A Reformed Imagination

Job 42:1-6, 10-16

Mark 10:46-52

Today, we conclude our journey with Job. As we’ve seen, the Book of Job doesn’t fully solve the problem of evil or suffering. Job recognizes that some answers are simply wrong: Job asserts that suffering is not God’s will nor is it the result of divine punishment. While Job affirms the relationship of cause and effect, and that acts have consequences, Job denies that goodness always leads to success or that evil always leads to failure. Job believes that we live in a wild and wonderful universe. Divine wisdom brings forth creation in all its diversity. But, God and humanity must contend with pockets of chaos and waywardness that bring about natural disasters, violence, and disease.

In today’s scripture, Job has just witnessed God’s energy and creativity birthing and sustaining the universe and he is overwhelmed. He has nothing more to say. He recognizes that he doesn’t have a God’s eye view on reality, and that the world is more complicated than he previously imagined. He is amazed and awestruck.

In light of Job’s endurance and faithfulness – even challenging God can be a sign of faithfulness – Job receives a great reward – new children and more wealth than he previously had. But, this happy ending is a bit contrived and abrupt. One member of our Job Bible study noted that “the ending ties things in a nice little bow and still doesn’t answer Job’s questions.”

Job gets new children. But, what about the ones that died? Replacement children hardly ease the pain of losing a child. I wonder if Job and his wife ever got over the grief over losing their first set of sons and daughters. As many bereaved parents know, the birth of a new child doesn’t minimize the pain they felt at the loss of an older child.

Still, there may be some wisdom in this happy ending story: we can grow through suffering. While we never wish loss on ourselves and others, we can learn new insights as a result of suffering. During a difficult time of my life, a spiritual advisor told me, “This is painful, and God didn’t want it to happen, but I am confident that God will bring something good out of it.” Or as Romans 8 proclaims, “in all things God works for good.”

God wants us to have abundant life and to grow closer to God in the midst of the trials and tribulations of life. Sometimes when we hit rock bottom – and at the end of our resources – we discover a firm foundation, the rock of ages, and find that nothing can separate us from the love of God.

We can have a reformed imagination that sees hope amid challenges and the seeds of redemption in hopeless situations.

The story of Jesus and a sight impaired man is one of the most dramatic healing stories. As Jesus walks by, Bartimaeus cries out loudly, so loudly that people try to quiet him down. But, he won’t stop. He needs a healing: he needs to go from darkness to light and this is the moment of salvation for him. Bartimaeus imagines the possibility that Jesus will heal him. He visualizes himself seeing all the colors of the rainbow and that inspires him to cry out to Jesus.

Jesus hears his cries and asks him to come over to him. Jesus asks a curious and obvious question, “What do you want me to do for you?” He’s asking Bartimaeus to share the deepest desire of his heart. Perhaps, God asks us that question as well, “What do you want me to do for you?”

God isn’t stingy and God doesn’t coerce us. God wants us to come to him freely with open hands to receive the deepest desires of our hearts. God wants us to think big, to let our imaginations soar, and not be content with life as it is when God has new possibilities in mind for us.

What we really want may be different than the obvious? We may want a better job with better pay. But deep down our heart’s desire may be to do something meaningful with our lives. We may want better health and recovery from sickness. But deep down our heart’s desire may be for something to live for, and a reason to get up in the morning. We may want a healing in a relationship. But deep down our heart’s desire may be to forgive and be forgiven and to be more open-hearted. We need to cultivate a reformed imagination, a wider vision, and then work to create a life that reflects our heart’s desires for ourselves and others.

No one can intellectually solve the problem of evil. But, we can respond by redeeming the sufferings of our world. We can reach out to God, trusting God fully with our future, sharing with God what we really need and asking God to show us the pathway to wholeness. We can ask for an open heart to respond to suffering wherever we see it. We can become healers rather than naysayers, compassionately responding to homelessness and addiction on Cape Cod, orphan children at Angels’ Place in India, families in need of safe drinking water in Africa, and the pain of our own families.

More than once I have quoted the Jewish proverb, “when you save a soul, you save the world.” That’s God’s call to us, become a healing companion, reach out in compassion, and you will be healed and be part of healing those around you as we together redeem the pain of the world.