Sunday, 8 February 2015

Week 5 Sunday (Year B) - 8 February 2015

Readings: Job 7:1-4,6-7; Psalm 147; 1 Corinthians 9:16-19,22-23; Mark 1:29-39

Apparently the actor Stephen Fry has caused a fuss by describing God as 'evil, monstruous and capricious'. It is difficult to see how anybody could read the first chapters of the Bible and not think that. Perhaps not evil, but certainly capricious, awkward, odd, unpredictable, cranky, monstruous.

I wonder has Stephen Fry read the Book of Job? I suppose he has. I wonder whether the people who react to him, saying that he is being insulting etc., have read the Book of Job? It testifies to a strong strand in the Hebrew traditions of completely frank prayer: just tell God how you are thinking and feeling, pull no punches, straight and direct. (He knows anyway!) In particular tell God - honestly, straightforwardly - what you are thinking and feeling about Him. If you are having naughty (or potentially sacrilegious or blasphemous) thoughts or feelings about God, then talk to God about them. It is the easiest way to deal with them.

Job's friends are aghast at what he says, believing him to be sacrilegious and blasphemous in the way he is talking about God. He is speaking the truth he has experienced, and because he does not see how the parts of the equation hang together, he is not going to pretend that he does see how those parts hang together.

God does answer Job's complaining prayer. At least he half answers it. Job does get the face to face meeting with God that he asked for. He is led into a deeper experience of God: 'I had heard of you with my ears, but now my eye sees you'. That's something. What Job does not get from God is a philosophical or conceptual explanation of why the things that have happened to him have happened to him. He is not given the solution to the so-called problem of evil. Perhaps it is because that problem is constructed on a radical misconception, an understanding of God that is itself idolatrous and blasphemous (so no wonder people reject such a 'god').

God's answer to Job's questioning is not a philosophical or theological argument. God's answer to Job's questioning is called 'Jesus'. Sending the Son to dwell among us, to take on our flesh, to enter into all that we can gather under the name of 'flesh' - this is God's final answer to Job. We see that answer at work in today's gospel reading. It is the last part of the first chapter of Mark's Gospel which gives us 'a day in the life of Jesus the Christ'. We have seen Jesus engaging with precisely those things that lead people to think of God as capricious, monstruous and even evil: suffering and illness, sin and death, madness and demonic possession, leprosy and fear. Jesus is touching all that, literally, and allowing it to touch him. God, whatever the term means, has pitched his tent in this world, entering into its tangled and bloody history, engaging with its ambiguous and unreliable relationships, taking it all on in order to heal and restore a humanity which will easily reject this hand that is feeding it, easily jump to (wrong) conclusions.

Jesus comes to lead humanity deeper into the mystery of God, a darkness in which to ponder and understand more about sin and suffering, death and evil, creation, life and love. There are many inns along the way at which we will stop from time to time. They invite us to rest in conceptions of God that are partial and, to that extent, idolatrous. We must keep moving, as we see Jesus in today's gospel moving from town to town. He calls us follow him along a way and that way, if we persevere in it, leads to a clearing in which, in the bright darkness in which God dwells, if we are present in sincerity and truth (no matter what our thoughts or feelings about God), we will find the One for whom everyone is looking.

Stephen Fry is perfectly right. We must not worship as divine what is evil, monstruous and capricious. If this is how God seems then we must wait. Some people wait for a long time, waiting for God to reveal himself in a fresh way. We will know it is from God when we know that there is nothing contrived or forced about it, when we know that its beauty is real, when our hearts tell us that we are in the presence of  a goodness infinitely greater than our desire.

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