by Linda Goertz
“I sought the LORD and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears.”
Our scripture readings today all have something to say about how we approach God, how we ask God those tough questions and the ways in which God responds. When my mother, God rest her soul, was in her last years of life and suffering from difficult ailments, she would ask over and over, “Why? Why is this happening to me?” At one point, a well-meaning friend suggested she read the book of Job, but that wasn’t entirely successful.
If we approach Job as a literal accounting of things that happened, I think it’s easy to get sidetracked into an unhelpful view of God. If we approach it as a wisdom tale, as poetic imaging, as a mythic journey, that may help. One of my favorite authors, Frederick Buechner, says, “In popular usage, a myth has come to mean a story that is not true. Historically speaking, that may well be true. Humanly speaking, a myth is a story that is always true.”
Last week, Sara helped us hear some of the Holy Spirit language of the poetry that’s in Job. She talked about, “the immensity of God that can only be expressed in poetry.” And it’s amazing – the morning stars, the battle horse who shouts “Aha!” amid the trumpets, the storehouses of snow and hail – it’s amazing. But of course, even the best of poetry can only hint at what it must have been like for Job when God spoke out of the whirlwind.
Job has lost everything but his life. And all along, through all his devastation and pain and loss, Job has been demanding that God needs to answer him; that God needs to give an account of what this suffering is all about. Job’s friends, those infamous “comforters” who offer nothing at all like comfort, tell him over and over that he must be a terrible sinner or God wouldn’t be letting all these things happen to him. And of course they couch it in the most religious terms. They sound so wise and so reasonable and they have that tone of majestic ministerial rebuke in all that they say. But each time, Job says, NO, that’s not true. He keeps on asking God for the answers. He boldly says, “I would lay my case before him, and fill my mouth with arguments. I would learn what he would answer me, and understand what he would say to me.”
– so God finally responds. But he doesn’t exactly answer Job. God simply starts revealing creation in all its bounty and beauty and word-defying actuality. God revels and exults at having “commanded the morning since your days began, and caused the dawn to know its place, so that it might take hold of the skirts of the earth, and the wicked be shaken out of it.” Now there’s poetry!
It seems to me that God is replying, “I’m bigger than you can possibly imagine” – both to Job and to his nay-saying companions. I don’t mean some cruel, sneering God who’s rubbing his power in our faces, emphasizing how “far above” he is. No, if we are children pounding on the wall, demanding answers, I see God gently turning us from the wall to look out a window. Whether our demand is, “tell me what you’re all about, in words I can understand,” or, “see how good I am, telling that sinner what the rules of righteousness are,” God says, “No, dear heart I’m bigger than that . . . greater . . . vaster . . . beyond words . . . LOOK.”
Like Job, our truest response to such an encounter with immensity is to put our hands to our mouths and acknowledge the inadequacy of our words and our theories – even our religious theories. The story has Job saying, “I despise myself,” but the word translated “despise” can also mean cast off or disappear or melt away. Once he glimpses just a fraction of the glory of God, Job has to let go of his set view of himself and his understanding of cause and effect, and so do the so-called comforters. God is bigger.
And the joy of it all is that Job is not in trouble because he kept asking God to answer him; Job didn’t end up on God’s “bad boy list” for daring to question. Far from it! God turns to those oh-so-religious comforters and tells them they have to apologize to Job, because Job was in the right! And the story ends with a kind of a traditional folktale restoration of wealth and community honor and more children, including daughters whose names all mean something beautiful. God doesn’t reject our questioning, our demanding, our persistent crying out to the heavens. God welcomes it – even as God’s response blows us away, there’s an almost fatherly pride in our boldness. It means we’re close enough to ask for God’s truth.
And so it is in our Gospel story. Here’s this blind beggar, Bartimaeus, and HE’s asking, too. He’s asking Jesus for healing so vociferously that all the good people around him get embarrassed on his behalf. “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!” And the people get all huffy and shush him. But he cries out again, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” And then there’s one of those tiny beautiful moments we can miss if we skim scripture too fast: “Jesus stood still.”
When we ask with all our hearts, Jesus stops and stands still, listening to us. And he says, “Call him here.” Call her here. Because we need to get closer to the Holy One, the immense and inexplicable and loving, healing one.
So Bartimaeus scrambles out of his cloak and stumbles his blind way to Jesus, and Jesus asks him, “What do you want me to do for you?” And when Bartimaeus asks for his sight, Jesus gives it to him; and Bartimaeus immediately –things are always happening immediately in the gospel of Mark – begins to follow Jesus on the way.
So there it is for us. The Master of the Universe says, “I am bigger, bigger than your wildest imaginings and your tidiest theories.” And God the Son says, “Come closer and tell me what you need.”
We get to tell God everything, ask God anything, withholding nothing– our confusion and fears, our crazy celebrations and even our own anger at God. I remember when I was a new Christian, a friend and I heard a young man we knew combining Jesus’ name with an obscenity. I was, I felt, appropriately shocked and I began criticizing the young man to my friend. “Oh, Linda,” he said, “he may be closer to Jesus than some of the people who go to church. He’s not holding anything back.”
Jesus welcomed Bartimaeus’sstraightforward request to be released from his blindness. God welcomed Job’s rage and insistence and honesty. The Holy Spirit is nearby, leaning to our hearts and whispering, Bring it all. Bring your weariness, your hurt feelings, your uncertainty, your terror and your delight. Bring them to the table along with all of us. Bring the concerns that feel too small to ask about, and the troubles that are so huge you don’t have words for them. Bring them with you as you come to be fed.
You may not be able to predict God’s response, just as Job was dumbfounded by how God came to him. God is here nonetheless, bigger than our suppositions. You may not be able to see Jesus’ presence, but know that He has stopped still, listening to us, closer than we can imagine.
Bigger and bigger. Closer and closer. Thanks be to God.