Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Finding my voice in the book of Job

I have been wrestling with God since I have slowly regained my strength after my operation. As I was reading the book of Job from the Message Bible few days ago, Job gave me voices to some of my cries:

Job 3:23-26
What's the point of life when it doesn't make sense, when God blocks all the roads to meaning?
"Instead of bread I get groans for my supper,then leave the table and vomit my anguish.
The worst of my fears has come true, what I've dreaded most has happened.
My repose is shattered, my peace destroyed. No rest for me, ever—death has invaded life."
(The Message)

Job 6:11
Where's the strength to keep my hopes up? What future do I have to keep me going?
(The Message)

The beautiful part of Job is not in the ending where God blesses him more than before nor is it in the beginning where the challenge between God and Satan takes place, but in Job's courage to wrestle with God, to question why he is suffering, and to challenge his friends' wisdom. As I prepare myself for the coming chemo plan, I have also asked whether God is punishing me for all the misdeeds I had done in the past. I feel like God is squashing me. I feel like "The arrows of God Almighty are in me, poison arrows—and I'm poisoned all through!" (Job 6:3) I have no future to look forward to, even though deep in my heart I look so much forward to healing, whether through chemo, or natural juice or Chinese herbs or through God's direct intervention. My pain and suffering does not make sense, just like the pain and suffering of many others which do not make sense. Eugene Peterson said it well in his introduction to the book of Job that suffering is harder to comprehend for those who believe in God. Two weeks back, I learned that I inherit a gene that leads to higher risk of kidney cancer, and I don't understand why I inherit this in the first place. Perhaps God's design is flawed and He has designed this world to be broken so that the beauty that shines through this brokenness is more amazing than a flawless one. God has put in place His physical laws in place after the Big Bang. As living cells evolve into more complex beings, our existence in this limited time-space dimension also inherently meant that we are built to live with imperfections and mutations, with disease, illness, death.

How then do I understand the word "good' and "very good" in the first two chapters of Genesis? I would suggest that "good" does not mean perfect, but when God's creation progressed from formless chaos to light on the first day, to separation of sky and sea on the second, to dry land and plants on the third, to appearance of heavenly bodies to inhabit the sky on the fourth, to living creatures to populate the seas and air on the fifth, and the earth on the sixth, all these are described as good. The appearance of human beings as the apex of creation are marked as very good. The adjectives "good" and "very good" do not tell us anything much about evolution but the emergence of order and complex organisms from chaos is qualified as "good" and finally "very good" by the biblical author. The biblical author further understands death to result from disobedience to Jehovah. The text was written in premodern society and probably in the exilic period. The modern readers will probably ask whether this story is literally true. I am of the inclination that this text informs me of God's sovereignty and power over all creation, and further instructs me that there is only one Creator. I do not read the text literally as though there were six days of creation and death entered the world at a definite time. I am more comfortable believing that every living creature has a limited lifespan at the moment of creation, and it is through a long convoluted process of evolution that human beings come into existence. God oversaw this whole process and gave living creatures the freedom to be. It is in this context that I think God has designed this world to be broken in the first place. Diseases, death, mutations, illnesses are part of our structure and it seems like suffering is not to eliminated but ironically, to be dignified while creating space for God to continue speaking to us at our existential moment. This does not mean that I endorse suffering, in fact, I wish there were no sufferings. If suffering cannot be avoided, it has be manged, and within God's community of people, suffering can contained, honored and dignified. Precisely because our God enters into our suffering in Jesus Christ, God sees and shares our pain and suffering. Followers of Christ are similarly called to share suffering together, while hoping and working towards a day when suffering will be of no more, because God's creation has been transformed and we are in the everlasting presence of our glorious eternal God.

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