“The World is More Precious Than We Can Possibly Imagine”
Among the lectionary readings for the month of October are selections from the book of Job. Having long been fascinated by this magnificent story, I decided back in summer that October’s sermons would be oriented around Job and themes of lament, suffering, repentance, the sovereignty of God, etc. Strangely, I never really clued in to the fact that the first Sunday in October would be Thanksgiving Sunday here in Canada, and that I would thus find myself in the somewhat awkward position of starting a series on the trials of Job on a Sunday normally devoted to giving thanks to God for the blessings we enjoy! It was an interesting experience, to say the least, trying to weave together themes of gratitude and grace, pain and promise, suffering and salvation, through the stories of Job, Jesus, and all of us who ponder the mysteries of joy and pain in their shadow.
Last night, after a good day celebrating Thanksgiving with family, I came across this marvelous passage in an essay by Marilynne Robinson called “Wondrous Love” (found in When I Was a Child I Read Books). Robinson has such an incredible gift with words, and these words, it seems to me, beautifully express some of the themes we encountered in worship yesterday:
The great narrative, to which we as Christians are called to be faithful, begins at the beginning of all things and ends at the end of all things, and within the arc of it civilizations blossom and flourish, wither and perish. This would seem a great extravagance, all the beautiful children of earth lying down in a final darkness. But no, there is that wondrous love to assure us that the world is more precious than we can possibly imagine.
There is the human intimacy of the story—the astonishing, profoundly ordinary birth, the weariness of itinerancy, the beloved friends who disappoint bitterly and are still beloved, the humiliations of death—Jesus could know as well as anyone who has passed through life on this earth what it means to yearn for balm and healing. He could know what it would mean to hear a tender voice speaking of an ultimate home where sorrow ends and error is forgotten. Most wonderfully, he could be the voice that says to the weary of the world, “I will give you rest,” and “In my Father’s house there are many mansions.”
It is a story written down in various forms by writers whose purpose was first of all to render the sense of a man of surpassing holiness whose passage through the world was understood, only after his death, to have revealed the way of God toward humankind. How remarkable. This is too great a narrative to be reduced to serving any parochial interest or to be overwritten by any lesser tale. Reverence should forbid in particular its being subordinated to tribalism, resentment, or fear.