I hope it isn’t controversial of me to say so, but this morning’s readings are, in a word, difficult. If we came to church today looking for encouragements and consolations in the scriptures, we will be hard pressed to find any.
Job’s searching journey of suffering takes him out of an awareness centered purely on the human being—it takes him into the vastness of creation, its complexity, and its awful scale and dimensions. This leaves him with a stark awareness of the sheer immensity of God and the utter smallness of the human creature. My heart breaks for him as he says, “ Though I am innocent, I cannot answer him; I must appeal for mercy to my accuser. If I summoned him and he answered me, I do not believe that he would listen to my voice.”
The gospel doesn’t help much either: three times Jesus presents his listeners with councils that are, to my mind, lacking in a certain pastoral sensitivity. I will follow you! says one. Then prepare for a life with nowhere to lay your head, he replies. He tells another to follow him, who asks if they might first bury their father. Let the dead bury their own dead. Finally, to another, his remarks about the unfitness of any who look back, having put their hand to the apostolic plow.
And then there’s Psalm 88. I don’t want to assuming anything about your praying habits, but my guess is that unless you’re regularly praying the whole of the psalter according to some kind of scheme, your diet of psalms will be limited to the Sunday lections. If you haven’t encountered Psalm 88 before, I encourage you to read it. These are some of the darkest words in all of scripture. Unlike another dark psalm—Psalm 22, which ends on a hopeful note of trust—this psalm ends with the words, “my friend and my neighbor you have put away from me, and darkness is my only companion.”
I think it is important that our sacred texts include texts like these—texts that, at their simplest, are just difficult, and at their most challenging, give voice to the deep darkness of human experience. My guess is, somewhere out there, somewhere in here, maybe even right now in yourself, someone is experiencing the journey of faith in this dark way, as if God were absent, uncaring, and uninterested in human suffering. As if God, aloof and untrustworthy, willed the isolation and darkness experienced by so many people.
I don’t know what comes next, though. I don’t have a theological card up my sleeve that can smooth over this part of the lived experience of the world, that can erase the mystery of the darkness and despair that very often shake the trees of faith to their roots.
But I do know one thing: these experiences are named and given a voice in our sacred scriptures. The bible does not hide from this reality or pretend it doesn’t exist. It is a valid way of experiencing the mystery of life, a component of the journey of faith—not a sign that faith is lacking. And when God the Son came in the flesh of Jesus, he too named this experience, at least in part, as he cried from the cross “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
As such, I think we can be there for one another in a truer way—one what sees and honors the suffering and despair of those we love. Someone you know, someone you love, right now, is experiencing life in the shades of this morning’s difficult readings. Don’t try to paper their experience over. Sit with them in the unbearable mystery.
And maybe just then, light will peek over the horizons of the worlds many, many despondent hearts as we help them carry life’s many, many crosses.
 Job 9:15—16
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