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October 28, 2012
Job 42:1-6, 10-17
Today’s passages focus on restoration, recovery, and re-orientation. The Job saga concludes with a complete restoration of Job’s wealth, status, and paternity. Psalm 34 proclaims how good it is to be rescued by God. Hebrews affirms that God is on our side and that Christ, the high priest, intercedes on our behalf ceaselessly, even when we are unaware of it. Mark tells the story persistence rewarded by a cure. These are powerful passages, so powerful that they deserve the notation, “Handle with care.” The misuse of them can harm rather than heal persons with chronic illnesses of mind, body, and spirit, and those who are on the verge of giving up their job searches or their hope for meaningful relationships. A superficial reading can leave the impression that all pain will be healed and all loss restored. Even if this impression comes from scripture, we know better than that!
Job 42:1-6, 10-17
Many scholars see the final words of Job as coming from the hand of another author, who attempts to bring the text back to an orthodox acts-consequences and righteousness-reward theology. Job is overwhelmed by God’s power and wisdom and repents his previous claims against God’s intentions and moral character. In return, his wealth, reputation and paternity is restored and enhanced. In fact, from an outsider’s perspective, Job is better off than he was before. This passage could come with the citation, “All’s well that ends well.” But, does it end well? As a parent and grandparent, what bothers me most is the theme of “replacement children.” My son and grandsons are irreplaceable. Even if I was to have more grandchildren, they could not take the emotional, relational, or experiential place of these two little boys. Moreover, the preacher and reader have to recall that Job’s first children lost their lives. That can’t be replaced, even by God, it seems.
The problem of suffering is not solved by replacement: our pain, loss, and grief are real, even if we find a new position, love again, recover from grief, and begin a new family. Brueggemann is right in speaking of “new orientation” in his discussion of the Psalms: we will never be the same but we can live abundantly, embracing our pain in light of new possibilities.
Perhaps, a more theologically-sound ending might describe Job’s recovery from physical illness, reconciliation with his wife, restored wealth, and new energies to begin again. The path would be long – as many of us know – but amid the loss, Job and his wife would experience new possibilities for growth and spiritual maturity. They would always mourn their lost children even after they started a new family. Here God’s power would be revealed in persistent creative-responsive love, day by day supporting Job’s hope, providing energy for the journey, and inviting Job and his wife to embrace their suffering in light of future possibilities.
Psalm 34 joyfully celebrates recovery and new orientation. The Psalmist’s prayers have been answered and he (or she) sees God’s hand everywhere. “Taste and see that God is good,” the Psalmist shouts. Once fearful and uncertain, now the Psalmist celebrates God’s loving care and protection. There are moments like this when we can begin again and when faith is restored. Again, there are no guarantees and some live with desolation year after year. But, there is the hope that we will experience God’s life-restoring presence once more.
Hebrews makes the bold claim that Christ is constantly interceding on our behalf. This passage complements Romans 8 and its vision of God’s Spirit moving through all things and interceding for us in sighs too deep for words. God is present in our lives even when we are unaware of it. God lures us forward with possibilities, intuitions, insights, and synchronous encounters. God gently seeks our spiritual healing in the same way that wounds are healed or the immune system fights off invaders. We are unconscious of these processes, but they transform our lives and insure our future well-being. These energies emerge from our context and not some supernatural realm. This moment is the womb of possibility, not coercive but powerful in the transformation of our lives.
The story of Bartimaeus describes a healing partnership. On the one hand, Bartimaeus is persistent. Nothing will stop him from crying out to the healer. Whenever we seek a significant change, there are always obstacles, sometimes environment, other times from the people around us. Will we let them overwhelm us or will we see them as opportunities to press ahead and persistently seek what we need? Bartimaeus’ presses ahead and his persistence evokes Jesus’ response. The healer does not immediately cure him of blindness. Rather, he asks, “What do you want me to do for you?” God’s presence is not coercive or domineering, but works within our own deepest desires. We have the freedom to respond to God in ways that bring forth new possibilities and opportunities in light of our deepest desires, experience, and context. God respects and works with our freedom to choose, artfully enabling us to experience more than we could imagine.
There again are no guarantees in the divine-human partnership. But, our persistence in prayer and effort opens the door for greater influx of divine possibility and energy. These grounds for hope should not be preached superficially: this is not a faith healing, absolutely dependent on the quality of our faith and perseverance. It is a healing partnership, profoundly contextual and relational. We cannot guarantee that we will replicate Bartimaeus’ experience of new orientation, but our attitudes, hopefulness, and continued efforts, even after numerous failures, are factors in bringing new energies of emotional, spiritual, relational, physical, and professional healing into our lives.
Bruce Epperly is a theologian, spiritual guide, pastor, and author of twenty two books, including Process Theology: A Guide to the Perplexed, Holy Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living, Philippians: An Interactive Bible Study, and The Center is Everywhere: Celtic Spirituality for the Postmodern Age. His most recent text is Emerging Process: Adventurous Theology for a Missional Church. He also writes regularly for the Process and Faith lectionary. He is currently serving as Visiting Professor of Process Studies at Claremont School of Theology and Claremont Lincoln University. Contact him by email for lectures, workshops, and retreats.