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Maybe


Our Reading this week is from Job 38.  Job, after suffering in every imaginable way, has called out God, crying "Why!?".  This chapter is a portion of God's response:

"Where were you when I laid the foundation of the Earth? Tell me if you have understanding." - Job 38:4 (ESV)

God continues to challenge Job with the mysteries of the world.  How it was created, the boundaries of the oceans, the movement of the sun and stars, where the light comes from, or where the winds are dispersed.  As you observe the conversation it may be easy to think that God is mocking Job, but God is really just showing Job that the world is complicated, that his question is complicated, and the answer is beyond him.  God is demonstrating some of the complexities of the things that Job has some understanding of, as an example of how Job could not understand the answer to his own question.  

I remember my daughter asking me complicated scientific questions, that she could never wrap her head around at her age.  I refused to give placating or passive answers.  If she asked, I told her, somehow thinking she may not understand, but she would maybe learn to love science.  When she was three she asked why the sky was blue.  I went into a complicated answer about how light from the sun comes in contact with the atmosphere.  She stared at me blankly, and walked away before I finished explaining.  Is giving an answer that cannot be understood really any better than not giving an answer?  Our pride tells us yes, but in reality, is it just because we think we are smart enough to understand? 

There is an old Zen parable that demonstrates this concept well. One day a farmer's horse ran away.  When his neighbors heard they came to visit saying "Oh, such bad luck, we are so sorry".  The farmer replied "Maybe".  The next day the horse returned with 3 wild horses.  The neighbors came to visit saying "Oh, how wonderful!".  The farmer replied "Maybe".  The next day the farmer's son tried to ride one of the wild horses.  He was thrown off and broke his leg.  The neighbors offered their sympathy "Oh no, such a tragedy".  The farmer said "Maybe".  The following day the military arrived in the village to draft the youth into the army.  Since the son's leg was broken they passed over him.  The neighbors came to celebrate "Oh, what a joy, what a blessing!".  The farmer said "Maybe".  

God, when we suffer, as Job did, help us to understand.  When we can't understand, help us to accept it, as the farmer in that old parable did.  When we encounter others who suffer, help us to listen, and avoid talking about things we don't understand, like Job's friends did.  May we be good listeners, and let our "doing" have more to do with actions of justice than empty words.  

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