"September 2020

“A Prayer in the Time of Pandemic and Quest for Diverse Human Flourishing”

Message from Rev. Dr. Anthony Bailey
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O God of mystery, presence and Love,

we cry out to you to have mercy on your world;

the world you so love. With your grace, wisdom and power, be pleased to

guide us in the discernment,

attitudes, and actions needed in order to

honour your will, and care

compassionately and equitably for all.

Be pleased to grant us the insight and power and courage,

not to rush back into our former ‘normal’,

but rather to together re-imagine a ‘normal’ built on the foundations of a vigorous love, a deep faith, an agile justice and

a persistent ‘Shalom’ (Peace).

In the name of Jesus, may your will be done. Amen

 

In my summer article for the Messenger (written in the middle of May), I posed some questions we were invited to reflect on and to respond if possible; namely

“What are some of the questions we have in this time of Pandemic?”

“What is God teaching me/us in this season?”

“What would we like to see taking place?”

“What else can we do to be agents of God’s burden-bearing and blessing?”

This month, I would like us to bring our present reality into the orbit of some of the themes that are addressed in the biblical book of Job.

There is no book in the library that is the Bible, that ‘speaks’ to our pandemic reality and faith life, like the book of Job. For a brief overview of the Book of Job please use this link

(http://resource.download.wjec.co.uk.s3.amazonaws.com/vtc/2016-17/16-17_2-37/pdf/book-of-job.pdf)

I would like to pick up the story of Job where he shares his befuddlement regarding God’s actions with his friends Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. I think most of us can relate to this, at some point in our relationship with God, perhaps even in this time of Pandemic. In Job’s own reflections and conversation with his friends, he is convinced that in the midst of his own misery, God is no longer trust-worthy, just or reliable (Job 9:19-24). Job accuses God of convicting him and punishing him even though he is innocent. As a result, Job rejects God’s entire system of justice. Yet in chapter 9: 35-37, he seems to be appealing to that same system to plead his case against God.

When God finally responds to Job, it proves most unsatisfactory for Job. God seems to ignore Job’s suffering and his theological ‘anguish’.

The God Job thought he knew appears not to be what he had always understood and envisaged.

Has this ever happened to you? When have you had your understanding of God stretched and transformed?

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This God we encounter in the book of Job points Job to the wonders and mystery of Creation; to the things that only God can do, effectively putting Job in his place.

What do you and I make of this depiction of God?

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God pauses God’s litany of awesomeness and refusal to be understood and confined by human understanding and expectations, to hear what Job has to say – {40:1-2}. Job realizes that he does not have sufficient wisdom and knowledge to respond to God, so he covers his mouth.

Instead, he recognizes God’s splendour, mystery, wonder, power and his own inadequacy to contend with God. So God continues to speak to Job.

Unlike Job in this instance, do we have something we want to say to God in this season of Pandemic? __________________________________________________________________

Job’s Prayer: 42:1-6

Job’s prayer at the end of the book, is in the form of a reply to what he has heard, and the migration of his understanding of the God he thought he had al-ways known. His prayer is a response to what he has heard from God’s self-revealing speech.

His prayer has a distinct form:

a) Job acknowledges God’s unlimited freedom and capacity and splendour

b) Job quotes the words of God:

             “Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge? (38:2)

c)  Job acknowledges that he “spoke of things he did not understand”.

d) Job again quotes the words of God regarding God’s prerogative to question Job (us)

e) Job acknowledges his expanding and evolving under-standing of God.

In his conversation with God in the final chapter, Job tries to assume the role of the questioner. But, in this situation, that is not his place. God asks the questions. God is the interviewer, not Job. Hear the questions again:

Where were you…? (38:4)

Have you commanded…? (38:12)

Have you entered…? (38:16)

Have you entered….? (38:22)

Can you bind the chains…? (38:31)

Can you hunt prey…? (38:39)

Do you know…? (39:1)

Do you give the horse its strength…? (39:19)

At the conclusion of Job’s prayer in verse 6, the common translation of the Hebrew is: “Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”

However, in the Hebrew text the object ‘myself’ is not there.

Perhaps this means that Job is rejecting his small-mindedness, small thinking and limited understanding. As well, the preposition ‘in’ in the Hebrew, is better understood as ‘concerning’; that is, Job has changed his mind concerning dust and ashes.

In other words, Job despises and repents of his grovelling ways – (e.g. ‘dust and ashes’). The whole experience has al-lowed him to have a more discerning, mature, questioning, give and take with God. He has been stretched and through it all has grown in his understanding and his relationship with this mysterious, attentive, accessible God.

How might the pandemic experience and the spotlight on systemic racism – the magnitude of world-wide deaths, hospitalizations and domestic abuse and suffering, the loss of ‘normal’ life, the loss of employment, working from home, the stress of parenting, the lack of access to our elders in long term facilities, the generosity of neighbours and friends, the sacrificial dedication of health care and emergency workers, the disproportionate toll on racialized Black and Brown people, the anxiety around return to school, the re-ordering of priorities, the grieving of deaths and disrupted celebration of live ceremonies, (…you add your own) – like Job, provoke a more honest, bold, humble and confessional conversation. In the midst of our grief, anxiety, prayers, gratitude, anger, etc. – how might we imagine how to do life and community and faith and love and justice differently?

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In this together with you all and with God…

Anthony

The Messenger

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