Homily. Suffering as a Way to Relationship With God J. Kevin Maney, Ph.D.

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1 Homily Suffering as a Way to Relationship With God J. Kevin Maney, Ph.D. In today s OT lesson, we are confronted with timeless questions: If God is really good and is really in charge, why does he permit suffering and evil in his created world; is it to punish us? Does God just not care about our suffering or worse yet about us? If you are listening to this message this morning, you are likely dealing with a serious illness or maybe facing death, either your own or someone else s whom you love. Perhaps you have prayed for healing but it has not come. Perhaps you are angry at God because you or your loved one are suffering but are afraid to express your anger or rage at him for fear of what he might do to you.. So what should be our response when awful things come our way, as they inevitably do? The biblical response, hinted at in our readings this morning, is to invite us into a relationship with God. But here s the catch: God insists that we trust him in his dealings with us. And to develop a trust that is really useful, God insists that we have a relationship with him on his terms, not ours. Are you ready for that kind of relationship? In the story of Job, we see a man who has suffered terrible loss and we see him raging at God and asking, Why me? What have I done do deserve this? And how did God respond? He didn t answer any of Job s questions! Instead, God reminded him in no uncertain terms that since Job was not his equal, God was not answerable to him. Now I don t know about you, but the first time I read this response to Job, I was really irritated because it sounded like a non-response to some very legitimate questions. What s your reaction to God s response to Job? But let s take a closer look at the story to see what God can teach us by reading his Word. From Job s perspective, he didn t find peace with God until he acknowledged that God was in

2 charge and then fully trusted God, even in the midst of his suffering. Note too that Job s suffering did not stop, even after he found peace with God. Furthermore and what s critically important for us to consider in this story Job s trust in God s sovereignty and good purposes in the face of suffering did not happen instantly. Instead Job had to really struggle with his thoughts, feelings, and emotions (and some really lousy advice from some well-meaning friends) for a long time before he came to grips with his situation. And hopefully that will make sense to you. Think of the relationships you have with your nearest and dearest. Did they happen instantly or did they develop and grow over time? Consider too the kinds of communication it took to grow and nurture your dearest relationships. Both of you had to talk and listen to each other, and in the course of events there were likely all kinds of emotions involved: love, anger, joy, frustration, fear, sorrow, etc. And so it is important for us to remember that while Job did develop a deeper relationship with God, it took time and required lots of work; he didn t just get zapped with some magic trust. On the other hand, did you notice God s response? First of all, while he never did answer Job s questions, he also didn t reject him as a person. True, he took Job to task and reminded him what was necessary to have a good relationship with God. But God ultimately embraced Job and demonstrated he was big enough to handle Job s anger and rage about the things Job felt weren t fair. The God who knew and loved an angry Job is big enough to handle your anger too. And so as we leave this story, we are confronted with the mystery of suffering. None of us will ever likely know the answers to our anguished questions of why and that will probably leave us unsatisfied, at least to a certain extent. But the God who called Job into relationship in the midst of his suffering also continues to invite us to do likewise. 2

3 What about you? Are you ready to begin embracing your suffering so that God can help you to enter into a more intimate relationship with him? Are you ready to begin putting your hope and trust in the One who knows you so intimately that he knew all about you before you were even formed? Can you trust the God who loves you so much that he was willing to suffer and die so that a real relationship with him is finally possible, both now and as we heard in today s gospel lesson throughout all eternity? Is that a God worthy of your hope, especially in the midst of your suffering and affliction? The biblical witness and the experience of countless folks is a resounding, YES! What will your answer be? Likewise, in our NT lesson this morning, the apostle Paul muses about suffering. Note carefully what he says here: But we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. Do you see the difficult, lengthy process Paul identifies here and can you appreciate the terrible struggle involved with persevering? It s no easy thing to do and Job could surely relate! Note too that Paul tells us not to expect instant hope, something again Job would understand. But also consider that Paul does not urge us to be passive about our suffering and just accept it. No, Paul urges us to rejoice in our suffering! Just as Jesus endured the cross and thus triumphed over it, so Paul teaches us to glory and rejoice in the midst of suffering rather than to sigh and submit to it as a necessary or inevitable evil. But why would Paul tell us to rejoice in our suffering? What was the basis for his hope? He took to heart Jesus promise to his disciples that he had conquered the world even in the midst of its suffering and because he had done so, they could find peace in him. And because Paul had developed such an intimate relationship with Jesus, he could make this seemingly 3

4 ridiculous claim to rejoice in our sufferings because he experienced his Lord s promises to be true. We know this because Paul practiced what he preached when he spoke of boasting in his own physical afflictions so that Jesus power might rest on him. What is even more remarkable about this boast is that it came right after the Lord s rejection of Paul s repeated prayer to have the thorn in his side whatever that was taken from him. In our own day, the late Pope John Paul II was certainly a wonderful example of what Paul talked about. John Paul embraced his suffering the suffering that resulted from the debilitation caused by Parkinson s disease and in doing so became an inspiration for millions. Perhaps you have known others in your life who have embraced their suffering and in doing so, served as an inspiration to you. Perhaps you are that inspiration for the rest of us. In closing we have seen that the ways of God are often mysterious but that God is in charge, even when it appears to us that he isn t. We ve considered how God desires a deep, intimate relationship with us and how he can use our suffering to help us develop that kind of relationship with him. We ve also seen that hope real hope is neither instantaneous nor easy to develop. But the biblical witness and collective testimony of men and women across time and culture agree that once achieved, it is worthwhile because God knows us and loves us better than we can ever know and love ourselves. And so as you reflect on your own suffering and your thoughts and emotions that accompany it, I encourage you this morning to begin sharing those thoughts and feelings with God, to begin (or continue) to build your relationship with him. Start wherever you are with God; he is big enough to handle anything you throw at him. Are you willing to take a chance and do the hard work needed to develop a sustaining relationship with God, even when you have no guarantee that you or your loved one s suffering will end or that you will have your prayers 4

5 answered exactly as you desire them to be answered? After all, what is going to be the eventual outcome even if you recover fully from your present illness? What was the fate of Jairus daughter and Lazarus, both of whom Jesus resuscitated from death? Or what about the people Jesus miraculously healed? What happened to them? The answer, of course, is that they all eventually died and like them, death ultimately awaits each one of us, irrespective of our health, age, social status, or present condition. And so our hope, if it is to be of any use to us, must be based on something more than a specific outcome for healing. Instead, what you are promised is that if you embrace your suffering and let God use it to help you develop an intimate relationship with him, you will not be disappointed in the end results, either here or in eternity. We have the Cross of Christ and the witness of the Holy Spirit as living proof that his promises to us, and his love for us, are real and true. And once we really begin to embrace those promises, nothing on earth no hurt, sorrow, sickness, pain, circumstance, or even death can ever separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. 5

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