I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand upon the earth. And though worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God. (Job 19:25, 26)
I have been struggling over this question this year: what does it mean to have real hope in the real world?
Around me I see abused children, beaten women, failing marriages, anxiety and depression and addiction and mental illness and random accidents and injustice and destruction and war.
I know God is here, but so is the mess. It's a conundrum, a mystery, an ambiguity I live with every day.
A few weeks ago, I ran across this quote:
"It is a faith that has set us free from optimism, and taught us to hope instead." David Bentley Hart, quoted by Tim Keller in Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering.
Optimism is not enough in the real world.
I need hope in the midst of the deeply, catastrophically, maybe never-to-be-fixed-on-this-earth wrongs that I see around me all the time.
My question is: how do I get there?
How do I get free of simple optimism (which a lot of times is just denial) to real, deep, true hope?
So in today's text, we have Job.
Here is Job, with his home and belongings destroyed, his health in ruins, his children dead, his wife telling him to curse God and die, surrounded by the worst friends in human history.
If this guy can sit in the ash heap and say, "I know that my Redeemer lives," then I want to hear what he has to say.
Here is my favorite retelling of the story of Job, by Rob Bell. It's about 12 minutes long, and most of it is Bell quoting God's answer to Job's questions of why.
I've watched this video many times, and it always leaves me in tears. When I just read this passage, I'll admit it. I skim. It seems like a lot of detail. Get to the point already.
But when I listen to it out loud, it's incredibly powerful. (12 minutes only! So worth your time!)
We're waiting for the answer to the terrible injustice that Job suffers, and God ends up saying: "There's way more to the story than you know, Job."
It's a non-answer. And then it turns out to be the best answer.
Because I get myself into this place of thinking that I know how things should be, and then it turns out that I have no idea when the mountain goats give birth, nor do I watch when the doe bears her fawn. I don't have a clue about the crocodile or the ostrich or the wild bull, either.
Job, when God finishes speaking, says two things that resonate with me.
One, "I put my hand over my mouth." (Job 40:3)
I get it. I know nothing. I need to let God be God.
Two, "I had heard about you before, but now I have seen you with my own eyes." (Job 42:4)
Once God shows up, God's presence is all the answer Job needs.
God comes to me, Emmanuel, God With Us. That's what we're celebrating this Advent season.
God's presence is with me. Why is that not enough sometimes?
Why do I struggle to hope in the real world, if God is present with me every day?
Here's my problem: I turn away from Love.
He offers comfort, and I have excuses why I can't take it.
He's wants me to trust, and I am terrified to let go of control.
He offers rest, and I'm too scared to stop running.
He shows up, and I turn away, and then I wonder why I can't hope.
I can't hope, because I'm all I've got, and I am not enough.
That brings us full circle, back to where we started a month ago:
Receive the love. Receive the comfort. Receive the rest.
Taste and see.
Be still and know.
I have been realizing lately that I can tolerate a fair amount of ambiguity, if I feel safe in a relationship. I may not know what's going on, but I can be patient until I figure it out, if I deeply know and trust the other person.
The same is true of my relationship with God, I think.
It works like this: the more I receive and experience the love and the comfort and the rest, the more I can hope.
When I don't know what to do, when I don't know how to hope, I sink down into love.
May your roots go down deep into the soil of God's marvelous love. And may you have the power to understand, as all God's people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love really is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is so great you will never fully understand it. Then you will be filled with the fullness of life and power that comes from God.
Now glory be to God! By his mighty power at work within us, he is able to accomplish infinitely more than we would ever dare to ask or hope.
(Ephesians 3: 17-20)