Summary: What does suffering reveal about how we view God?
The Defense Rests
Cascades Fellowship CRC, JX MI
April 25, 2010
Series: Through the Bible in a Year
I want to begin this morning with a bit of a disclaimer – or perhaps a clarifier would be a more appropriate term. What you are about to hear in no way is a reflection upon this church or any of its members. The love and support I have received here has been a source of strength for me and an encouragement. Please hear what I say next in that context – it is important for you to know that I love this church and remain convinced that I am where God has placed me.
Now that I have your attention….
There has been a lingering sadness in my life, one that I have borne quietly for a number of years and have only mentioned obliquely on a few occasions. It is a sadness that I have even kept from my wife – at least the fullest depths of it – because there was nothing to be done about it. I am sure she has sensed at times this sadness, but I have resisted all probes because I did not think it a matter of consequence – it was water under the bridge and there was no need to bring it up again. So I plodded on, looking for the greener pastures God would lead his sheep into and the quiet waters by which I might repose.
But this grief still dogs me, for in some ways it was a death to me. It was death to a way of life – my way of life – and in its loss I lost more than just the dream of a career hoped for, I lost a people – my people. The loss I refer to, the grief I bear, is the resignation of my commission in the United States Navy as a Chaplain candidate. I had hoped to serve full time after three or four years here at Cascades Fellowship, but finally had to relinquish that hope in 2007 after it became clear that because of a ruptured disc and cervical fusion surgery to repair it I was no longer physically qualified to do the job.
To understand why I am still grieved by this you should also know that I grew up in a military family and the first part of my adult life was in the military. I remember my brother asking me shortly after my senior year in high school what I intended to do with my life. I told him then that I could already hear reveille being played – I already had a vision for military life and knew I was destined to be a soldier, airman, sailor or marine. I would never say that I always dreamed of being in the military, but as I matured I came to understand the cut of my cloth and embraced it.
Then I blew a disc in my neck while working out to get in shape for returning to the military after three years in congregational ministry. As disappointing as that was I still was unprepared for the day of resigning my commission. I put it off as long as I could – why? Because I sensed then what I know now – once I resigned I was not only losing a career, I was being cut off from the culture I was nurtured in. I would become a man without a people.
I do not bring this up now to win pity points or style points by providing some memorable anecdote for my sermon. Nor am I trying to win your favor by being vulnerable – such manipulation is beneath the dignity of this pulpit and I would never play so fast and loose with the trust you have placed in me as your pastor. I bring it up now because of the text from Job that we encounter this week in our reading schedule. Like Job, I have asked some probing questions of God and his ways and the preamble to every question has always been, “I was just trying to do what I thought you wanted me to do….” It is some variation of that preamble that forms the undercurrent of Job’s complaint.
Mine is not a unique experience – we have all had those Job moments in life; a time when despite doing everything we were supposed to do our world crashes in around us and we are left wondering what we have done to deserve such calamity. We try to draw meaning out of our suffering, sometimes at the expense of truth; sometimes at the expense of God’s majesty and glory. This is really the substance of the Book of Job; in a search to bring meaning to his suffering he diminishes God’s majesty.