Why, Oh Why?

Published Sep 23, 2016 in the Ames Tribune

By Eileen Gebbie

I haven’t written a piece for this paper in some time. I scheduled myself for every month, and was succeeding, until members of my church began to experience an unprecedented wave of death, cancer and division. Not the kinds I usually write about, not the large scale losses and diseases of racism and poverty, but intimate and very present lives in ruins.

This means I have been spending more time than ever asking the biggest theological question of them all: “Why?” Not just why did a loved one die, why does someone have to have cancer, why doesn’t a relationship work, but why did God allow this to happen and why isn’t God fixing it all?

This makes sense to me. In crises we generally know who, what, when, where and how. Those are the sources of the pain. But the “why,” even when the concrete answers are bad cells or bad communication, seems to remain hidden behind a curtain. It is the same curtain that also seems to hide the divine.
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A Eulogy

life-is-uncontrollable-wildnessOn Saturday, September 3, 2016 my church gathered to celebrate the life of a gentleman who just two weeks before had been a vibrant, healthy father and academic. Then he was stung by a wasp.

Services for those who die suddenly or “too soon” have a different rhythm and tone than those for someone in their nineties or who has had a long illness.

In this case, the family had asked for four speakers, so it was important that I address the theological issue of the day (“Why?!”) succinctly, then allow the rest to tell his story.

Our last reading today, the familiar passage in Ecclesiastes, says that there is a time for everything in life, the good and the bad. But I think I speak for the family and all of us gathered here when I say this was not Chet’s time to die. This was not somehow his cosmic turn, one ordained in the stars, or dictated by the divine. Chet is gone too soon, well before his time.

Over the course of this summer our church has been studying the book of Job. Job’s story of wholescale loss, his argument with well-meaning friends, and his poetic dialogue with God, give voice to our own confusion and pain and anger on a day like today.

And although later editors tried to explain away Job’s suffering, the ancient poem ultimately says that “Why?” is not the question in senseless death. Instead, the question holiness actually answers is “What is?” What is life?

Life is uncontrollable wildness, a tapestry of biology and chance, infused with the sacred and partnered with death. Chet’s biology could not withstand its chance encounter with wildness. And so death came.

And in each moment that he drew breath and the one in which he stopped, Chet was in the presence of God.

At the end of Job, a community of family and friends who are family, help to rebuild the daily life Job had lost. They could not replace those who had died, but they could ensure that he was not alone in grieving and the necessary taking of steps and breathing of breaths. It is our sorrow and our privilege to do that today for Chet’s loving family.

What is life? It is loving, even though we know we will lose what we love, it is living richly and bravely within God’s wild tapestry.

Job 42.1–7: Let God be God and Care for the Needful

wombofgodDelivered at Ames UCC
on August 28, 2016
©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

Sermons are written to be heard rather than read. Please join us for worship at 10:30 a.m. on Sundays.

I was a little worried about starting a series on Job in the summer. Summer is a happy, sunny time and Job is such a bummer. His is a winter tale, not a lure to come to church when you could be out on a kayak or hike.

But over the last few weeks our church has experienced a surge in suffering: cancer diagnoses, cancer treatments, emergency surgeries, housing loss, relational loss, imminent death, and death itself through disease or depression.

I have never believed life is or should be easy, but the particulars and the volume combined have shaken me at times. And more than one of you now have either asked, “Does this make me Job?” or otherwise referenced this sad and serious story.

There is no right time to study Job because the trauma the poem describes will always come at what feels like the wrong time.
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Loving Job: Job 1.1–22

releasegodDelivered at First Christian Church
on July 3, 2016
©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie

Sermons are written to be heard rather than read. Please join us for worship at 10:30 a.m. on Sundays (except in July, when we worship with First Christian Church at 9:30 a.m., alternating between FCC and Ames UCC).

Show of hands: Who loves the story of Job? Who really dislikes it? I was wary of it for a long time because it sounded so mean: God letting someone lose their whole family to prove a point. It seemed to reinforce notions of God wanting suffering and suffering somehow being redemptive—what I consider the worst of our tradition’s contribution to understanding the holy.

And I think I felt like having faith in God would require me to accept that ugliness, that somehow becoming a Christian meant accepting and professing a characterization of God that I found grotesque.

Now Job is one of my favorites. Job gives us glimpses into other times and cultures; it reminds us that our religion is a hybrid. Job asks the fundamental questions of this life, without the Christian distraction of afterlife.

And, as I hope you will see, in the end the story of Job offers a portrait of God that denies all of our efforts to humanize the divine. In Job, holiness is at a scale that truly inspires awe and justifies our faith, hope, and love.

God in Job is not grotesque, but glorious.

So, as our Bible itself does, let’s begin at the beginning, with the context and main characters.
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