Chaplain Tucker Messamore: God’s Answer to Suffering

Sermon delivered on Trinity 19B, Sunday, October 10, 2021 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

If you prefer to listen to the audio podcast of today’s sermon, usually somewhat different from the text below, click here.

Lectionary texts: Job 23.1-9, 16-17; Psalm 22.1-15; Hebrews 4.12-16; St. Mark 10.17-31.

Let the words of my mouth & the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

“Where are you, God? Where are you?” This seems to be the question weighing on Job’s heart as he sits atop the ash heap, trying to make sense of the incredible suffering that has befallen him. 

Job was a “blameless and upright” man, one “who feared God and turned away from evil” (Job 1:1). He had a thriving business, a large and tight-knit family, and was considered “the greatest of all the people of the east” (Job 1:3). In short, Job was living the dream! But that dream quickly became a nightmare when in the space of a few hours, Job lost it all. His flocks and herds were stolen by bandits and destroyed in natural disasters. His servants were killed by raiders. All his children died when a house collapsed on them. His body writhed in pain as he was plagued with sores from head to toe. Job’s life had been totally upended by His sufferings. He’d gone from riches to rags, from healthy to hurting, from a position of prominence to a place of pity. 

It’s no wonder that Job is wrestling with these hard thoughts about God that we find on his lips in our Old Testament reading. “Oh, that I knew where I might find Him!” (Job 23:3a). Job is trying to make sense of his sufferings. He’s frantically searching for evidence of God’s presence, but God seems to be strangely absent. “If I go forward, He is not there; or backward, I cannot perceive Him; on the left He hides, and I cannot behold Him; I turn to the right, but I cannot see Him.” (Job 23:8-9). Job longs to speak with God so that he can plead his case (Job 23:4), so that he can understand what God has been up to (Job 23:5), but so far, it seems that Job’s cries to God have only been met with silence.

Of course, Job is not the only person who has ever wrestled with God in the midst of difficult circumstances. As human beings who inhabit a broken and fallen world, we are unfortunately no strangers to pain, heartache, sickness, and loss. We are faced with the same sorts of struggles when we experience suffering of many different kinds: when we receive that difficult diagnosis, when we are forced to live with chronic pain or a debilitating injury, when a loved one dies, when we suffer abuse or mistreatment, when we experience division in our families. In times like these, like Job, we may cry out to God asking, “God, where are you? Do you see what I am going through? Do you care about my pain? Why won’t you do something? Why won’t you answer me?” God does provide an answer to Job’s questions—and to ours. While Job experiences divine silence in chapter 23, eventually, God does respond to Job with a lengthy speech beginning in Job 38.

But God’s ultimate answer to Job—and to all those who suffer—comes not from “the whirlwind” of Job 38, but from a manger in Bethlehem. The fact that God Himself takes on human flesh illustrates that God not only sees us in our suffering, but He understands it, and He cares for us. God does not remain distant or far-removed from human suffering, but instead, He makes Himself vulnerable and chooses to enter into it. This is the beauty of the Incarnation: “God, who cannot get sick, who cannot grow hungry, who cannot bleed, who cannot die—this God comes near” to us in Christ (Kelly Kapic, Embodied Hope, 89).

The author of Hebrews reminds us that Jesus experienced every aspect of our humanity (Hebrews 4:15). He dealt with the mundane weakness of the human body: hunger, thirst, tiredness, aches & pains. Jesus knows what it’s like to experience difficult emotions. He experienced sadness and grief at the death of His friend Lazarus. He felt loneliness as He was betrayed and abandoned by His closest friends. He was plagued with fear and anxiety so intense that He sweat drops of blood as He anticipated the brutality of the cross and the terrible weight of bearing the sin of the whole world. Through His crucifixion, Jesus experienced intense physical pain and even succumbed to death. Adopting the words of the psalmist, He cried out, “My God, my God, why have your forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1). 

When we turn to God in times of great suffering, we can be assured that God is not distant from our troubles. Though He may seem absent, He sees, He knows, and He understands. Jesus is our great high priest who sympathizes with us, and He invites us to bring our burdens to Him (Matt. 11:28-30) “that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).

But Jesus didn’t just come to sympathize with us. He came to save us. He didn’t just step into our world so He could relate to human suffering; He came to rescue us from suffering and sin. Scripture makes it clear that pain, suffering, and death were not originally part of God’s good creation. Instead, they entered the world as a result of human sin. But God did not abandon the world and the people He created to futility and corruption. The Father sent His Son into the world in the power of the Spirit to reverse the curse of sin, to restore creation to what it was meant to be. We see this take place in small ways as Jesus goes about His public ministry. He opens the eyes of the blind, heals the sick, and rebukes and casts out demons. Jesus came to make the world right again. 

But this work of redemption would ultimately be accomplished by His death and resurrection. When Jesus went to the cross, He took our sin upon Himself, He suffered, and He willingly died the death that we deserve. But He didn’t stay in the grave—He rose again in victory, triumphing over sin, death, and Satan. Those who belong to Him can be assured that though we may experience pain and difficulty now, suffering and death do not and cannot have the final word. In Christ, we have the hope that though we die, yet we live (John 11:25). One day, Christ will return and “wipe away every tear from [our] eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

This morning, we are pointed to this hope in Christ as we come to the Table. We are invited to reenact the drama of redemption and to participate in it.

The Eucharist is an act of remembrance. As we partake of the bread and the cup, we are reminded that God Himself took on flesh and blood and became like us, experiencing every aspect of our humanity. We remember that He was tempted in every way just as we are, yet He was without sin (Hebrews 4:15). He suffered and died in our place to put an end to suffering and death.

Communion is also an act of defiant hope by which we proclaim that even though we often encounter pain, suffering, and evil, God is making all things new. Through our celebration of Jesus’ death and resurrection, we boldly declare, in the words of a beloved hymn, that “though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.”

Finally, the Eucharist is an act of anticipation. Jesus said He would “not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes” (Luke 22:18). The Eucharist is a reminder to us that this day is coming! Christ will come again, and at that time, the kingdom of God will come in its fullness. Sin, death, and the devil will be no more, and when it does, we will celebrate—with a feast! The prophet Isaiah foretells of this day when “The Lord of Hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. And He will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of His people He will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken.” (Isaiah 25:6-8)

This is our hope. This is our future. In a few moments, as we prepare for Communion, Fr. Kevin is going to exhort us to “lift up your hearts!” Together, by faith, we ascend to the heavenly places where Christ is. Today, may we approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:16).