Holiness as a Response
As I search for the meaning of holiness this Lenten season, I can't hide from the fact that all I really am is the dust of the earth gathered together in this body. What makes me, me is truly a mystery with which even a young child grapples when he realize how he came to be and asks himself, "What if Mommy and Daddy didn't get married, would I still be me?" Long ago, we find this same question posed by Job, in what some scholars consider to be the oldest book in the Bible.
But rather than from a stroke of curiosity, Job questions even the purpose of his existence. In passionate despair, he yearns for the trouble of this world to be hidden from his eyes. He longs to lay buried in the ground resting with the kings whose vanity has been stripped away, where slaves and captives are finally free. Job knows the wickedness of humanity and desires death over the daily turmoil. Job knows the sin of the world and how it brings discontinuity to the life God intends us to have.
After this, Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth. He said:
“May the day of my birth perish,
and the night that said, ‘A boy is conceived!’
That day—may it turn to darkness;
may God above not care about it;
may no light shine on it.
May gloom and utter darkness claim it once more;
may a cloud settle over it;
may blackness overwhelm it.
That night—may thick darkness seize it;
may it not be included among the days of the year
nor be entered in any of the months.
May that night be barren;
may no shout of joy be heard in it.
May those who curse days curse that day,
those who are ready to rouse Leviathan.
May its morning stars become dark;
may it wait for daylight in vain
and not see the first rays of dawn,
for it did not shut the doors of the womb on me
to hide trouble from my eyes.
“Why did I not perish at birth,
and die as I came from the womb?
Why were there knees to receive me
and breasts that I might be nursed?
For now I would be lying down in peace;
I would be asleep and at rest
with kings and rulers of the earth,
who built for themselves places now lying in ruins,
with princes who had gold,
who filled their houses with silver.
Or why was I not hidden away in the ground like a stillborn child,
like an infant who never saw the light of day?
There the wicked cease from turmoil,
and there the weary are at rest.
Captives also enjoy their ease;
they no longer hear the slave driver’s shout.
The small and the great are there,
and the slaves are freed from their owners.
“Why is light given to those in misery,
and life to the bitter of soul,
to those who long for death that does not come,
who search for it more than for hidden treasure,
who are filled with gladness
and rejoice when they reach the grave?
Why is life given to a man
whose way is hidden,
whom God has hedged in?
For sighing has become my daily food;
my groans pour out like water.
What I feared has come upon me;
what I dreaded has happened to me.
I have no peace, no quietness;
I have no rest, but only turmoil.”
Despite all the agony, we are told that Job did not sin because he did not curse God. He did not charge "God with wrongdoing." Job's response to God was considered righteous.
Just this week on Ash Wednesday, with Job and all those who came before us in suffering, we donned the ashes of repentance. Unlike Job we did not sit in a fire pit and scrape our bodies with broken plates and bowls. How well would that have gone over at the Ash Wednesday service! But in a small way we joined with the misery of the condition of human sin. When we repent we charge ourselves with wrongdoing rather than God, and in placing the blame appropriately, paradoxically, we are cleansed from our sin as well. Despite our sin, in repentance, we respond in holiness.
This is not to say that we are not sinners. We most certainly are. I don't go a day without realizing how my selfish intentions impact my relationships with others and with God. So we must always attribute holiness properly. Jesus makes it clear that "No one is good—except God alone." Our ability to respond in holiness is of his Spirit. We are destitute without him. Our ability to repent comes from God. When we allow his Spirit to work through us, we are bound closer to Christ.
As Job lamented in the ashes, he cried, "For sighing has become my daily food; my groans pour out like water." Can we really be nourished by our sighs and refreshed by our groans? Is this a holy response? I expect so. When we suffer due to sin, we are fed spiritual food. When Jesus was tempted by Satan to turn a stone into bread he responded by saying, "Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God."
Job's sighs and groans are the sighs and groans of Jesus. Job is crying out in tandem with Jesus. All who suffer and cry out to God are speaking in one accord with Jesus when he exclaimed on the cross, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" This is true even if it is my own sin that causes me to cry out to God. When we suffer and weep due to sin—and not for self-pity, but in God's mercy—we are responding with the word of God, for the anguished cries were heard from the lips of Jesus Christ on the cross. There have never been nor will ever be more powerful words conceived by God than those of his suffering son on the cross.
When we weep in our sin, we respond in holiness.