Living Death

Tuesday, August 28, 2012 — Week of Proper 16

Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, and Theologian, 430

Moses the Black, Desert Father and Martyr, c. 405

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 981)

Psalm 5,6 (morning) // 10, 11 (evening)

Job 6:1-4, 8-15, 21

Acts 9:32-43

John 6:60-71

[Go to for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

From years ago I remember reading something that haunted me. It was a book of fiction, some thriller or murder mystery; I forget the name of the book. The villain was someone who liked to torture people. I was about to repeat the part of the book that so troubled me, but as I was writing it, I decided that it is not something I want to spread. I don’t want someone else having to live with a similar image in their memory, even if it is fiction. Suffice it to say, there are situations where one can only wish to die and beg for its relief to come soon. I’ve been with people at those times. I’ve begged God for their release.

Job gives word to that terrible anguish: “O that I might have my request, and that God would grant my desire; that it would please God to crush me, that he would let loose his hand and cut me off! …What is my strength, that I should wait? And what is my end, that I should be patient?” (6:8-9, 11)

After many years of being with people during their final passage to death, I’ve formed a rather simple, literal belief that God works with particular meaning and efficiency around the timing of death. So often I’ve seen things happen in the waiting and process of death, usually things that are only recognizable later in retrospect. God seems to use that liminal time to heal relationships and individuals.

Yet as I write this, I also recall other sufferings unto death that I have experienced as mere tragedy. I could no blessing or healing, only extended misery. In those situations, Job’s accusation toward his friends hits home to me. He tells them, “You see my calamity, and are afraid.” (6:21b) I fear such circumstances for anyone and for myself.

I can pray that we offer our suffering to God as Jesus did on his cross, trusting God to accomplish something when we are helpless. I can pray that God will give meaning to our suffering as he gave meaning to Jesus’ cross. I can pray that, in some mysterious way, God will use our human pain as God used Jesus’ suffering, for the healing of the world. I can recognize that we may never know how God might use our suffering. I know we may experience the kind of utter abandonment and hopelessness that yields such plaintive words as, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34) Remembering such human possibilities puts passion into the petition from the Lord’s Prayer, “Save us from the time of trial.” Yet, I can imagine God’s presence and work in the darkness.

We are still at the beginning of Job. He has yet so much to endure. It makes me wonder for myself and for those whom I love, what shall we have to endure? How shall we manage?

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