Summary: We comes to points of deep darkness in our lives, but if we can hold fast to faith, we can keep hope.
Let me begin by acknowledging that this is a difficult passage to hear, as is much of the book of Job. We have a tendency in our modern world to like things to be nice and clean; neat and easy to understand; joyful and upbeat. Job is really none of those things. We tend to try and make Job manageable by focusing on the “patience of Job,” it is even a modern-day cliché; but Job is far more complex. Job does much more than merely exhibit patience. The book of Job is messy, complicated, and even depressing at times. Yet, this is precisely why Job is so important. We balk at the idea of being angry at God. We look at God as an ever-present, ever-loving being, and when all we feel are emptiness and sadness, we are afraid to talk about it because somehow this seems to be an inappropriate front to God. We have this general idea in our heads that we are being disrespectful if we cry out that God seems totally absent from our lives. And yet, this is precisely what Job does, and the passage we heard a few moments ago is a prime example of that. Job gives us permission to feel bitterness in the face of injustice. Job allows us be upset and to cry out when God seems absent. But Job also tells a story of faith; a faith which does not falter in the face of the greatest trials. And like Job, we must keep the faith no matter what we face.
We begin today a series on hope. I think to really talk about hope; about the importance of hope in our Christian journeys, and about having hope, we have to acknowledge that there are times in our lives when things are so bad it is as if all hope is lost. So we begin today with Job, who was in such a situation himself. As we know, Job is hit with one trial after another. And in the passage we hear this morning, Job is at his wits end. He admits a bitter complaint. Job acknowledges a heavy hand, despite his groaning. Job expresses his desire to go before God in trial, desperate to be free of his many difficulties, but laments that even this is not possible because he cannot find God; God is absent. Job cries out that his heart is faint and he is terrified. I think we all have at least a sense of what Job is feeling; perhaps at times such feelings have been more prevalent than at others, but it doesn’t change the fact that there are times when we desperately need God and it seems as if God simply is not there.
I believe we are all familiar with Mother Teresa; known the world over for her work with the poor, sick, orphaned, and dying in the slums of Calcutta, India. By all measures, she was and is an exemplar of the Christian faith. But as we began learning after her death in 1997, Mother Teresa’s faith was not as rock-solid as outward appearances would indicate. Like so many who seek after God, Mother Teresa struggled in the midst of great doubt, wondering about the presence of God. In 1979, three weeks after accepting the Nobel Peace Prize for her work, Mother Teresa wrote in a letter to a spiritual confidant, “Jesus has a very special love for you. [But] as for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great, that I look and do not see,--Listen and do not hear – the tongue moves [in prayer] but does not speak…I want you to pray for me – that I let Him have [a] free hand.” In personal letters and writings, Mother Teresa spoke of “dryness” and “darkness.” In a lament to Jesus, Mother Teresa wrote, “When I try to raise my thoughts to Heaven – there is such convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives and hurt my very soul. – I am told God loves me – and yet the reality of darkness and coldness and emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul.” At times, she was even driven to a doubt about the existence of God. This spiritual pain seemed to persist through much of Mother Teresa’s life and ministry.
The truth is we all have periods of “darkness” in our lives. We all face the pain and sorrow of losing a loved one. Or we agonize in watching a loved one suffer. Some struggle themselves in the face of overwhelming illness or disease. Parents worry about their children; sons and daughters worry about their parents. Families break and marriages dissolve, leaving nothing but stress and depression in their wake. Presently, we are facing the darkness of a financial recession; once soon-to-be retirees have lost a lifetime of savings. Jobs are disappearing left and right. Such darkness in our lives is compounded when we cry out to God for help and for comfort and find no response, no reprieve, no respite from the agony. How can there be hope in the face of such hardships?