October 7, 2018 — Twentieth Sunday After Pentecost
Rev. Alison Quin
Keep the Dialogue Going
“All conflict comes from broken dialogue.”
Steve Schunk, who is a trained mediator, said that to me recently and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.
All conflict comes from broken dialogue.
We see that played out in politics—politicians don’t consult with each other or listen to each other. There is no dialogue, and so conflict continues. We see the breakdown of dialogue leading to conflict played out in our country, our communities and even in our families.
Dialogue does not always lead to agreement, but without dialogue, there is no relationship, and no possibility of reaching agreement. When you communicate, when you talk and listen to each other, there is a good chance you will see each other’s humanity, and perhaps understand each other better, even if you cannot agree.
Communicating is at the heart of being human. After all, we are made in the image of God—and it is God’s nature to communicate.
“In the beginning was the Word.” God spoke the world into being. Then, as the Letter to the Hebrews says, “God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets. But in these last days, he has spoken to us by a Son.” Jesus not only delivered the message through his teachings—Jesus IS the message—God’s ultimate communication. Jesus is God’s word of love—a love that was willing to enter fragile contingent human flesh, a love that was willing to die for us, a love that revealed new life on the other side of death.
Someone told me recently that he used to blame God for all the bad things that happened to him, but that was because he didn’t know God then. Once he reopened a dialogue with God, he experienced God’s love, and God’s life-giving presence in the midst of the most painful moments of his life.
The book of Job wrestles with the question of bad things happening, and whether they are God’s fault, or perhaps ours. The book was probably written during the exile—when Israel was under occupation, and many of its people were in exile in Babylon.
So the question was very pressing for them.
The book introduces Job as a man who was blameless and upright, who feared God and turned away from evil. In the verses that are left out of today’s reading, we find out that he had seven sons and three daughters, seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen, five hundred donkeys and very many servants–he was the greatest of all the people of the east…” And we find out that Job was scrupulous about making sacrifices to God to cover his sins and his children’s sins, even sins that they were not aware of.
Then there is a scene of the heavenly council meeting with God (Who knew even heaven has meetings?), where the satan (meaning the accuser or prosecuting attorney) is making his report and God says, have you considered my servant Job, how blameless and upright he is? And the satan says, sure he is—you’ve given him everything. But if he loses what he has, he will curse you. So God gives the satan permission to test Job, and the satan destroys Job’s children and all his possessions. Job does not curse God but says, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, naked I shall return. The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”
Now we come to today’s text—round 2. God says, “See? He IS an upright man.” The satan says, “well, just let him lose his health and then he will curse you.” So God gives permission to the satan to test Job again and this time he is covered with loathsome sores. Now his wife wants him to curse God, but he still refuses. He curses the day he was born instead.
The book sets up a situation of undeserved suffering by an innocent man and his family. And raises the question, why would God allow it? Job’s friends show up and they all have theories about how Job must have done something wrong or God wouldn’t have punished him.
Job denies that he has done anything wrong—he cries out to God in misery and rage and demands that God show up so that he can make his case to God. “Oh, that I knew where I might find him, that I might come even to his dwelling! I would lay my case before him, and fill my mouth with arguments. I would learn what he would answer me, and understand what he would say to me.”
For a long time, Job does not get a response from God, just more unhelpful comments from his friends.
But in the end, God does appear, and speaks to him out of the whirlwind. God speaks to Job at length, about who God is—the creator of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen. God communicates with Job about the mystery of creation—the extraordinary beauty and variety of life in all its wild glory. God goes on and on in one of the most powerful and beautiful poems I have ever read. God really never gives an explanation for Job’s suffering, except to say that his friends were dead wrong for suggesting he did something to deserve it.
Notwithstanding the lack of an explanation, Job is deeply satisfied because God communicated with him. We were born for communication with God and nothing else can fully satisfy us. Job caught a glimpse of who God is, and his relationship with God was restored. The suffering was terrible, but God is the giver of life, who gives us grace and love to overcome it.
I want to close with a quote from Emma González, one of the high school students in Parkland, Florida who saw their classmates gunned down a year ago. She wrote an op ed piece in Friday’s [OCT. 5, 2018] New York Times about getting through her grief by communicating—not only through her role as a powerful advocate for gun control but also through crying.
She says: “I also cry a lot. But crying is healthy and it feels good—I really don’t know why people are so against it. Maybe because it’s loud. Crying is a kind of communication and communication is awesome. The lack of communication is what keeps us in this situation.”
The lesson is, keep communicating. Keep the dialogue going with the people in your life, no matter how much you disagree with them. Keep the dialogue going with your leaders, whether or not you agree with them. Above all, keep the dialogue going with God, our creator and the lover of our souls.