Does the eagle soar at your command and build its nest on high? Job 39:27 (NIV)
When I was a child in elementary school, I remember studying the American bald eagle and how near they were to extinction. I have memories of thinking that I might never see one and how sad that would be. The few that did exist, I was told, were in the wild of Alaska or the Rocky Mountains far from my home on the rolling plains of Iowa.
Much to my joy, bald eagles have become a fairly common sight near my Iowa hometown in recent years, though the sight never ceases to stop me in my tracks and fill me with wonder. Conservation efforts have worked. At our place on Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri there are eagles which nest in the back of our cove. There is nothing quite like the sight of that giant raptor with it’s snowy white head and tail soaring right over you. This summer we even had the treat of watching a young eagle dive into the shallow water at the back of the cove over and over and over again learning to catch fish.
God’s questioning of Job in today’s chapter focuses on His sovereignty and care over creation. I find it interesting that creation has a natural order to it which God set into motion. It fascinates me how the animal and plant kingdoms operate in symbiotic relationships and function amazingly well in the propagation of life and the natural environment. Humanity has a way of coming along and messing things up more often than not. I would argue that it is a consequence of the Fall, and perhaps that is part of God’s point to Job.
I’m looking forward to seeing the eagles again at the lake this summer. They remind me that there is hope of redemption, even at the brink of extinction. A eucatastrophe in nature. This summer there will be an added layer of meaning as I remember God’s questioning of Job, and me.
We find ourselves in today’s chapter back on the ash heap with Job and his three friends. The friends have all had a chance to address Job and they all express their own taken on the same theme: “You must have done something wrong and your suffering is God’s just punishment. Simply confess and repent and God will restore you.” Job, in response, continues to plead his case: “You don’t know what you’re talking about. I’ve done nothing to deserve my sufferings. God refuses to answer my requests for explanation. I have no hope. Let me just die and be done with it.”
In today’s chapter, Job both expresses his utter hopelessness and then invites his friends to have another go at him. I don’t hear Job’s invitation as a challenge as much as it is a gesture of futility and despair. It as if he’s saying “I’m just waiting to die. I’ve got nothing better to do, and nobody better than you blowhards to keep me company. Go ahead and take another shot at me while I’m down.”
Job continues to express his feelings of isolation. His suffering has singled him out from the rest of the world. I think back to the beginning of Job’s story and the root of his suffering:
So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and afflicted Job with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head. Job 2:7
I never want to forget that the story of Job is a story about spiritual warfare waged to claim the territory of an individual’s spirit. Job was a righteous and blameless man. Job was a King’s man. Satan, the enemy, desired to break Job, make him curse God so as to raise his black flag of victory over Job’s soul . Any student of history and war knows that one of the most basic military tactics is to isolate your enemy. Cut your enemy off from supply lines and make them despair, and you usually find yourself victorious. Satan has done just that. Job feels isolated, alone, and in utter despair.
Today, I am reminding myself that the enemy uses the same tactic on me that he did with Job. Feelings of isolation lead to despair, despair leads to hopelessness, hopelessness sucks faith and life from our soul. Parched and starving for faith and hope, we are rendered spiritually impotent. On the other hand, continuing to choose faith and hope in the midst of inexplicable suffering is a powerful spiritual weapon through which eucatastrophe springs.
Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I entrust my life. Psalm 143:8 (NIV)
Morning has always been one of my favorite times of the day. Each day I wake up and the sun rises it is a fresh eucatastrophe of Life. Hope comes with the dawn and I have a fresh start and a clean slate in front of me. Whatever poor choices I made yesterday, the dawn brings opportunity to make different and better choices today. I can’t change the past, but each morning I am reminded that I have this day to love well, live well, laugh well, en-joy my blessings, be a blessing to others, and join the Creator in the art of creating something new.
The prophet Jeremiah wrote in his poem of Lamentation that God’s love and compassion are “new every morning.” Old things pass away each night, and new things come with the break of each dawn.
Today lies before me like a blank canvas. What picture will I paint in my relationships? What story will I write with my choices? I am not guaranteed a tomorrow. What will I do with this one day that is dawning; The one day I know I have before me?
As a child, I would hate the early mornings as I lay in bed or sat in a dark house and waited. I waited for the light of dawn or the light in the bathroom which signaled that my dad was up and it was okay for me to be up too. As a kid, I hated sleeping over with friends, most of whom liked to sleep in. It meant I would wake up early in a strange house and have to wait hours for my friend to get up. As I got older and became the father of little ones, I began to relish my early morning hours of quiet before the house began to stir. I have embraced my early mornings as productive and peaceful on a number of levels.
As I read the lyrics of Psalm 130 this morning, I ran across the verse above which has become very familiar and even dear to me in recent years. It is used in praying the hours (a.k.a. The Divine Offices), which I often do, especially The Office of Dawn. There is even The Prayer of the Night Watch, which are prayers offered between 1:30 and 4:30 a.m.
As a morning person, I feel a deep resonance with the wait for dawn. It is more than longing and desire. It is both the anticipation and expectation of what is to come. As persons of faith, the assurance of what we hope for and evidence of that which we do not see is a key ingredient in our day-to-day life journey. The physical and temporal is embodied in the instant gratification of our appetites and the blunt realities of our senses. That which is eternal and of the Spirit is generally realized at the end of the faithful, expectant, long watch of the night when eucatastrophe dawns and rends the unsuspecting darkness.
Then they put their hands over their ears and began shouting. They rushed at him and dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. His accusers took off their coats and laid them at the feet of a young man named Saul. Acts 7:57-58 (NLT)
My wife is great at guessing the outcome of a whodunnit movie or television show long before the end. She will often catch the little hints and clues that the writers and directors provide. As we sit on the couch watching a murder mystery she will reference a seemingly trivial object or line and muse, “That’s going to be important to the story later on!”
As I read through today’s chapter and got to these verses, I thought of Wendy as I realized that this seemingly trivial side note is going to be very important to a larger story. Weeks and weeks of tension between Jesus’ impassioned, vocal followers and the religious leaders have escalated. The arrests, the floggings, the imprisonment of the twelve and their growing throng of followers finally builds to a tragic climax as Stephen is singled out and stoned to death.
You’d think that this would be the beginning of the end for Jesus’ followers. The powerful religious machine that had put Jesus to death was now going to squash Jesus’ followers. When things look their darkest, however, God’s power is most powerfully revealed. God specializes in eucatastrophe. This tragic moment starts a potent chain of events that are part of a much larger story.
And it begins with the young man checking coats at the stoning of Stephen. As Wendy would say, “Pay attention. That’s going to be important to the story later on!”
I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn over what is going to happen to me, but the world will rejoice. You will grieve, but your grief will suddenly turn to wonderful joy. John 16:20 (NLT)
Grief suddenly turned to joy. Deliverance in the midst of catastrophe. J.R.R. Tolkien coined a term for this: eucatastrophe. Tolkien himself used eucatastrophe throughout his stories. At Helm’s Deep when the wall is breached and defeat is certain, dawn arrives along with Gandalf, Erkenbrand, and the Huorns. At the gate of Minis Tirith when the black sails of the evil Corsairs sail upstream and the cities defenders are certain it is the last nail in the coffin for the city. In an unexpected surprise Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli come bounding off the evil ships with unexpected reinforcements. At the Black Gate when the allied forces make one last pitiful foray against impossible odds only to experience an improbable chain of events with the arrival of the eagles, Gollum’s desperate last attempt to seize the ring, and the fulfillment of the ring bearer’s quest.
Yesterday in Easter worship our pastor used eucatastrophe in his description of Jesus’ resurrection. The parallel is an apt one because Tolkien himself believed and commented that the resurrection of Jesus was the ultimate example of eucatastrophe. Jesus even describes it in today’s chapter. Eucatastrophe is grief suddenly turned to wonderful joy.
As the sun comes up over the horizon this morning, I’m thinking about the most unusually beautiful spring season I’ve ever experienced. I’m thinking about life, about new life, and about grief suddenly turned to wonderful joy. I’m thanking God for eucatastrophe and the resurrection this morning, and asking that I might experience it more fully in my life.