This Sunday we will be reading from the 8 chapter of Mark. It is the climax of the Gospel, the moment where, at Caesarea-Philippi, Jesus is declared to be the Messiah. The setting is a ripe context, being located near the springs which become the River Jordan and Mount Hermon (the Tribe of Dan had an ancient cult site there, 1 Enoch 13 associates it with Enoch's vision) it is an ancient pagan sanctuary to the god Pan and is a city built by a son of Herod, which he named for the Roman Emperor and himself. The archaeologists have discovered an ancient temple, to the Emperor?, as well. The demonic and world powers stand, lurking, as Jesus asks the question: Who am I?
The Daily Cycle of Prayer has included chapters of The Book of Job for three weeks now. Job is a familiar story even if few have actually read the whole book. It presents the dilemma of an innocent man suffering and accusing God of injustice, while his pious friends insist that "all things happen for a reason" and that he must have sinned. Job had lost all his children and all his wealth, covered with sores he begged to die, while asserting his innocence and God's injustice. This year, though, I realized that Job's situation is the Christian call. Jesus says that He takes precedence over our family, our wealth, and our very self... He says this many times and in many ways, but nothing is more stark as His words in Mark 8: "If you would be my disciple, pick up your cross and follow me." However horrific the story of Job appears to us, the Lord Jesus makes it the criteria for following Him.
The answer to the book of Job is Jesus.
In Jesus, God redeems innocent suffering as He embraces it in the human flesh of the Divine Man, His Son, Jesus. Every accusation of Job must be reframed as God responds, "I am with you in this." Job's question (Job 14:14), "Can a man die and live again?" is also answered in Jesus. The hopeless human condition of suffering and then death is redeemed in Jesus. The complaint that God is above it all, untouched by His creation, is proven, in Jesus, to be a false accusation.
The mystery of innocent suffering (and God rebukes the friends of Job who declare that no one is innocent and no suffering is undeserved) remains a mystery. Humans cannot philosophize it away, and for those in torment the wise words ring empty. We do well to recognize, as the Book of Job seems to imply, that it is beyond us to understand. Perhaps there is something intrinsic to the nature of God? Perhaps there is more to be revealed which will make sense of it all? Whatever else might be said about human suffering, the suffering Messiah, God become Man and literally holding our hand and walking with us as we enter the crucible, means that our pain is not meaningless. It matters to God.
Why is the loss of all part of discipleship? Does it mean that we must literally leave our family and possessions, embracing extreme poverty as the only venue to our savior? What does such suffering mean? Sunday we will broach this sublime subject.