Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Everything You Love:
Job, Bob Schneider, Aging, and Death

"God will destroy everything you love, if you live long enough."  Bob Schneider

Holy Scripture has a lot to say about death, and most of it is appallingly honest.  Perhaps because talking about death is harder for those of us who read Scripture than for those who wrote it, we readers frequently miss out on some of the gifts that Scripture might otherwise give us.  For example, many people look to Scripture for moral instruction, personal guidance and prosperity (the prayer of Jabez, anyone?), as an encyclopedia of truth, and - perhaps most popularly - as apocalyptic decoder ring.  But when was the last time you read Scripture for its theological reflections on aging? (1)

I am reading Job this week, as part of Reading God's Story, and it has struck me that the book of Job is not just about suffering and the problem of evil - a good man put down - it's also a story of loss experienced over time.  Even though Job's decline is presented as abrupt, the decline is not unlike that of aging - of growing old:

I directed their course and presided as chief.
I lived as a king among his troops,
like one who comforts
those who mourn.

But now they mock me,
men younger than I am,
whose fathers I would have refused to put
with my sheep dogs. (2)

Thus Bob Schneider's somber lyric to an upbeat tune: "God will destroy everything you love, if you live long enough."  There is a sad kind of hope in that lyric, but only that the end of loss will come in one's own destruction.  Thus the depths of the despair expressed by those who take their own lives.  Indeed, this is something of Job's own temptation.

Read this way, Job's story becomes everyone's story - not just the source of general abstractions about good and evil.  Not everyone will suffer because the Adversary played a bet with God.  But all of us will grow old until we die.  All of us will experience loss along the way. 

At this point it's almost impossible not to hear Jesus's words: "Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life" (Jn 12:25).

These are hard words.  But what Jesus is talking about in John's gospel the Church calls resurrection, and we know it in and through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  This is both our calling and our hope as believers, baptized into both Christ's death and resurrection.

And while it may be hard to read books like Job's or hear songs like Bob's, I think that by opening us up to the fullness of loss (which we can be tempted to skirt) they also open up to us the fullness of hope, because they allow us to feel the full extent of the wounds Christ means to heal.  Resurrection, after all, is YES the surety of eternal life, but eternal life means the keeping, the reconciling, of even broken pieces lost along the way; it's balm not just for future death but balm for now.  ALL things - every last thing - reconciled to God.

(1) Quick aside: My own (hardly original) take is that, in Scripture, the question that God is answering is this one: "Who are you, Lord?"  That is, Holy Scripture is God's self-revelation of who God is and, most especially, the story of Jesus as God's showing us God's self.  Along the way, we learn who we are in relation to God and what God is up to, which turns out to be a partnership with us: reconciling the whole creation to God in Christ Jesus. 

(2) Job 29:25-30:1

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