Recently I attended the funeral service of a 54 year old nurse, daughter of an elderly couple in our congregation. Diane was a lovely person, giving love to patients, nieces, nephews, parents, siblings. As I drove the two hours to the funeral with several friends, I became starkly aware of the pain that invades even the most carefully ordered and disciplined lives. All my travelling companions are good, content folk, who love God. Yet all had lost children many years ago. The mention of a name, the passing of a landmark brings still tears to the eyes, a lump to the throat.
We talked about the children. We remembered other terrible losses that many friends and family members have suffered. Many have lost children to illness, to dreadful accidents. For no good reason. The memories never go away; nor would anyone want to forget. Yet these all are and remain good, loving, fair, kind, just people. It’s not fair. Doesn’t God deliver us from such evil? How do they keep their balance?
This Lent I’m preaching on Job and Hebrews. It occurs to me that many of us can deeply identify with Job every day. Job suffers miserably for no good reason he knows. Sure, we know from chapters 1 and 2 that the Almighty God has given Satan (“the Accuser”) permission to push Job to within an inch of his life.
That is, though, small comfort for Job or us. Even though I believe God gives Satan a mighty long leash, I don’t like that explanation one bit. Too often it feels like Someone is playing us like a yoyo. Even now after years of studying and reading this marvellous, aggravating book, I often want to yell and scream: This is NOT good enough. It is NOT fair and never will be.
Yet for all that, from the city dump that has become his home, Job declares astonishingly in chapter 19 that his Redeemer lives. How can he say that? The writer of Job probably remembers other “redeemers” from Hebrew culture. Boaz “redeems” Naomi and Ruth after they return to Israel after ten hard years in enemy territory Moab.
Centuries later when Judah is falling into the hands of Babylon and King Nebuchadnezzar, Jeremiah “redeems” a worthless field from his cousin Hanamel (chapter 32). Jewish people had and still have living memories of redeemers from their culture and history.
So it’s logical—though astonishing, almost unbelievable—that from his life on the garbage pile Job says, “My Redeemer lives and one day I will see him face to face.” I wonder if Job knows what he is saying, what he is hoping for. Come to think of it, maybe he does.
It strikes me that we see redeemers often who point to the Redeemer. The very people rode with me to that sad funeral and most other people I have known in such tragic losses have said in one way or other, “Our Redeemer lives” in ordinary, simple, persistent ways.
We see and hear the Redeemer in prayers, cards, embraces. In sensitive (and brief!) phone calls suffering people meet the Redeemer. We see and smell the Redeemer’s love in the cookies and coffee cakes, pies and casseroles made and delivered with love and tears from others who believe in the Redeemer.
It takes time, but after a time, the Jobs I know today find, beyond their direst expectations, that they can live through their suffering. It becomes bearable—never fun. Yet their small “r” redeemers all point to the Redeemer. All hold each other up.
That Redeemer Jesus HAS stood upon the earth. He still stands on the earth in the tokens of mercy shared with God’s family, with ALL people on earth. Until once again Jesus in person stands upon this earth every time one of his sisters and brothers does mercy, we see Jesus. Don’t try to hold on to Jesus. Let Jesus hold on to you during Lent and all day, every day.