Wednesday, February 3, 2010


I spent yesterday sitting in chairs while people with a whole lot of education poked around at my face.  By that I mean, I had a dentist appointment followed by an eye doctor appointment.  And here's a mystery: why do dentists and hygienists put their hands/instruments into one's mouth, then ask a question that needs more than a yes or no answer?  It happens every time.  I like our dentist, he's a good friend, and I like the hygienist who's been cleaning our teeth for the last decade, but even for me, a gifted talker, it's asking too much to carry on a conversation with my mouth so full.  "Rinse, please, and how is your mom doing?" 

But we did manage to converse a little.  As always, when talking about a parent with Alzheimers, she made appropriate clucking noises of sympathy.  So I told her of the difficulty I'd had in loving my mother in her pre-dementia days, and the change in my heart toward her since she's become increasingly incapacitated.  "So something good has come from it," she said.  "Well, not for my mom," I answered.  And that's true.  With my myopic, earthbound vision, I can't see any good about Alzheimers for the sufferer.  But Mom won't die unloved.  And maybe that's all that matters.  Of course, she doesn't know she's loved now.  Doesn't know much of anything anymore.  So how do I reconcile the horror of her suffering with a loving God?  Indeed, how do I reconcile any suffering on a large scale with the God who is actually love incarnate?

It's a mystery I don't hope to solve with only my own mind.  All the suffering in the world is unsolvable for the human brain.  When Job, who had a phd in suffering, tried to explain it to his friends who offered explanations somewhat like Pat Robertson offered about Haiti--"It must be a direct consequence of sun," he came up short in a real explanation, but did avow that he had not sinned, but also trusted God.  He trusted God was His redeemer, and knew that he had a right to ask God, because he'd always obeyed Him.

And finally God did answer.  Chapter 38 through 41 is God's answer to Job's suffering.  Er, not His answer, because He never actually tells Job why he's lost so much, but His explanation.  And in the cliff notes version, it goes something like this:  "Who do you think you are to understand God?"  These chapters are a sweeping catalog of Creation. "Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation?  Tell me, if you understand who marked off its dimensions?  Surely you know!" (38:4-5)  The comprehensive list here is overwhelming.  Just as it was intended.  Basically, God's saying, "If you didn't create the universe and everything in it, you just aren't big enough--aren't God enough--to get it.  Aren't big enough to get God, one might say.  The end.

About halfway through this catalog, Job pipes up, his voice squeaky with shame: "I am unworthy--how can I reply to you.  I put my hand over my mouth.  I spoke once, bu I have no answer--twice but I will say no more."  Job gets all that is possible to get--that God is God and he is not.  That blessing and suffering and everything between is up to the Creator, not to the created. 

What is our part is to bow to His power and Sovereignty.  Even when the earth shakes, the tides rise, the wind swirls and the mountains rumble.  Even when illness, pain, loss of mind and limb and life come, when poverty overtakes us.  Even when our lives are mixtures of some or all of them.  Even when--when everything.  God and bad alike.  If you weren't there at the creation of the world, you have to trust that the One who was (and the Incarnate One who was with Him, was Him). 

Read these passages in Job.  They'll cut you right down to size, give you proper perspective...At the end of God's speech, Job says, "I repent in dust and ashes."  Exactly where any understanding of God, life, our place in His Kingdom have to start.  If you want to know why God allows the world--or even just you--to suffer, there's no better place, than to start with repentance.

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