A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 25 October 2009 by the Rev. Phyllis Wong. The scripture readings that day were Job 42:1-6; 10-17 and Mark 10:46-52.
God of trinity, we come to you with humility. Lord, open our hearts to listen to Your Word and may the Holy Spirit guide us to understand your truth. Amen.
Last Sunday, Rev. Dr. Tobias has delivered a sermon about the Book of Job, and shared a theme of unjust suffering and the mystery of God. Today, I would like to continue with this theme.
Job, who claimed himself a righteous servant, was angry and disappointed with God for his suffering in life. In many chapters in Job, we see how Job argued with God about his suffering. In chapter 42:1-7, we witnessed a change of attitude from Job and how he responded and related to God for what had happened to his life of suffering.
In Job 42: 5, Job said, “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you”. Job had gained a vision in seeing God. This vision was so important to give him insight to comprehend his situation of going through immense pains in life. All his children died, all his wealth (his property) gone and he physically suffered from bad health, i.e. a kind of serious skin diseases. What made Job even sad and hurt was his three friends and wife did not understand him. His wife had even tease and cursed him. (Chapter 1-2)
The first insight from the vision of seeing God is that Job recognized God’s nature and essence. Job acknowledged that God can do all things, and that no purpose of his can be stopped.
God as the ultimate creator, He is also God of sovereignty. Every good thing, the beauty and kindness, comes from him. Equally, every evils, wrong doings, darkness and destruction on earth are also a matter of God’s concern. God, the creator of heaven and earth, does not only have the power, but also the responsibility for us and the whole world. God is in a position to stand against all evils and destruction on earth. While we as human beings have to take responsibility for our lives, we trust that God would not stay away from His responsibility. When we firmly believe that our Lord is God of justice and mercy, the unjust suffering of God’s people is a disgrace to God. God will not stand for it definitely! Right? This is a basic faith to our God.
The second insight from the vision of seeing God is that Job realized that there are things in this universe and in his life that were beyond his understanding. He admitted that there were things that he did not know. Job admitted limitations of being a human being and was willing to give respect to the wonders of God’s will and deeds. In life, there are things in this universe which are beyond our understanding. There are mysteries of God which are beyond our comprehension.
Instead of asking why questions, Job began to think from a ‘how’ question perspective. How does God achieve his purpose by intervening in this world of darkness and destruction? How does God involve and mobilize his people to participate in his saving plan for example. This vision is equally significant for us today. Let us think if there are suffering and pain comes to our life one day, we may take this approach by asking ‘how does our almighty God who is in charge of this world address it, and how does God call me to work on this?’
The faith of Job was strengthened after all when he saw the vision of God who was great, caring and at the end of the day took the responsibility for the world, suffering of human kinds. Job was released and relieved. He was able to let go of all his bad feelings and grudges, as well as to restore to a state of peace.
When people are suffering from different kinds of trauma and injustice, it is all important to engage dialogue with God. Instead of staying away from God and complain silently, God welcomes dialogues and even argument like Job. God loves the tough, strong and persistent servants to search for truth and engage in dialogue and even argue with Him. God will then reveal His way and mystery to them.
Very often the misery of a person’s suffering may not be the suffering itself, but the separation of the person from God, the ultimate creator who has made heaven and earth. It is this separation that makes people feel very alienated and isolated.
I remember a journalist from Hong Kong, Mr Ching Cheung. He was arrested in 2005 by the Chinese Government and was charged with spying on behalf of a foreign intelligence agency. He was then put in jail for three years. According to an article shared by Ching’s brother in the Christian Times, he shared that ‘when Ching Cheong was in jail he got a chance to read the bible. It was during this time when Ching lost his freedom and very much disgraced and upset by his home country for which he has loved so deeply all in his life, that he was able to know God and return to God’s mystery of love.’ In Ching’s letter to his brother when he was in jail, he shared that he had returned to God and had greater understanding of ‘live the Christ’s way’. At the beginning of his jail sentence, Ching was very miserable for he always asked the question, “why me?” After a while he stopped asking this question, he asked instead “what was the purpose of God in this suffering and unjust treatment to my life?” Ching was liberated and was able to live with joy after reading a news. It was in this time of terror, God opened Ching Cheung’s vision to see God directly. Mr Ching was able to experience a deep sense of God’s presence because he realized that God who is the creator of the world has a purpose and will for everyone.
Of course, we always have a vision and commitment to fight for justice and speak on behalf of the oppressed. It is however very frustrating and disappointing, for defenders of human dignity, the oppressed themselves, and innocent sufferers to see that justice is still far away from the activists and those who are oppressed.
I am always being careful whenever I try to give words of encouragement to people who have been suffering for a long period of time, especially who suffered from unjust treatment and abuses by other people or by the systems of tyranny. It is because it is too easy to say let go and let God be God, have trust to God etc etc.
However, I trust that God’s struggling through Jesus Christ who has come to the world, fully identified with human kinds, suffered for us and with us, has given the sufferers great comforts and hope. It is because at the end of the day, Jesus has demonstrated the power of life and love through his resurrection.
We see a beautiful picture from Job 42: 10-17. It is a scene of reconciliation and hope. When Job reconnected himself to God, recognized God’s sovereignty and became humble in facing the almighty God, he was transformed to a life of thanksgiving and praise. He prayed for his friends which demonstrated his intention to forgive his friends and rebuild friendship with them. When he forgave others, Job was forgiven too. He no longer carry any sense of shame, guilt, anger and loss in his life.
At the end of the book of Job in Chapter 42, he was blessed by God. He was given more wealth and children than before.
This happy ending and promise were attractive to many to see Job gained more after the suffering and his struggles with all that in life. But there are readers who find the happy ending unrealistic and unacceptable. The main reason is that even though God gave Job more children, however, these children could never replace the old ones who had died simply because they are not the same! Human life lost is loss that can never be replaced. I absolutely agree with this view and can feel the sorrow of people’s loss of their loved ones. The insight of this conclusion could be something beyond increased wealth and blessings of more children. The true spirit of this ending, is the restoration of relationship, and a strong message of life has to go on. No matter how hard it was in our past life, how much loss we have suffered, at the end of the day, we have to move ahead with our life with hope for better future. Only when the sufferers make a determination to continue to live, can they live a life of abundance.
In today’s gospel reading, we have read a healing story in which a blind man was cured by Jesus. The man was able to regain his eyesight and after that he became Jesus’ follower.
This blind man was granted a vision. This is a vision to see God’s compassion through Jesus’ powerful healing. The miracle of healing comes from the faith of that man and God’s unfailing love to people especially those who are suffering and crying for his help.
Sisters and brothers, when you, your family, your friends and your people in your home countries are suffering from different kinds of pains and trauma, do remember that God is right there to listen and help.
The narratives of the scriptures (Book of Job and Gospel of Mark) we read this morning have given us insights that there are times to resist/persist to pursuing our goals, but on the other side of the same coin, we have to learn that there is also a time to let go. Let things go to God. We have to recognize we human beings have our own limitations for we are mere creatures. God is God and we are God’s people. In addition, our sovereign God is always there, struggling with us and for us.
People who suffered should never give up. On the contrary, if they insist to face their plights and difficulties, do their best to overcome them, they will be cured and things will be changed. The blind man in Marks’ Gospel had gained a vision to see God, not only a physical God of Jesus, but a God of compassion who is identified with the weak, the sick, the poor and the innocents.
Our God of almighty, we thank you and praise you for your wonderful and beautiful creation. There are times when we are overwhelmed by the tragedy of natural disasters, human made wars and violence, abuses and poverty among us. We need your Divine presence to teach us to understand your will and purpose, and guide us to comprehend your truth and to walk in your righteous way. We pray for those who have been suffering in life in different ways. We ask for your mercy and may your gracious love embrace them and empower them through the Holy Spirit. In Jesus’ name we pray Amen.