Tuesday, May 27, 2014

May 28, 2014 Jonah: You Can Run, But You Can't Hide

May 28, 2014
Jonah 1:1-17

Some years ago, as I drove into a community, I noticed a church sign – Nineveh Christian Church.  At the time, I thought it was an unfortunate name for a church.  What church wants to be associated with the city of Nineveh, as God says in the book of Jonah, its wickedness has come up before me.  Why would a church want to be associated with such a name?

My reaction revealed what is common when we consider the book of Jonah, and demonstrated how little I knew of the story.  Even though the book is just four short chapters, two pages – we condense the story down to a few verses about Jonah being swallowed by a large fish.  Many people probably aren’t aware of the events in the last chapter, which gives the city of Nineveh a good name.

This morning we begin a short series on the book of Jonah.  We begin with chapter one, and because the chapter is brief, we’ll read all of it.

1 The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai:
“Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.”
But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord.
Then the Lord sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up.
All the sailors were afraid and each cried out to his own god. And they threw the cargo into the sea to lighten the ship.  But Jonah had gone below deck, where he lay down and fell into a deep sleep.
The captain went to him and said, “How can you sleep? Get up and call on your god! Maybe he will take notice of us so that we will not perish.”
Then the sailors said to each other, “Come, let us cast lots to find out who is responsible for this calamity.”  They cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah.
So they asked him, “Tell us, who is responsible for making all this trouble for us? What kind of work do you do? Where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?”
He answered, “I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.”
10 This terrified them and they asked, “What have you done?” (They knew he was running away from the Lord, because he had already told them so.)
11 The sea was getting rougher and rougher. So they asked him, “What should we do to you to make the sea calm down for us?”
12 “Pick me up and throw me into the sea,” he replied, “and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you.”
13 Instead, the men did their best to row back to land. But they could not, for the sea grew even wilder than before.
14 Then they cried out to the Lord, “Please, Lord, do not let us die for taking this man’s life. Do not hold us accountable for killing an innocent man, for you, Lord, have done as you pleased.”
15 Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm.
16 At this the men greatly feared the Lord, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows to him.
17 Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

This morning, I want to use the idea of Jonah and his running as an analogy.  The book of Jonah is written in very to-the-point language.  The beginning verses lay it out very starkly – God tells Jonah to go to Nineveh and Jonah immediately sets out – in the opposite direction.
I believe we are all running from something.  From what are you running?

1.  Jonah ran from a call to compassion.
When God calls Jonah to go to Nineveh he is inviting Jonah to be an extension of divine compassion.  To be fair to Jonah, he had at least one good reason to run the other direction.  Nineveh was a city whose leaders and armies had not been kind to the people of Israel.  Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrian Empire, under whom ancient Israel had suffered.  Jonah didn’t want to deal with people whom he would have considered as enemies, and he probably felt that God should consider them enemies as well.

It’s tempting for us to believe that our friends are also God’s friends and our enemies God’s enemies.  There was a good deal of tribalism among the ancient Israelites.  We can find some of it throughout the Old Testament stories.  They were called to be a blessing to others but they were sometimes too inward-focused to be able to demonstrate compassion to others.  God was calling them outward, and they were too often content to look inward.

This brief story does not portray Jonah in a positive light.  Do not mistake Jonah for any kind of hero, especially a hero of faith.  He is not.  The other characters in the story, compared to Jonah, are presented in a much more sympathetic manner.  Even the sailors, whose lives are threatened because of Jonah’s actions, and who worship pagan gods, possess a level of compassion that is lacking in Jonah.  The sailors, even after learning that Jonah is the reason they are caught up in the dangerous storm, refuse to hold a grudge against him.  In fact, when Jonah instructs them to throw him into the sea they refuse to do so.  Instead, they did their best to row back to land (verse 13).  Even when they decided to do as Jonah asked, and threw him overboard, they did so with great reluctance and asked God for forgiveness.

Jonah was unwilling to give the people of Nineveh a chance.  Regardless of God’s command that he should go and preach to the inhabitants of the city, Jonah refused to do so.  Obviously, Jonah felt little or no compassion toward the people of Nineveh. 

The attitude of Jonah, though manifested so many centuries ago, remains alive and well in today’s world.  There are far too many people who refuse to demonstrate compassion towards others.  There are too many instances where religious people, tragically, represent the attitude of Jonah, refusing to deal with people even though God gives the command to go to them.

One of the difficulties we face is that it’s hard to accept those who are different.  We are a little diverse in our congregation, thankfully.  Not hugely diverse, but more diverse than the typical church.  We aren’t all of the same ethnicity or nationality.  The churches that thrive and prosper in the coming years are the ones that reflect the growing diversity of our society.  It’s not a WASPish world any longer, and as the people of God, we should represent the diversity of his creation.

2.  Don’t run from the human condition.
Jonah was a religious man, one who practiced faith.  And yet he demonstrates no interest in the human condition to which he has been called by God to respond.

When the sailors are struggling against the storm he is sleeping down below in the boat.  Have you been out on the water when a storm hits.  My mother-in-law lives on a lake in northeast Georgia.  I love to be out on the water, but when a storm blows in, and you’re out on the lake, it can get to be quite frightening.  Out on the main body of lake, where I like to ride her jet ski, is over 100 feet deep.  It can be very scary to be in water of that depth when a storm strikes and the waves are battering the jet ski.  On Thursday evening some of us attended the Operation Care Gala.  Tori Murden McClure was one of the speakers.  She is the president of Spalding University in Louisville and is better known for two great adventures.  She is the first woman to make a solo crossing of the Atlantic Ocean by rowboat and the first woman and first American to ski to the geographic South Pole.  Her first attempt to row across the Atlantic was ended by a hurricane.  During her second attempt she again encountered a hurricane.  She had a waterproof cabin where she could wait out storms and her boat would right itself when capsized, but she faced unbelievable waves.  Upon completing her journey she found that the average wave height at the hurricane eye wall was 70 – 120 feet.  Can you imagine being in waves of that size?  Her boat not only rolled over from side to side, but from end to end as well.  It must have been terrifying.

It was terrifying when the storm hit the boat in which Jonah had sailed.  The sailors suddenly get religion when the storm hits.  Sometimes we criticize people for turning to God only when life gets difficult, but if they turn to God does it matter what motivated them to do so?

I was in a meeting in another community some months ago and though I don’t remember the context of the conversation I remember someone making this comment – well, we don’t want people coming to church for the wrong reason.  I’m going to criticize that comment but I’ll be honest – I’ve said it as well, though I don’t know why.

When you think about it, that’s a really ridiculous comment, isn’t it?  Is there a wrong reason to go to church?  Take a minute and think about it.  Can you come up with a wrong reason to go to church?  I can’t.  Even if someone is coming for what they can get out of church, don’t we all?  Don’t we all have a little self-interest in us when it comes to faith?  If someone wants to come to church because they are looking for something for themselves I say come on!  If someone turns to God in the midst of difficulty I say good for them!  Something got their attention.

As Jonah slept below deck in the boat, during the storm, it was a revelation that he had no interest in going to Nineveh to face the people who lived there.  We cannot run from the human condition.  We can’t say when you get your life together, when you meet this list of criteria, then we’ll embrace you.

God asks us to embrace the human condition, in all of its mixture of blessing, tragedy, brokenness, and need.

3.  Don’t miss a new beginning.
Not to get ahead in this series, but Nineveh gets a new beginning.  Jonah shows no evidence that he embraced a new beginning.

The beauty of God is the new beginning that is always offered.

At the Operation Care Gala, there were two speakers.  One was Tori Murden McClure, as I have already mentioned.  Through her message she spoke more of her failures than her successes, as she learned that we often learn much more from our failure that our successes.  The other speaker was a young lady who was able, with the help of Operation Care, to turn her life around.  She went to Operation Care after losing custody of her children and becoming homeless.  She had no job and no transportation.  She had burned a lot of bridges with her family and friends.  She had a lot going against her, but she was able to turn her life around, and is a shining example of the new beginning that God can bring to our lives.

The city of Nineveh had a new beginning.  Jonah, as far as we know, does not.  The city of Nineveh and Jonah represent the two alternatives – those who have the level of self-awareness to realize they need help and those who do not.  Nineveh becomes a success story; Jonah becomes a warning.  May we embrace the change that God offers to us.

FCC Shelbyville | May 18th, 2014 Sermon

Monday, May 19, 2014

May 18, 2014 Real Life, Real Faith - Be Careful What You Wish For

May 18, 2014
Job 38:1-12; 40:1-5

An ABC News story featured the work of Julie Exline, a psychologist at Case Western Reserve University.  Her area of expertise is a bit unusual, as she studies anger, and, specifically, anger at God.  Exline’s work discovered that a good many people are mad at God.  They are mad because they believe he allows bad things to happen, such as babies starving in third world countries.  She says that anywhere between one third and two thirds of people we've surveyed in the United States admit they sometimes feel angry at God in response to some current thing they are suffering with, such as a cancer diagnosis.  She goes on to describe anger toward God as one of several spiritual struggles that humans deal with throughout their lives. And spiritual struggles like anger towards God are like a fork in the road for people. It can be a turning point.  You have a choice. Are you going to disengage from the relationship, deciding that a loving God couldn't do this, and stop believing in Him? Others might suppress their anger and sweep it under the rug. And still others could work things out in their relationship, with another person or with God.

This morning we conclude our series of messages on the book of Job.  I don’t think it’s been an easy study, going through Job’s story.  There aren’t a lot of encouraging passages in the book and it’s unnerving to read the anguished words of Job.
Once Job loses everything he has he keeps pleading for an audience with God.  He wants to plead his case.  Job finally gets his opportunity, and let’s read part of God’s response.

Job 38:1-12; 40:1-5 –
1 Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm. He said:
“Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge?
Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me.
Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?  Tell me, if you understand.
Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it?
On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone—
while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?
Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb,
when I made the clouds its garment and wrapped it in thick darkness,
10 when I fixed limits for it and set its doors and bars in place,
11 when I said, ‘This far you may come and no farther; here is where your proud waves halt’?
12 Have you ever given orders to the morning, or shown the dawn its place?”

1 The Lord said to Job:
“Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him?  Let him who accuses God answer him!”
3 Then Job answered the Lord:
“I am unworthy—how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth.
I spoke once, but I have no answer—twice, but I will say no more.”

What do you make of God’s response to Job?  On the surface, it doesn’t sound very comforting, does it?  It comes across as though God is scolding Job, doesn’t it?

Poor Job.  We really have to feel for the guy.  His life is going extremely well, so well that he would undoubtedly be the envy of all, and then it falls totally apart.  His friends come to see him, which probably encouraged him when they arrived, but it turned out they aren’t any help.  They don’t come to comfort or encourage Job, or to offer their help; they come to criticize and condemn Job tell him his suffering are his own fault, claiming that no one suffers unless they have done something to deserve it.  Could it get any worse?  Yes.  Job expresses his wish for an audience with God, but when he gets that opportunity it doesn’t turn out quite like he hoped.  Job believes he has a legitimate complaint about what has happened to him and believes God needs to hear him.  But when God does speak with him, Job is quite humbled by the response, and says, basically, I’m going to keep quiet.  I’ve not opening my mouth again.

I think it’s true that most people have pondered the question of why God seems to allow some very difficult things to happen in our world.  What I find very interesting about the book of Job is that his primary interest is not in understanding the larger question of suffering; it doesn’t seem that he is all that interested even in an answer to his own suffering.  Job’s greatest interest is in gaining an audience with God in order to plead his case that he believes he has been mistreated.  Job lived a righteous life and believed such a life should have brought him blessing and not suffering.  It wasn’t so much that Job wanted an answer for suffering in general, but an answer to what he thought was unjust suffering in his life.

This is one of the difficulties we face in suffering – its perceived unfairness.  But what the story of Job teaches us, I think, is that there is no guarantee against unfair and unjust suffering.  In fact, Jesus reminds us that God causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous (Matthew 5:45). 

What the book of Job brings to our attention, then, is the question of how we understand God.  So as we complete our study of Job this morning let us consider briefly three things about the nature of God that we learn from Job’s story.

1.  There is a good deal of mystery to God.
St. Augustine said we are talking about God. What wonder is it that you do not understand? If you do understand, then it is not God.

I don’t know that I would go so far as to say we can’t understand anything about God, but I think Augustine had a point.  There are times, I believe, when we are far too confident in some of our assertions about God.  There are certainly things we can know about God, but the answer God gives to Job clearly teaches us that we don’t have God figured out to the extent we think we do.

God very pointedly asks Job “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?  Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? (38:2-5).

I think we have to accept the fact that just because we live in a knowledge/information-based, scientific age, there are some things we just can’t know, and we can’t know all the ways of God.  I’ve decided I’m okay with that.  I say I don’t know a lot more than I used to when people ask me questions.  I’ve decided to not presume I will have every answer in this life.

If you can’t live with some mystery about God you will find faith to be difficult.

2.  God is not a transactional God.
Clearly, Job misunderstood God, in what he expected God to do for him.  Job saw his relationship with God as being transactional, that is, Job did something for God – he lived a righteous life – so God should do something for him, such as give him a life of great blessing.  But God doesn’t work on a transactional basis; there is no quid pro quo (Latin for something for something).  This is part of the answer that Job receives when he finally is given his audience with God, reminding him clearly that he should not think that God owes him anything.

It’s hard for us to escape transactional thinking, as we have a tendency to believe that God is busy doling out rewards and punishments based on what we have done or not done.  But the book of Job “flattens out” humanity; that is, the ground on which we all stand is level in terms of suffering.  No one is immune; not the rich, the poor, the powerful, or the weak.  Everyone suffers and no one is immune to its effects.

The language of church – not the language of faith, but of church, and they are sometimes different – can be revealing.  In church we sometimes use phrases such as being fed, being ministered to, getting something out of the worship or church.  That is church language.  It is not language of the kingdom.  It reveals the expectation and the assumption that God is our servant rather than the truth that we are God’s servants.  We are not the objects of worship, although the temptation always exists to make ourselves the objects of worship.  We are not called here for what we can receive but are called here for what we can give.  We are not called here for how we can be ministered to but are called here in order to learn of how we can minister to others.  When God is the object of our worship and not ourselves, when are not here to receive but to give, when we are here not to be ministered to but to minister, we will actually receive those things in abundance, because it is in giving that we receive. 

3.  Suffering teaches us to be like God.
The central tenet of Christianity is the Incarnation – the belief that God became a man in the person of Jesus.  As the gospel of John reminds us, the word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14).  We are to model the Incarnation in the lives of others by entering into their suffering and by so doing demonstrate the type of love that God demonstrates to us.

Our suffering ought to make us more compassionate and tenderhearted to others when they suffer.  We are to be like God – we are to emulate the Incarnation.  That God became a person in Jesus is the central truth of the Bible.  He became like us in order to demonstrate in a powerful way his love for us, and he asks us to be present in the lives of others.

And we should be very careful about the claim that God is not doing enough about the suffering in the world.  That is the claim we continually hear from skeptics, that if God exist, he ought to be doing more about the suffering in the world.  I believe only the person who is doing everything – and I mean everything – they can do about suffering has the right to ask that question of God. 

I don’t ask God why questions any longer.  Those are the questions such as God, why don’t you do more about the suffering in the world?  I believe it’s more appropriate to ask that question of myself – Dave, why aren’t you doing more about the suffering in the world?  I don’t generally ask it of others, because I don’t know what they are doing to ease the suffering of others, but I will admit that when someone who is living in a house of huge proportions and living a lavish lifestyle claims God ought to be doing more I think they should look in a mirror.  God is not the author of warfare, he is not the author of hunger, he is not the author of hatred, or of any of the other ills in the world.  He is the author of the solution to those problems – love – and he is the one who asks us to practice that love in order to ease the sufferings of our neighbors.

As difficult as I find the book of Job to read, I find a great deal of hope there.  As difficult as life can be, there is always hope.

I received an email from an organization the other day.  As I was reading it, and looking at a couple of the pictures in it, a theological message jumped out of it to me.  The two pictures come from Patagonia National Park in the nation of Chile.  A wildfire erupted and swept through 7,400 acres of land.  The first picture is one taken before the fire.  It is a beautiful place.

The second picture is taken after the fire, and you can easily see the devastation.

What’s fascinating about the second picture is the new, green growth in the front center.  The green really stands out in the charred landscape.

I think the second picture is very representative of Job’s life, and sometimes of your life, or mine.  There’s a lot of bleakness and loss, but there is still life.  There is always life.  Always.  This is the great gift and hope of God – life.  And that is the message of the book of Job, I believe.  There is always life.  Where God is, there is life. 

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

FCC Shelbyville | May 11th, 2014 Sermon

May 11, 2014 Real Life, Real Faith: Passing the Test of Faith

Job 13:1-15

My mom and dad never said so, but I believe they thought something about my siblings and I.  Actually, there were times when they probably thought a lot of things about my siblings and me, and not all of them positive!

But one of the things I imagine they thought about us was the difference between our experiences as children and theirs.  I did not suffer want as a child.  I did not suffer loss.  I did not suffer hardship to any great degree, but my parents did.  My dad was a young boy when his father passed away and his father’s family tried to take him and brother and sister away from their mother.  My mom, as I’ve told you before, was adopted as an infant by her aunt, who was a widow already struggling to raise eight children on her own.  My parents faced a lot of struggle as they grew up.  I did not.

I wonder what they thought about the differences in our early years.  I wonder if they thought we weren’t as strong emotionally and spiritually.  If they did, they were probably correct. I think their experiences gave them a strength and depth of character, faith, and emotional reserve that was deeper for them than me.

There are many studies about the differences in faith between those of my parent’s generation and my generation and those that follow.  One of the differences is the higher likelihood that someone in my generation or younger will walk away from their faith.  There is much speculation about why this is true, but I have my own suspicion – perhaps it’s because we don’t possess the strengths of character and faith to the level of previous generations.  Maybe it’s the case to say that when the going gets tough, we walk away.

As we continue our series of messages from the book of Job, which we will conclude next week, we’ve noted that Job’s story is greatly lacking in cheerful content.  The story of Job is tough and difficult, but life is often tough and difficult, and we cannot be in denial of that fact. 

Job asked a lot of questions.  Job spent a good deal of time defending himself against the accusations of his friends.  Job had moments of great despair.  Job certainly must have felt like giving up at some point even on life itself.  But, interestingly, Job never questioned his faith, or the idea of faith.  No matter how painful the loss, no matter how deep his grief, no matter how alone he felt, Job held to his faith.  We need to come to an understanding not just of the realities of life’s difficulties but of the resources that are available to face those realities, and one of those resources, as we see in Job, is that of faith.

So let’s read our Scripture passage for this morning, a passage where we hear the pain and struggle of Job, a passage where he speaks to his three friends out of his despair and the hurt of their accusations, but ends with Job making an amazing declaration.

I’ll add that this may seem like a rather strange passage to read on Mother’s Day.  It’s kind of harsh and reveals the brutal realities of Job’s experience.  But, on the other hand, maybe it’s perfect for Mother’s Day, because becoming a mother – becoming a parent – can reveal the brutal realities of life as we worry about the world our children will inherit and we worry about what life will bring to them. 

I will also add that it is a temptation for churches to divorce themselves from some of the harsher realities of life.  It’s easy to come into church and create an atmosphere that presumes everything is perfect in our lives, when, in fact, our lives have a good deal of brokenness and struggle in them.

1 My eyes have seen all this, my ears have heard and understood it.
2 What you know, I also know; I am not inferior to you.
But I desire to speak to the Almighty and to argue my case with God.
You, however, smear me with lies; you are worthless physicians, all of you!
If only you would be altogether silent!  For you, that would be wisdom.
Hear now my argument; listen to the pleas of my lips.
Will you speak wickedly on God’s behalf?  Will you speak deceitfully for him?
8 Will you show him partiality?  Will you argue the case for God?
Would it turn out well if he examined you?  Could you deceive him as you might deceive a mortal?
10 He would surely call you to account if you secretly showed partiality.
11 Would not his splendor terrify you?  Would not the dread of him fall on you?
12 Your maxims are proverbs of ashes; your defenses are defenses of clay.
13 “Keep silent and let me speak; then let come to me what may.
14 Why do I put myself in jeopardy and take my life in my hands?
15 Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him.  I will surely defend my ways to his face.

Isn’t that an amazing declaration Job makes at the end – Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him.

There are some people who truly earn the right to speak their mind, and Job earned that right.  Job, as one who lost everything dear to him in life, had a right to speak his mind.  And he did.  He speaks against his friends, he asserts his desire to plead his case before God, and most impressively, Job finishes this deeply emotional speech by affirming his faith in God, even to say that though he slay me, yet will I hope in him.

How does one manage to get to the point of such a deep and abiding faith?  And are we able to follow the example of Job and pass the test of faith when life is coming apart around us?

I don’t know where I first heard the story, but a young lady came home from school one day very upset.  She had done poorly on a test and had an argument with a friend.  Across her test she had written the words this is the worst day of my life and slammed it down on the kitchen table.  Her mother picked up the paper and wrote underneath her daughter’s words, I hope and pray this is the worst day of your life.

If those kinds of disappointments are the biggest problems we face in life, it would be a very blessed life.  I guess it would be a blessed life, but perhaps we are not blessed when we escape suffering, because suffering is one of life’s greatest classrooms and teach us some of life’s most important lessons and can teach us compassion and builds within us a strength of faith that can come to us in no other way. 

The question, then, is not whether or not we will face difficulty, or how much difficulty we will face, but what will we do with that difficulty?  How will we respond to that difficulty?  Will that difficulty break us, or will it strengthen us?

Job doesn’t provide us with a list of answers as to how we should respond to our sufferings in life.  In one way, the book of Job reminds me of a college classmate of mine who actually wrote in his exam book one day I know I haven’t written the answer to the question but you have to trust that I do know the answer – I really do!  That didn’t work for him, but the book of Job gives that kind of answer.  It’s not a specific answer to every difficult situation in life and there is no list offered of what you should do when you face difficulty in life.  But Job still gives an answer, and it’s an answer that doesn’t, on the surface sound like an answer – though he slay me, yet will I hope in him.

What drives people to continue to have faith in the midst of profound and deep suffering?  And why do some walk away from faith in the midst of their suffering?  Biblical character after Biblical character demonstrates their willingness to hold onto faith in spite of the sufferings they encounter; in fact, they find that suffering deepens their faith. 

Listen to Paul in II Corinthians 11:23-28 – I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. 24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. 27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. 28 Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. 

What would compel Paul to continue in the face of such incredibly difficult circumstances?  Faith. Some of the greatest beauty comes out of our suffering.

Christian Wiman has written a fascinating book titled My Bright Abyss:  Meditation of A Modern Believer.  I like the way he puts those two words together – Bright Abyss.  He was 39 years old, married less than a year, when he received a diagnosis of incurable cancer.  One of the very interesting comments he makes is that one speaks differently when standing on a cliff.  His illness completely transformed his life, and the major transformation was that it brought life to what he calls a long, dormant faith.  Because of that gift – the resurrection of faith in his life – would he wish he had not faced such a difficult struggle?

Jim Carrey starred in the movie The Truman Show.  The movie has a fascinating concept, where Jim Carrey plays the character of Truman, a man who is the subject of a reality TV show, although he does not know that his entire life has been the subject of the show or that the idyllic community in which he lives is actually the set of a TV show.  He life is one of predictable routine and free from troubles.  In spite of his good life and in spite of living in such a beautiful community, Truman senses there is more to life and to the world than what he knows.  He finally decides he needs to strike out into the larger world, although the creator of the TV show knows this would be a disaster for the program.  As Truman boards a small sailboat and sets off for the mainland, the creator of the show orders his staff to create a storm, in the hopes it will cause Truman to turn back.  Truman, however, keeps going, although he almost drowns when his boat capsizes.  Eventually, Truman runs into the end of the set, and at that point the show’s creator speaks to Truman from high up in the control room.  He entreats Truman not to leave, saying that in my world you have nothing to fear.  And that is true.  Truman could stay in his beautiful, fear-free world, but he chooses to leave and enter into the real world, where there is much sadness, heartache, and suffering.  Why would anyone leave such a setting?  Why not stay where life exists in a protective bubble?

Job asks us a question, and it is the question of whether or not we want to live in a protective bubble or in the real world.  It would be wonderful, at least on the surface, to live in an idyllic world like Truman’s, but wouldn’t we miss much of the richness of life if we did?  The great irony of life is that without our struggles and difficulties we would not know so much of the beauty of life.  If we never suffer loss we would not know the beauty of a friend who sits and mourns our loss with us.  If we never know disappointment in life we never know the joy of the sweet and good moments of life.  And on and on we could go, in terms of other examples.

Yes, life is difficult, and there is much sadness and struggle that we experience.  But in the face of all that comes our way, may we, like Job, pass the test of faith.