All we have to do for God is to know his love and to show his love to others

Mary Copping, 20 June 2021

Job 38: 1–11; 2 Corinthians 6: 1–13; Mark 4: 35–41

A book I read many years ago was called Why do bad things happen to good people?

Our first reading is from the book of Job. Job was a God-fearing man who lost his family, his cattle, his home and had a terrible skin disease. Would he still trust in God through all this pain and suffering and loss? His friends didn’t help very much, giving the reason as to why this was happening was that Job had sinned and was being punished. The friends are often called Job’s comforters, but they didn’t seem to give him much comfort. Job asks God, why is this happening to me? And God’s response is in our reading – not one of explanation, but one of showing Job his power, his mystery, his unknowness.

Our reading from 2 Corinthians gives a list of similar trials that Saint Paul and his companions went through. Paul’s was not an easy life, and yet from these trials came beautiful writings – writings of instructions to the churches, and confessions of weakness and a sense of Paul’s closeness to God, and God speaking to him.

Yesterday I was in Dorchester with my family, to lay flowers on my husband Pete’s grave. It was the sixth anniversary of his death – a sad occasion, but also one of joy and giving thanks for all that he meant to us and to so many people. The time that led up to his death was very painful, difficult, traumatic, as you can imagine; and yet I and all the family encountered so much kindness and generosity from doctors, nurses, friends, people at church.

People have asked me since, where is your faith in God now? How can you believe in a God who lets that happen to you when you’re serving him? But throughout it all I have felt God’s love and comfort through so many people. We know that being a Christian doesn’t mean that we escape the difficulties and pain of the world, doesn’t mean that God shields us from everything, but that God is with us in this. Throughout that time and since, I have called out to God for help many times, and for strength, and he has been there for me.

At the end of the book of Job, Job says, ‘Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.’ Job’s belief and trust in God had been strengthened and renewed with all that he had been through.

We have all been through trauma, pain and suffering and continue to do so in these Covid times and beyond. And often God brings people to help us, comfort us and encourage us. They are his angels on earth to spread his love. We will all have experienced tender love and concern from those people who have been there for us when we haven’t known where to turn – God’s angels to help us get through.

God also brings that comfort through animals – pets, those on farms, therapy dogs. When I went into Bereweeke Court Nursing Home, often I would see someone bring in their dog for the residents to stroke, and the dogs brought them great joy. I read in the paper the other day about such a therapy dog. He is a dog owned by a fire station, and the dog helps firemen calm down in their distress when they have been exposed to trauma in their job. On this occasion the firemen were trying to talk down a very distressed lady who was threatening to jump off a bridge, but they’d had no luck. A fireman then thought of introducing her to the therapy dog, Digby. She immediately turned round and smiled at the dog, and this led to a discussion about him, and the woman wanted to get down to meet him. Her life was saved through this wonderful dog – a ‘dog angel’ sent from God.

We ourselves are often angels sent by God – to comfort someone who is grieving, to be there for someone who is stressed, to phone someone who we have just thought about – all this led and guided by God’s Holy Spirit.

In a sermon a while ago I heard a quote from St Augustine, ‘Untie by love the knot that you tied about yourself through fear’. There are many knots tied around ourselves of fear (as with the disciples in the boat), but for us the fear of the pandemic, of what it’s going to do to us, as well as knots of self-protection and sadness. As angels of God we can help others in the untying of these knots through showing love to all those around us.

‘Untie by love the knot that you tied about yourself through fear’ – St Augustine

So, why do bad things happen to good people? Why the suffering of Job, a God-fearing man; the suffering of Paul, an obedient servant of God; and so many sad and difficult things that have happened to each one of us as we each follow and serve God? The question is one that hasn’t got an easy answer, if an answer at all. This life involves suffering as well as joys and happiness. God is our Father who loves us, and as a Father, he sees our suffering and suffers with us and helps us through. But as we know, he is not a magician ready to wave a magic wand to make things all right. The human condition is that we do suffer sometimes. But as Christians we can have that awareness of the Father’s love and that God is with us through the suffering (though sometimes we cannot see it). Others are agents of his love for us, and we are agents of his love for others.

On songs of praise last Sunday Sheridan Voysey, the broadcaster, spoke movingly about his and his wife’s struggles to have a baby and realising they couldn’t. With tears in his eyes he said that he had finally realised that all he had to do for God was to know his love and to show his love to others – he said, ‘That’s all I have to do, just love’.

So let us go from here with the hope and joy we have in being loved by God, and ask him to enable us to be angels of love to all those around us.

I’m going to finish by singing a few verses from ‘Brother, sister, let me serve you’. Let us pray.

I will hold the Christlight for you
in the night-time of your fear;
I will hold my hand out to you,
speak the peace you long to hear.

I will weep when you are weeping;
when you laugh, I’ll laugh with you.
I will share your joy and sorrow
till we’ve seen this journey through.

Brother, sister, let me serve you,
let me be as Christ to you;
pray that I may have the grace
to let you be my servant, too.

[Richard Gillard (b. 1953) © 1977 Scripture in Song/Maranatha! Music/adm. Song Solutions CopyCare]