Mysteries and Signs

Mysteries and Signs
Job, Chapters 21 and 23
October 30, 2016
Mary Hammond

yeserdays-a-sign Eleven days ago on a rainy, gray afternoon, I was driving 65 mph on the interstate when a motorcylist changed lanes, lost control, and spun out right in front of me. Before I knew it, the man was lying on the ground in my lane, his motorcycle next to him.

I literally had two choices and no time. On my current trajectory, I would run over both him and at least part of his bike in a second or two at most. My other option was to move immediately into the left lane, without time to check either my rear view mirror or my blind spot. I veered to the left, safely sailing past the man and his bike. In my rear view mirror, I saw two stopped cars on opposite berms. I knew the drivers were already calling 911, long before I could slow down, pull over, and get my phone out of my purse.

The next morning, I reached the Avon police department to provide more accident information if needed. The policewoman on the other end of the line said, “Oh, I know the situation you are talking about. I was working at the time.” I anxiously inquired about the condition of the cyclist. Almost nonchalantly, she responded, saying, “Oh, he’s fine. They took him by ambulance and checked him out, but he walked away.”

I was flooded with both gratitude and relief. I was also struck by the synchronicity of circumstances which came together through so many small, seemingly innocuous decisions, yet had enormous consequences. If I had left Lakewood two minutes later, or two minutes earlier…if the roads had been dry… if the cyclist hadn’t changed lanes…if he hadn’t worn a helmet…if another car had been there when I changed lanes…We could go on and on.

This reminds me of a point Sarah Lockard raised last week during Sharing Time. She recounted the many seemingly incidental circumstances that led her to drive to Cleveland and drop off a birthday present for a friend. At the particular moment when she arrived, the friend was home alone, watching TV and crying. The two of them had a deep, heartfelt conversation, which, in my estimation, was the best birthday present of the day.

How do we, as people of faith, interpret such experiences? Some attribute them to luck–good or bad–depending on the outcome. Others see in them the mysterious role of Providence, or God’s hand, working with some grand schema we can neither understand nor explain. Still others assert the the subtle movement of the Holy Spirit or see an instance of direct divine intervention. Where do you come out in all of this? Does anyone wish to share? [Congregational Sharing].

No matter how we interpret such stories for ourselves, we also know that fortune and misfortune, beauty and tragedy, good and evil exist side-by-side in this world. The motorcycle accident could have turned out so differently for him–and for me. Such honesty finds an apex at the center of the Book of Job, in Chapter 21. Job tears the sheen off the simplistic, formulaic theology of his friends. They insist that God protects the righteous and punishes evil-doers—end of story. They argue that bad things don’t happen to good people. Misfortune is a symptom of unconfessed sin in the victim or maybe even in the family.

Job is incredulous. He boldly confronts his friends, saying, “Have you ever asked world travelers how they see it? Have you not listened to their stories of evil men and women who got off scot-free, who never had to pay for their wickedness?” (Job 21:29-30)

Job’s questions seem to infer, “If you would get out of your personal echo chamber, you could see that your formulas about the way God works don’t fit the world that actually exists or the lived experiences of most people.”  Job would add, “including me.”

There are “bullets” that I have dodged in my life, and others I have not. That is the story of each of our lives, really. Yet in the midst of it all, there is God. There is grace. There is welcome. There is strength that comes from a place we cannot manufacture on our own. There is Presence.

Sometimes, there is faith without sight. There is perseverance without understanding. Wisdom can be slow in coming, and hard-won when it finally ferments in the depths of the heart. In our second scripture today, Job describes searching and searching for God, yet coming up empty-handed. Even while mired in darkness, he remains convinced that he will, one day, see God again. His silent God is not an absent God.

Ken Medema has written a powerful song so reminiscent of this second text in Job. The chorus goes like this, “Every time I look before me, you’re always out of sight, but I know that you have been there, because I see the way the rocks and flowers shine. Tomorrow’s a mystery; yesterday’s a sign.” Let us close with this song. Amen.