“Have you not known?  Have you not heard?”

 

There are certain passages of the Bible which have the power to provoke us, and inspire us, and summon us to a greater and far more expansive perspective on existence.

 

The final chapters of the Book of Job, for example, set such a vision before us.   Those of you who have read the Book of Job will know that, after Job’s long and complex exploration of the reasons for human suffering and the question about how a good and decent person like Job was to understand the tragedies and struggles that had befallen him, the final chapters of that ancient book describe what happens when God actually shows up in the midst of Job’s musings.

 

And what is intriguing for us, as readers, is that God never actually explains the reasons for Job’s suffering.  Rather, it is the presence of God, in the midst of Job’s time of suffering – it is the willingness of God to respond and to be present, even in the face of suffering, that transforms and expands Job’s vision.

 

But this transforming presence is not revealed in some grand demonstration of power.  Rather, it is simply God’s presence – and perhaps more importantly, the questions that God asks of Job, in response to Job’s dilemma, that have this profound effect.

 

With God’s appearance comes a series of questions, put to Job.

 

So, you want to understand the mysteries of suffering, do you?  Well, gird up your loins like a man, Job, says God, because I have some questions for you to answer if you want to understand mysteries as great and as complex and as universal as suffering.

 

Where were you when I put the stars and galaxies in their places?   Have you seen the mountain goats giving birth in remote and inaccessible places?  Do you understand the ways of the mysterious creatures that dwell in the very depths of the oceans?  Do you know where the wind comes from, and where it goes?  Such divine questions go on from there – and by the time that they are done, we as readers, as well as the character Job, cannot help but be left somewhat speechless at the magnificence and the magnitude of the questions that are inscribed upon these ancient pages, and that push our consciousness past the mundane questions that so often plague our minds.

 

Are you really ready, are you really able to comprehend the great mysteries of existence?   Is your vision big enough to even ask the questions?

 

Today’s suggested reading from the prophet Isaiah reminds me of the words that are found at the end of Job, since the prophet invites a similarly expansive perspective on existence.  The passage, drawn from the second part of Isaiah, is addressed to the people in Babylon, people who had been carried away into exile and who were losing hope and feeling abandoned by their God.  The Babylonians seemed to have triumphed and emerged victorious and dominant, having not only conquered the people, but having also taken many of them into exile.  It was a time of despair, a time of suffering, a time of dislocation, a time when nothing seemed to be right about the present, and nothing seemed to be hopeful about the future.  Their land, their security, their confidence, their hope was gone.

 

And it was to those dispirited people that Isaiah first addressed these prophetic utterances. And, like Job, the prophet’s vision is rooted in questions that are put to his audience, and to us, both as people of faith and as mortal, finite human beings.

 

You are feeling overwhelmed by the struggles of life and by the challenges of existence, are you?   You are losing any sense of hope that the future could be filled with anything but dread and despair?  You are convinced that the powers and stresses of life are too much to confront?

Well, “Have you not seen?  Have you not heard?  Has it not been told you from the beginning?  Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?”

 

In other words, the prophet was inviting his people to strive for more perspective, to remember that the vision at the heart of their faith was rooted in the conviction that it was God, and not any lesser power, who was still sovereign, still in control, still present.  The God before whom they and their ancestors had bowed in worship, and the God before whom we and our ancestors have bowed in worship is, in no possible way, limited or constrained by the seeming powers of this world.

 

Which is a far more personal vision than we first imagine.  Because this vision does not only invite a more expansive vision in the midst of exile.  Rather, it is a vision that we are all invited to glimpse, regardless of our circumstances.

 

Do we feel overwhelmed and hopeless because those in power are revealed to be corrupt, morally dubious, even as the Babylonian oppressors seemed to be?

 

Well, expand your vision.

“It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to live in; who brings princes to naught, and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing.”

 

Do you feel abandoned and forsaken and cast adrift in life, no longer sure if the presence and the promises of God can be trusted?  Are you feeling that you are losing your faith, and instead feeling weary, forgotten, powerless?

Well, expand your vision.

 

Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel,

‘My way is hidden from the LORD, and my right is disregarded by my God’?

Have you not known?  Have you not heard?

The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.

He does not faint or grow weary;

His understanding is unsearchable.

He gives power to the faint,

And strengthens the powerless.

 

We need to expose ourselves to such a vision as this, regularly, if we are going to find the renewing, transforming power of faith at work in our lives.

After all, many of us approach our faith and our spirituality with a far more limited perspective.  We want to know what rules we are supposed to follow, we want to be assured that we are loved and forgiven, we want some inspiration and some challenge and some peace as we make our way through life, we think that the Gospel, this good news that we are always talking about, is primarily there to make us feel good – and there is nothing inherently wrong with any of these desires or motivations.

 

But sometimes, these more “practical” daily perspectives on our faith can lead us to lose sight of the vision that faith seeks to place before our eyes.

 

And the vision is this.  Faith calls us to know, to hear, to see, to believe, to trust to the One whose power is infinitely greater than anyone or anything that competes for our attention and our allegiance.  We may look at the challenges of this world – political challenges, environmental challenges, economic challenges, cultural challenges – and feel overwhelmed, exhausted by the sheer magnitude of the problems that confront us.  But have you not known?  Have you not seen?   There is One whose power far surpasses any of these seemingly overwhelming challenges.

 

We may look at our own lives – our uncertainties, our stresses, our worries, our despair, our doubt – and feel overwhelmed, exhausted by the sheer magnitude of the problems that confront us.  But have you not know?  Have you not seen?  There is One whose power far surpasses any of these seemingly overwhelming personal challenges.

 

We may even look at existence itself – at its times of meaningless and chaos, at the seemingly inescapable reality of suffering that is or that will beset us, even at our seemingly unconscious yet powerfully influential awareness that our lives, themselves, will inevitably cease in mortal death – and feel overwhelmed, exhausted by the sheer magnitude of this weight of conscious existence.  But have you not known?  Have you not seen?  There is One whose power far surpasses any of these seemingly overwhelming existential challenges – and even surpasses the power of death itself.

 

The good news, therefore, is not simply about a message; it is about a vision – a vision for this world, a vision for our lives, a vision for human existence, that is rooted in the awareness and the consciousness that all powers are as nothing when compared with the power of the One before whom we bow in worship.

 

But what then, one might ask, are we to do if the challenges of life have clouded or perhaps even completely cut off our vision?  What happens when we no longer know, when we can no longer hear, perhaps when we can no longer even believe that there could be anything beyond the powerful forces that so clearly exert their influence on our lives and on our world?

 

Well, the prophet’s answer to such questions was clear – and it is as difficult to follow, today, as it was to follow all those centuries ago.

 

And the answer was this.

 

Expand your vision.  And then wait.

 

And why?

 

Because The Lord is the everlasting God,

The Creator of the ends of the earth.

He does not faint or grow weary;

His understanding is unsearchable.

He gives power to the faint,

And strengthens the powerless.

Even youths will faint and be weary,

And the young will fall exhausted;

But those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;

They shall mount up with wings like eagles,

They shall run and not be weary,

They shall walk and not faint.

 

Expand your vision.  Wait.

And by the way, while you are waiting, remember all that God has done before; remember how God’s power has, so often, been revealed in the past; remember that nothing, not even death itself, can stand in God’s way.

 

Remember.

 

In fact, if you really want to remember how great God’s power actually can be, all that you have to do is get together with your friends, and take some bread, and take some wine, and eat and drink in remembrance of what God’s power can actually do.

 

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