, and his heart full of love
for his son, and it was enough.”
It is enough.