When it feels like everything is falling apart

I know various traditions view this differently, but the way I look at it, there is some suffering in life that simply does not make sense.  And it likely never will.  We live in a broken world and as a result, there is suffering that is both caused by us and that comes our way for no good reason.  

But instead of trying to make sense of it all, I find there is a sense of peace that comes when we learn to accept this reality, when we are able to give thanks in spite of our circumstances, and when we come to realize that no matter what happens, and whether or not things make sense, God is right there with us.

This is part of what I hear Job saying in Job 28, the part referred to as the “wisdom chapter.”  In this chapter, Job compares searching for wisdom to mining for various kinds of precious metals and stones.  He acknowledges that though there are many things humans can do, there are limits to our understanding, and human beings are wise to accept them and admit that only God knows the way to wisdom. 

“To fear God is wisdom,” Job declares (Job 28:28).  And it’s helpful to know that the Hebrew word for “fear,” used here, literally translates to “awesome.”  That is to say, true wisdom lies in breathless reverence for God’s mystery and expansiveness, in acknowledging God as the Creator and accepting our place as one of God’s created beings.

To me, this is the thing that brings peace.  Because in those times in my life when it has seemed as though everything is falling apart, or when that has been the case for someone I hold dear, the thing I most need to hear isn’t why those things were happening.  It was that I was not alone and that God was there in those times with me and would help me through, especially when I couldn’t see the way.

With this in mind, one of the things I can’t help thinking about when I read Job is how in our modern culture, the concept of being blessed has become synonymous with privilege, wealth, health, and happiness.  

We label everything from the birth of a new baby to finding a close parking spot with the hashtag blessed.  And we talk about the fact that we are blessed with healthy children or a number of grandchildren or some other thing that we can point to, to prove our blessedness, as though it were a state of being.

And although it has variations, there’s a message in a lot of our Christian churches today that if we just do enough of the right things, we will be blessed.  That is, if we pray or believe or try hard enough, good things will come.  Yet in Christ, blessing is not something meant to be equated to material possessions or a particular set of circumstances or even a reward for particular behaviors.  

Certainly, there are benefits that come from putting effort into reading our Bible, praying, making time for God, and participating in worship.  But those benefits are related to a greater sense of purpose and identity and peace, not fortunate circumstances or a life free from struggle.

Certainly, there is something attractive that if we just do things a certain way we will have a good life, one of which is it feeds into us thinking that we have more control than we probably do.  

But problems arise when we start to think that because we are doing those things, no harm will come our way.  Problems also arise if we connect God’s presence in our lives to an absence of suffering.  

After all, the God who has created and claimed us didn’t avoid or demolish or erase suffering by sending Jesus came into the world, but rather entered into it.  And in so doing, showed us what true love and faithfulness and compassion looks like.  

So rather than think about blessed as an answer to “what” we are.  Today, I invite you to turn that around a bit, and to think about blessed as being “who” you are.  And more specifically, it’s who we are, because of who God is.  

To put it another way, blessed is an identity, it is who we are as children of God.  And then out of that identity, no matter who we are or what our circumstances in life may be, we are given a sense of purpose and meaning and intention that gives shape to our lives.

Though we may never know this side of heaven why certain things happen or the answer to the elusive question of why there is undeserved suffering in the world, what I hope you take with you hear today is the reminder that you are have already received the greatest blessing there is: the blessing that says, you are loved, forgiven, and made whole.  You were yesterday.  And you will be tomorrow.

There is a peace that settles us when we are able to look steadily at this truth, and accept that life is not always as we want it to be and stop pretending it is something it is not. 

Yes, there will be times when we do not feel particularly blessed.  And yes, there are times when life is inexplicably hard.  Yet even in those times when everything seems as though it is falling apart, we can be confident that God is with us and will see us through.