October 18, 2015
Job 38:1-7, 34-41
Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind: 2“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? 3Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me.
4“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. 5Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? 6On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone 7when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?
34“Can you lift up your voice to the clouds, so that a flood of waters may cover you? 35Can you send forth lightnings, so that they may go and say to you, ‘Here we are’? 36Who has put wisdom in the inward parts, or given understanding to the mind? 37Who has the wisdom to number the clouds? Or who can tilt the waterskins of the heavens, 38when the dust runs into a mass and the clods cling together? 39“Can you hunt the prey for the lion, or satisfy the appetite of the young lions, 40when they crouch in their dens, or lie in wait in their covert? 41Who provides for the raven its prey, when its young ones cry to God, and wander about for lack of food?
The song we just heard (“Let’s Sing unto the Lord”), speaks of a tree standing by the water, unmoved by the buffeting storms. The faith that would help us be that tree seems elusive, the winds of doubt too strong.
Do you every find yourself doubting and then, suddenly, everything clicks?
That click, when your doubts are at rest; when the darkness is overwhelmed by light; when what is most important is most real; and click. Blessed assurance …
It is a fleeting feeling, but it’s as real, and maybe more so, than anything you can prove or see.
In this marvelous story of Job, he lays out his case of the unfairness of life, and then God lays out God’s own. That there is so much to this universe — time and space and creatures — all beyond Job’s or any human reckoning.
The pieces of creation fit into place, Job, and at the center of it, all is me.
And should we go on and read the end, there comes to Job is a sense of release — a click — all may not always be well, but since everything ultimately belongs to God, including Job, and that for him, was enough. Click …
Perhaps the greatest crafter of morality tales was Leo Tolstoy, a Russian novelist in the 1800s. Brilliant, a man of the world, acclaimed, yet it was all nothing, of no ultimate purpose. And at the height of his powers, he moved from joy into despair and considered suicide.
One early spring, walking in the woods, he considered the thousand deaths and resurrections, and he moved toward and away from God again and again. That he truly only lived when he was seeking God; when he walked away, it was like dying
“What more do you seek?” exclaimed a voice within me. “This is He. He is that without which one cannot live. To know God and to live is one and the same thing. God is life.”
“Live seeking God, and then you will not live without God.” And more than ever before, all within me and around me lit up, and the light did not again abandon me.
And I was saved from suicide, imperceptibly and gradually did that force of life return to me.
And strange to say the strength of life which returned to me was not new,
but quite old —the same that had borne me along in my earliest days.
Eldridge Cleaver, a hundred years later, had a similar awakening. In the 1960s America, he was the head of the Black Panther party. A symbol of black power in the midst of discriminatory laws and oppression, he had embraced a political vision, of the ultimate good. It was about power, achieved by violent struggle. Wanted by the police for a violent act, he was in exile in France. He was disturbed, he couldn’t write. One night the lights went out, and he felt full on the hopelessness of his situation. Life was empty, there was no light.
He began considering suicide. Then one night on the balcony, he looked up at the moon and began seeing shadows — a profile of himself, like the one on the Panther Party poster. Then he saw his heroes parade before him — Castro, Mao tse Tung, Karl Marx — passing, then dropping away,
Then at the end, in shimmering light, he saw an image of Jesus, the Christ:
I crumbled, wept, fell to my knees, reached to my bookshelf,
found the family bible my wife had packed, and found the 23rd psalm.
And then he had a vision. He could see all his way back home, a path of light that ran through a prison cell, a dark spot on the path of light. He didn’t have to wait for anyone else to get him home. He had the power to do so, by surrendering, and everything was going to be alright, if he took the first step.
Two hundred years before Eldridge, a man named Jonathan Edwards was a preacher, with a stern message of salvation and damnation, but his awakening, his click, happened in the wee hours of the morning when he was a child. He’d been a thoughtful child, and debated the points of whether or not to believe in anything. He went back and forth.
In September 1725, when he was 19, he was lying in bed sick and the one sitting up with him were staring into the night, longing for the morning to come, when things would be alright and the psalm came to Jonathan’s mind:
I wait for the Lord, more than those who watch for the morning,
more than those who watch for the morning.
And he realized this was what he awaited, that this was the beginning and endpoint of his life: to wait for the morning, when the light would return.
His faith and doubts took turns throughout his life, but gradually, began to take deep root in him.
John Wesley had the same experience. It wasn’t just one click, and done; it was gradual, over time, that things fell into place again and again.
John Wesley grew up in the faith, and became, like Jonathan Edwards, a preacher at an early age.
But it wasn’t until his mid thirties, that he had had that click …
It was Wednesday, May 24, when he had had a full day of ministry, some done reluctantly. But he had pondered earlier, realizing that it wasn’t about what he did that made him worthy of God’s love, indeed, nothing could earn it.
He took a walk, and felt himself strangely warmed.
I felt in my heart, that I did trust in Christ.
Then the question came. This can’t be faith, where is your joy? Then he realized people’s experiences vary.
The question returned: But is not any sort of fear, a proof that you don’t really believe, and he found himself answering with the words of Paul:
Fightings on the outside, fears on the inside,
But even with these fears, I must go on, and tread them under my feet. They shall not keep me from claiming faith. Click …
CS Lewis, as a child, received a gift of a flower; and in that moment, the holiness of creation shown forth to him. He experienced Joy, that is different from happiness. Something that fills you up, opens you up, secures you, even for a fleeting moment.
He would write about this, and would respond to the queries of his readers with more questions: How could an idiotic universe have produced creatures that dream and long for something so vast and complex and glorious? Could the creature be more than the creator?
Finally, he said, one makes a choice to believe and makes the leap.
A concentration camp at Auschwitz is a strange place for faith to take root but it is what Viktor Frankl experienced. It was there, in the desperate cold and hunger and suffering, he found the meaning of life. He was stumbling along in the darkness, on an early morning walk in the cold to a worksite.
I saw the beginnings of the sunrise, and a thought transfixed me.
For the first time in my life, I saw the truth as it set into song, by so many poets, proclaimed as final wisdom: I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret of all: that love is the ultimate and highest goal to which one can aspire. For the first time, I understood the meaning of the words. The angels are lost in perpetual contemplation of infinite glory. For love is as strong as death.
Flannery O Conner, a southern writer, awakened to realize one day, that the faith she longed for was not an electric blanket, it is the Cross.
When things click into place, there may be joy, there may be peace, there may be humility, there may be light: That there may yet be fear and fighting, that finally, she agreed with CS Lewis that it is a choice: A choice to follow, to believe, to walk in the path, and it is a choice you will make again and again.
But in good company.
Tolstoy described it this way
“I rowed as best I could and moved forward; but the further I advanced towards the middle of the stream the more rapid grew the current bearing me away from my goal and the more frequently did I encounter others, like myself, borne away by the stream … What happened to me was something like this: I was put into a boat (I do not remember when) and pushed off from an unknown shore, shown the direction of the opposite shore, had oars put into my unpracticed hands, and was left alone. … I advanced towards the middle of the stream the more rapid grew the current … and <I found> myself borne away by the stream … there were others who had abandoned their oars …I quite lost my direction and abandoned my oars …
Around me on all sides, with mirth and rejoicing, people with sails and oars were borne down the stream, assuring me and each other that no other direction was possible … And I was carried far; so far that I heard the roar of the rapids in which I must be shattered … I saw before me nothing but destruction, towards which I was rushing and which I feared … and I remembered about the shore, the oars, and the direction, and began to pull back upwards against the stream and towards the shore … That shore was God; that direction was tradition; the oars were the freedom given me to pull for the shore and unite with God. And so the force of life was renewed in me and I again began to live.”1
May we in our small boats, dip our oars in, and find out way to shore, Amen.
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