Jesus Cried: Throwback Thursday

The following reflection is taken from a sermon entitled “Jesus Cried” based on John 11.32-44, delivered on October 30, 1994 at Cochranton Presbyterian.

Our faith lives on the conviction that in Jesus Christ, God enters human life, transforming it forever. The spirit of God inhabits human flesh. Jesus Christ: fully human, fully God.

Our faith has struggled when we have failed to affirm these two truths. Some lean too heavily on the human side of Jesus, claiming he was a great moral teacher, a model for our lives, a human example for us to follow. They fail to respect the power of God in him. Some lean too heavily on the divine side of Christ, pointing to his miracles, his healing touch, his victory over sin and death. They overlook his pain, his joy, his laughter and his tears.

Our Gospel lesson provides a wonderful illustration of Jesus Christ as fully human, fully divine.

First, Jesus is sent a message that his friend, Lazarus, has died. At first he denies it, and goes about his business. Finally, he arrives at Bethany. He discovers the truth. Lazarus is dead. His sister, Martha goes to meet Jesus and, with the rage of grief, yells at him.

“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

Still, she has faith, “even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask.” Martha professes her faith in Jesus, her absolute trust that the power of God in him can conquer anything, even death.

Jesus continues towards the village. Mary greets him with the same words as her sister, only with more sad disappointment than rage, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Jesus sees her crying, along with others. Our text reads, “He was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.”

“Greatly disturbed” is a loose translation for a word that appears only two other times in reference to Jesus. On both occasions, it is used as a verb to describe what Jesus does to prevent word about his healing touch from spreading. Barclay translates this as “straightly charged.” It is “giving a stern command.” It is a verb which connotes anger.

But why would Jesus be angry?

This anger, I think, is an expression of the grief Jesus feels over the death of his friend. Grief has a way of moving us through a wide range of emotions. First we try to deny it, then we become angry. Jesus, fully human, struggles through these stages of grief, just as we do.

“Where have you laid him?” Jesus asks. They show him. The sight of the open cave with the body of his friend laid out was too much for him. His stern expression melted and he cried.

For some, these tears were an expression of care, the compassion Jesus felt for a friend. For others, they were an expression of weakness which confused them. How could this powerful healer be overcome with emotion?

Here is the place where the human and the divine meet. The human Jesus is overcome with sorrow over the loss of a friend. The divine Christ enters the cave and restores life to Lazarus.

This miracle poses two great challenges for believers today. First, there is the challenge of belief. We don’t understand how this happens. The Gospels record three resurrections God performs through Jesus. The two others happen immediately after death. Given the way ancient people viewed life and death, these could have been resuscitation rather than resurrections. But the raising of Lazarus leaves no doubt. Lazarus was certainly dead. Jesus entered the cave of his dead friend and restored his life.

This is a hard truth to accept. It is even more difficult to explain, in a “Culture of Disbelief.” No scientific or historical explanation is possible. We simply present the mystery of the resurrection, knowing that God’s ways are not our ways. God is not limited to the laws of nature. God lies beyond our capacity to understand. Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead.

A deeper challenge, I think, is the challenge of a faithful response. I have said to some of you that I think the church, in practice, often fails to believe in the resurrection.

If we believe in the resurrection, we would not feel the need to maintain programs long after they’ve ceased to be useful. We could let them die, confident that God brings new life.

If we believed in the resurrection, we could let go of brothers and sisters in faith who have left and found a new church home, confident that God brings new life to them, and us.

If we believed in the resurrection, we could give up our hopes of bringing back glory days and look forward to God doing a new thing in our midst.

When we cling to our past, when being keepers of tradition gets in the way of doing mission, we fail to believe in the resurrection.

Jesus Raising Lazarus

Dawn: Delight in Disorder Tuesday

Light shines on the righteous

and joy on the upright in heart. (Psalm 97:11)

In spite of dark moods I have felt from of depression, glimpses of light have flashed to help me see I am on the right track, in right relationships, making the right decisions. These moments have been accompanied with joy knowing I am not alone, and that my suffering is not in vain.

One such period of joy came when I first met Alice – the woman who would become my wife. I had been through a rough stretch and endured some painful relationships. I had nearly given up on finding a life companion. Lost in the darkness, I wrestled with the decision of whether to pursue an internship and devote myself solely to my pastoral career or continue working in group therapy on some pivotal issues that were hindering me from experiencing intimacy in relationships.

In the midst of darkness, a ray of light shone, and it dawned on me it would be best to stay and work through my relationship issues. That week, I met Alice and we began our life together. I cannot imagine I would have survived, much less thrived at times, in this journey without her.

Light dawns on us when we least expect it, when we most need it. It comes not just because we’ve done something right. Light shines because Jesus Christ has made things right through his sacrifice on the cross. The Righteous One directs his light on our darkness, brings clarity that speaks to our confusion and offers joy that brings laughter to our despair.

Delight in Disorder: Ministry, Madness, Mission can be purchased through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords.

Me and Mr. Zucker: One Special Meeting

When I was asked to speak at the Lake Grove Presbyterian church in Lake Oswego, Oregon for their “Shattering Stigma with Stories” conference, I knew I had to take some personal time to visit Seattle. It wasn’t so much some place I wanted to see as some person. David Zucker.

I was first introduced to David Zucker in a book — Amy Simpson’s Troubled Minds: Mental Illness and the Church’s Mission. David’s long-standing advocacy for and ministry with folks who have mental illness helped him speak with authority, but it was his humility and humor that drew me to want to learn more.

I decided to e-mail David, tell him about my upcoming memoir — Delight in Disorder: Ministry, Madness, Mission and ask if he found it compelling, would he consider writing a foreword. David read the book and had very glowing and gracious things to say but asked if I didn’t want a more “known quantity” to write the foreword. I assured him he was my top choice, as someone with vast experience on the front-lines of mental health ministry and he wrote a foreword beyond my expectations.

So, now I was going to meet David Zucker. I had prepared a few questions in my mind, mostly about how to run successful mental health support groups — as a friend and I are developing one soon. My sister and I arrived at David’s modest home on a hill right on time and David immediately made us feel welcome — coming out in the yard with arms extended asking, “Do Hoosiers give hugs?”

He invited us in and, referring to my back cover blurb, gave proof we were kindred spirits, “Not only am I a John Prine fan, but I want to show you this…” It was a picture of him in Las Vegas with a man-sized peanut M&M.

We sat down over tea and discussed many things, including mental health ministry, art, culture, music, education, politics. The conversation flowed. I was getting all I had come for and much more. We laughed out loud and slapped the table, nearly spilling our tea. I could have stayed for hours, but had another appointment in the city. The hour and a half flew by.

As I left, I came away feeling like Bob Dylan spending time with Woody Guthrie (only not beside his sick bed, but over a kitchen table.) I was Elisha asking Elijah for a double portion of his spirit and being blessed beyond measure.

David Zucker and Tony

Shattering Stigma with Stories: A Reflection, part 3

The conference “Shattering Stigma with Stories: Mental Health and the Church” was so packed with meaningful content, we didn’t even break for lunch, but we were in fact nourished by both delicious food and delightful comedy. A troop of stand-up comics who have mental illnesses, including: Dave Mowry, Molly McNabb, Lorayne Dille, and Tara Rostad, shared true life experiences as well as quips that helped break down the stigma with laughter. An upcoming book No, We Really Want You to Laugh will tell more of their stories.

After the comedians performed, Pastor Jerry Beres of Meadow Springs Community Church shared his struggle with ADHD. He illustrated that mental illness is analogous to any other broken part of our body; it’s harder to accept, though, because there is no obvious cast to help people understand what’s wrong. When we have ACL surgery, we go on medication and go through therapy and wear a brace–the brace helps people understand and accept what’s wrong. Then he threw a leg brace over his head and said, “We can’t do that with a broken brain.”

Pastor Jerry likened a broken brain and drugs treatment with diabetes. With diabetes, it isn’t enough just eat right. People have to take insulin because the pancreas doesn’t produce enough. And if a diabetic patient doesn’t take their insulin, the physical ramifications are dangerous. Diabetes is life-long. Same goes for the brain and mental illness. It isn’t enough to eat right and think positive; the brain needs drugs to replace the chemicals it can’t make for itself; if we don’t take the drugs, the ramifications are dangerous.
It was then time for a special guest — a young woman from Tuscon, Arizona named Kelcey Rockhol. Kelcey shared some of her experience living with commanding voices telling her to do threatening and dangerous things. She was diagnosed with schizo-affective disorder and the road has been very difficult, struggling with stigma at work, in the faith community and in the neighborhood. She poignantly described how her husband would have to track her down in rain storms at night where he would find her wandering in only her bathrobe and slippers.

Through it all, Kelcey has maintained hope. With an articulate voice full of strength, she showed a small painting of the word hope and said she was holding onto it like David held onto the smooth stone he used to defeat Goliath. Kelcey shares a marvelous reflection on her experience entitled, “From Roots and Lungs.”

The next speaker was one well known by those within the Lake Grove Presbyterian congregation. It was Debbie Sanders, the pastor’s wife. Debbie had worshiped and served the church faithfully for many years but had yet to come out in public with her diagnosis of bipolar disorder. With quiet humor, she explained she would speak on three subjects (a typical pastor’s outline): moving from the hell of mental illness to the hope of mental illness. As she described the hell, she spoke of seasons in her life where she had cycled rapidly, refused treatment, and had to be restrained. She endured years of living in a fog due to medication, as well as her illness. With both angst and perspective, she commented that her children had to deal with her inconsistency as a parent who sometimes made them clean the house spotlessly and on other occasions let it go.

As for the hope of mental illness, she mentioned the loving companionship of her husband Bob (who received a hearty applause), as well as the steadfast support of many who kept things going when she was falling apart. Meals were prepared. Errands were run. Children were scuttled back and forth. Debbie also mentioned the crucial role morning prayer and devotions have played in her maintaining a semblance of order and balance in her life. The crowd gathered felt so inspired by Debbie’s speech that they gave her a standing ovation.

After a break, we relocated to the Sanctuary for a Panel Discussion: “Ask the Professionals.”  Panel Members included Ryan Hosley, Beth Schmidt, Luann Sohlberg, Joyce Brors, Robin Garvey, and Kelcey Rockhold. Topics addressed by the panel included: helping your children when they are dealing with depression and self medicating with alcohol with a child, when to have an intervention, and how to find the right professional mental health care provider.

As the event wrapped up, Angela Leet held out the hope of a future mental health ministry at Lake Grove Presbyterian and mentioned ways people might partipate in this. Bob Sanders then closed in prayer.

Several of the speakers hung around for conversations with conference participants. I was struck by the glowing remarks and the energetic response. I was also exhausted and hearing voices, so I made a relatively quick exit to my motel.

This reflection is the third in a three-part series. Part one is here and part two is here.

God Blesses Job: Throwback Thursday

The following reflection is taken from a sermon entitled “God Blesses Job” based on Job 42:1-6, 10-17 originally delivered on October 23, 1994 at Cochranton Presbyterian Church.

Job stands up to God and raises the painful question, “Why?” He faces head-on the mystery of suffering. He does not run or try to hide from it.

Job is humbled by the response of God. God, in effect, puts him in his place. Yet, God also receives Job’s prayer. God listens and responds. It’s hard to hear the compassion in God’s response, but Job no doubt feels great relief that God has heard his cry. God gives no reason for Job’s suffering, yet God does not heap blame on Job, either, as his friends do. Just that the Creator would hear his plea gave Job a ray of hope. The universe is not some benign entity unconcerned with human affairs, nor is an evil force in charge, bent on human destruction. God is not a machine, nor is God just some cosmic cop. God is one who listens, who cares, who responds.

Not only does God hear Job’s prayer, God has also heard the bad counsel of Job’s friends. Remember – they tried to convince Job of his wrongdoing. You must have sinned, they contended, or God would not be punishing you. While Job raised questions of God, they pretend to answer for God. God is angry. “You have spoken of me what is not right.” They have misrepresented God in such a way that their hurting friend was further isolated in his pain. Instead of a caring hand, a loving shoulder, a listening ear, they offer Job bad theology. God rejects their pat answers. God accepts Job’s prayer.

In time, the story tells us, God blesses Job more than before. He is healed. His family returns, his wealth. He has strong sons and beautiful daughters.

Notice the text does not say God restored Job’s fortunes and relationship in response to Job’s prayer. God’s reasons for blessing are just as mysterious as the mystery of Job’s suffering.

Also, if you consider what Job has been through, this happy ending becomes an extraordinary act of faith. One writer puts it this way, “For Job to resume his life as it was before is to risk losing it all again. To have twice as much as before is to double the risk. To once again embrace his wife is to embrace new life, in spite of potential suffering and unanswered questions. To have many children and no answers or assurances can be, in itself, a profound expression of humility and trust.

Job demonstrates great faith first in looking for God in the midst of his suffering, then in discovering the grace of God beyond it. Job’s great faith allows him to trust, even after painful losses. This is difficult to do. Anyone who has watched a loved one die, anyone who has struggled through a miscarriage, anyone who has suffered the loss of a relationship through divorce knows how difficult it is to trust again. We want to shield ourselves from the pain. We want to pretend it doesn’t affect us. We want to protect ourselves and so we build layers of distrust, live with more caution, knowing that at any moment we could get hurt again.

Vernon is a man who found great enjoyment in his work. He was not exceptionally skilled, but he was dependable. Suddenly, his company asked him to take early retirement. He accepted, thinking he had no choice. Now Vernon stays at home, wondering what to do. He’s afraid to get another job. He avoids seeing his former co-workers. He feels left out and alone.

Jane Smiley in her book One Thousand Acres tells the story of a woman who loses hope after a series of miscarriages. She tries to put them out of her mind; she tries to avoid the grief. Instead it follows her around, infecting all of her relationships. The pain is like a dull ache that never leaves her.

Mildred used to love going to church. She used to sing in the choir. She taught Sunday School. She served as a deacon. Then suddenly, she became ill.   She spent two weeks in the hospital. She didn’t tell anyone. Nobody asked. Nobody visited. Now she stays at home and watches church on television.

At times pain and loss cause us to close up, to hide, to avoid the risk of loving, of hoping again. Job doesn’t do this, or if he does it doesn’t last. Job trusts. Job opens himself up to God and in so doing this receives great blessing.

❤️Hi E ~ this is a pin from David's 'Job' board ~ he really likes your uncle Kenneth's boards and your boards ~ I helped him set up his boards ~ he doesn't have a lot of time to do it ~ just like you ~ he likes to get bible verses to pin xo How are you Little Lamb?

Shattering Stigma with Stories: A Reflection, Part 2

After I shared my story at “Shattering Stigma with Stories,” we were excused for a break. We were a little behind schedule, so the emcee Tara Ralstad (half) jokingly gave the 300 attendees 7 minutes for a restroom break.

I used the time to visit the prayer chapel where I prayed with four intercessors from the church that the voices inside my mind would subside such that I could focus on the stories for the rest of the day.

Back from break, a young man named Aaron Smith spoke eloquently about his fear of opening up in public about his mental illness. While a gifted writer who explores the impact of a troubled mind on his blog and in other social media outlets, this was the first he had dealt with it face-to-face, in front of nearly 300 strangers. Aaron’s step out of the darkness of fear into the light of self-disclosure was a huge leap of faith, but only for him, but for many who witnessed it who struggle in silence. (To read more about Aaron’s talk, see “Ten Minutes of Bravery“)

Next up was a woman named Carol, who talked about recovering from an addiction to prescription drugs. Carol served as a professional in the medical field and saw addicts abuse the system, but it took a long time for her to recognize she was just like them. It was only after she lost her job and was at risk of losing her license that she hit “rock bottom,” entered treatment, and joined a 12-step program for healing. Telling her story at this conference was part of her twelfth step of sharing the good news of her spiritual recovery to others.

Next on the agenda was a Panel Discussion. Parents of folks with mental illness shared how stigma had impacted them, as well as their deep concerns and often sense of helplessness not knowing what they could do to best help. Patrica and Tom Alston, Vincent and Sara Salvi, and Judy and Mike Rinkin all spoke from the heart — a heart that has been broken for those wounded and often feeling alone. One touching moment was when a parent shared how she had offered to buy a cell phone for her son and his response was, “Other than you and Dad, who would call me?”

The next speaker was one of the conference organizers — Leanne Sype, who talked about her battle with anorexia. Leanne shared how she had been warned she was on a path toward death and only grudgingly accepted treatment so her children wouldn’t be left without a mother. Ultimately, she would relapse and start the cycle downward, a cycle she continues to face to this day. Spiritually, she has come to realize that God “delights in her in spite of her disorder,” but practically she still carries an image of herself as overweight. One of the most wonderful moments of the day happened right after Leanne’s speech when her father, who admits to having been somewhat nonchalant about her illness, gave her a huge hug and almost refused to let go. Leanne describes this beautifully in “What God looks like at a mental health conference

Having been filled with emotions from such powerful stories, before lunch we enjoyed an artistic interlude.  Jennifer “Jen” Predoehl of Blue Plume Studio came on stage and, while a lovely original song she wrote and recorded played, she painted an image of a human figure arising out of the darkness. I found it to offer hope for those of us who have faced dark days, that we can discover our humanity in the midst of it.

It was time for lunch and I retreated for prayer, protein, and (prescribed) pills. I had been inspired by the day and wanted to persist to the end, with many wonderful speakers ahead, and knew I needed a break.

This reflection is the second in a three-part series. The first is here and the third is here.

Shattering Stigma with Stories: A Reflection, Part 1

As I write this, it’s been just over 36 hours now since I spoke at the “Shattering Stigma with Stories: Mental Health and the Church” conference at Lake Grove Presbyterian in Lake Oswego, Oregon. Unable to sleep tonight, I thought God might be nudging me to pray and then attempt to describe some of what the experience was like. I still feel largely inadequate to the task of taking it all in. Sort of like breathing underwater. But I will take one sip at a time and hopefully in the process be nourished and offer nourishment to others.

The day started with Pastor Bob Sanders extending a welcome to the almost 300 gathered around tables, in chairs and standing in chairs against the wall. This sea of people included church and community members who had been impacted by mental illness and/or who wanted to show greater compassion for those of us with troubled minds. Pastor Bob led us in prayer and then we sang together a couple of worship songs, joining our voices with Jon Jones in praise to the One who gives our hearts and minds peace that passes understanding.

The first speaker was emcee Tara Rolstad, who shared her distinct perspective as a caregiver for children she had welcomed into her home.  These children battled very complicated mental health issues due to severe early life trauma. With a huge measure of compassion and just the right dose of humor for relief (and sanity), Tara navigated the rough terrain loved ones of those with mental illness face as they travel the road to diagnosis, treatment, setbacks, and stigma.

The next speaker was Rand Michael, a professor from George Fox University who humbly confessed he was not the first choice of the committee. His rigorous romp through some of the Biblical and spiritual roots and assumptions of mental illnesses proved that while he may not have been the first choice, he was certainly the right one. Again, with great humor, he delved into the Greek words, the cultural context, and the history of interpretation (even drawing on Google) to conclude that while Jesus did not likely have a mental illness (as some purported to suggest), he certainly reached out to the marginalized such that we can safely assume that one of our roles as followers of Christ is to share hope with those who have troubled minds.

I spoke next. My aim was simply to share my story — as a man who had battled bipolar for almost three decades while wrestled to maintain faith (serving much of that time in pastoral ministry). Starting with my wedding on October 6, 1990, moving through the birth of my two daughters and the pursuit of my career, I described my rise through the ranks. Then, I described my fall as I was struck by a psychotic episode that landed me in the hospital with little prospect to continue work, maintain my marriage, or live even a somewhat mentally healthy life. By God’s grace and through the prayerful support of many, I largely recovered and enjoyed more than a dozen additional years in pastoral ministry and father of now four children. This came crashing down again one Saturday night in March of 1998 when I tried to take my own life. Yet, thanks be to God, I did not die. Said better, I was brought back from death to new life in Christ.

What happened immediately after my talk is something of a blur. I’m going to need to consult a program and talk with other attendees n order to do justice to the other speakers. It’s not that I wasn’t interested or engaged, it’s just that I felt empty in body, mind, and spirit. It was like I had poured out myself in sharing my story and had yet to be filled. At the risk of connecting a stigmatized Biblical metaphor with mental illness, it was like in the parable of Jesus when he talks about casting out one demon and seven more entering in. Christ cast out a demon as my story had been shared, but now I was vulnerable to further attack.

The voices inside my head that are never far away got louder. I felt a chill in my bones. I asked the prayer coordinator if I might meet some intercessors in the chapel and a team was assembled. With compassionate care, they surrounded me in a circle of prayer. I felt in large measure protected and ready to return to the event and listen to more powerful stories. I won’t say I was completely free from attack. At one point, my psychiatric nurse sister noticed I did not look well and got me some Salmon Jerky for protein and Risperidone to combat the voices. But, through this all, God’s grace was abundant and his protection was mighty.

I praise God for being a part of such a special day in the life of the Church. I have no clear notion of what lies ahead, but I’m ready to follow wherever God leads.

(This reflection is the first in a three-part series. You can find part two here and part three here.

Finding Life (in obvious places): Columbus

Columbus Roberts was only a boy when he came to America on a boat. He moved to Kentucky and married Minerva. She gave birth to twelve children — including Zelmer, who became the family historian, and Grover, who became the town drunk. Grover married Jaretta, who gave birth to three children — among them Joe Etsy, who was lazy and shiftless. Joe Etsy married Bessie, who became Nanny in her later years and smoked three packs of cigarettes a day. They had eight children — including Veston, who was born Glen’s cousin, and Ronny, who was shot by a jealous husband. Veston married Patsy, who became the grandmother of Amber.

But it all started when Columbus came over to the new world on a boat. That’s where all this started. And it was good. At least that’s what they say.

life in obvious places

A Broad Place: Delight in Disorder Tuesday

When hard pressed, I cried to the Lord;

he brought me into a spacious place. (Psalm 118:5)

Before the birth of our first child, Sarah, I was battling a rough patch of depression. I was in a new pastorate and unsure of myself. Though God always provided, we had very little to live on. I was excited about becoming a father but also fearful about what kind of father I would be. I like to think I provided Alice the support she needed to have a reasonably enjoyable pregnancy, but I’m sure there were many days she wondered how I would function as a father and just how this whole marriage thing was going to work.

I turned to the LORD in some intensive prayer, asking for help to prepare for this major life change. I began to journal again, particularly on the Psalms. Not only did I lift up prayers, but I listened expectantly for God to respond. I could sense myself growing closer to the LORD, to Alice, and to this little baby growing within her.

By the time the baby arrived, it was as if God had set me in a “broad place” where I could function well. It’s actually fun to watch the video of the hours right before and after Sarah’s birth. I don’t look like my usual sullen self or like some maniac bouncing off the walls. Alice has said I look just like “the man she most wanted to marry.”

Prayer may not always be a magic panacea to cure all ills. It is, however, a lifeline we can draw on when we are in distress, when there is no place else to go. Rather than make it an occasional retreat, why not make it our first line of defense?

Delight in Disorder: Ministry, Madness, Mission can be purchased through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords.

Special Note: Delight in Disorder is hitting the road. I will be speaking in Lake Oswego, Oregon on this Saturday (October 18) at the conference —  “Shattering Stigma with Stories: Mental Health and the Church” to be held at Lake Grove Presbyterian Church. We are looking for prayer warriors to lift up the conference and the on-going mission. Members of our “Delightful Prayer Team” receive regular e-mail updates with brief petitions and prayers. If you would be interested and feel led to serve, contact me at tony@awaywithwordsforyou.com .

Job’s Complaint: Throwback Thursday

The following reflection was taken from a sermon entitled “Job’s Complaint” based on Job 23: 1-9, 16-17 first delivered October 09, 1994 at Cochranton Presbyterian Church.

Last week, we looked at the beginning of the book of Job, where Job loses his family, his money, and finally his health, but still maintains his faith. Three friends came to be with Job. They sat together with him in silence.

This week, we pick up later in the story. Job’s friends have broken their silence. They have spoken against Job. “What did you do to deserve this? You must have sinned greatly,” they contend. Job maintains his innocence. Though his pain and suffering are great, Job continues to call on God. His call becomes a bitter complaint before God who is no where to be found. Job says of God,

If I go forward, he is not there;

or backward, I cannot perceive him.

Yet Job maintains faith in God’s power to restore, to heal, to bring something good out of such an awful circumstances.

 God knows the way that I take;

when he has tested me, I shall come out like gold.

Job doesn’t hide his anger, his frustration from God, nor does he hide his awe, his great respect for God’s power. He calls on God to rescue him from the darkness of suffering.

On the surface, Job appears to hold conflicting views about God. On the one hand, he experiences God’s absence and bitterly complains about his unjust suffering God has allowed. On the other hand, he still believes God is merciful, willing and able to heal – worthy of great respect. Job lives in faith in the tension of these two views. Within this tension, he longs for peace, even if it be in death:

If only I could vanish in darkness,

and thick darkness would cover my face.

People who have experienced great suffering often have deep wisdom difficult for the rest of us to understand. They have searched the heart of darkness and now see light where our eyes fail.

In his book Days of Grace, former tennis pro Arthur Ashe tells the story of his battle with AIDS. As he experiences pain, as his body weakens, he finds great comfort and strength reading the Bible and reflections from writers of spirituality. One such writer was Dr. Howard Thurman, who wrote about “the ministry of pain.”

Dr. Thurman writes, “pain has a ministry which adds to the sum total of life’s meaning and, more importantly, to its fulfillment.” Ashe reflects,

The pain of life may teach us to understand life, and in our understanding, to love life. To love life truly is to be whole in all one’s parts; and to be whole in all one’s part is to be free and unafraid.

Facing our pain, we discover hidden resources, inner strength. We can overcome our fears and be free to more fully experience life, to appreciate the abundant life God provides in Christ.

Entering the depths of pain, Job struggles with what appears to him God’s absence, only to find God right there, in the midst of his suffering. God shines a light even in the deepest darkness.

"But he knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold." (Job 23:10 KJV)