The book is called something like ‘The Last Perfect Summer’. It is the story of a summer of over 100 years ago which was full of warmth, calm and golden light. The Foreign Secretary of that time, Lord Grey, said he loved this time of year. In fact, he enjoyed walking through the evening London parks from the office to his home. And there he would have seen men in striped blazers & boaters, women in white dresses and children running care free.
However, 102 year ago, last week, a member of the Austrian nobility on a visit to the Balkans took a wrong turn in his car and was assassinated. That beautiful season then turned to rain, to mud and to war. That was indeed the last perfect summer, for that was the start of the First World War.
Something like this must have been the experience of Job. Because he starts with the perfect life as we have heard. And then it all turned bad. And so the writer surmises the heavens themselves turned against him and his war had started. The accuser or the adversary had taken a sinister hand in his life.
Now as I have already said I did not pick this material for this Sunday. For the parallels with the crisis in our national life are obvious. Since our settled view of the world has suddenly been upturned and our community is now almost at war. But such a feeling of unseen yet powerful forces becoming our adversary can be felt also at a more personal level. Because we all know that Relationships can breakdown painfully. The doctor can have a very unwelcome diagnosis. In truth, life’s perfect summer can be ruined in a multitude of other ways. And so the book of Job speaks strongly to us if for no other reason than it echoes the machinations in our own minds when our summer departs abruptly and is replaced with a winter of uncertainty.
Put directly then, the Book of Job asks that time-honoured question. That ticklish question we as Christians are often asked by non-believers. That profoundly difficult question we even ask ourselves as the chilly darkness descends. And it is – why do good people suffer? What is God up to when the faithful feel pain? Why indeed is this happening to me?
Well, this book’s author takes the view that God allows these sufferings as a trial of faith – a test of fidelity – a forcing of the moment of decision. I am not fully sanguine with this theological argument. For that seems to suggest we are the play things of a divine with a sense of whimsy. It, however, at least makes clears our tribulations are not of his making but that of the adversary, the accuser or in somewhat dated terms – Satan.
What we suffer then is the result of random imperfections and mischievous misrule and even downright evil. And as a result, these ill winds may be unfathomable. Or as Christ seems to be saying – you waste your time looking for the cause. Rather look to God to provide the solution. To provide the strength to weather the storm. To help get through the blinding moment and to a return to truly seeing.
Yet you may feel that you want to ask – what is my basis for arguing against the thoughts of Job – a holy man at the extremities of sorrow and misfortune?
The First World War as we know was triggered by the murder of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Throne, Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand, in the Balkans.
But his wife, the Duchess Sophie, was in an odd position socially and constitutionally. For as a mere Czech countess she was treated as a commoner at the Austrian court. Indeed, Emperor Franz Joseph had only consented to their marriage on the condition that their descendants would never ascend the throne. But the 14th anniversary of their morganatic marriage fell on 28 June. And so as the celebrated historian A. J. P. Taylor observes:
Sophie could never share Franz Ferdinand’s rank … could never share his splendours, could never even sit by his side on any public occasion. There was one loophole … his wife could enjoy the recognition of his rank when he was acting in a military capacity. Hence, he decided, in 1914, to inspect the army in Bosnia. There, at its capital Sarajevo, the Archduke and his wife could ride in an open carriage side by side … Thus, for love, did the Archduke go to his death.
Here then is the clue to why we can see God as our strongest ally in our life battles. Since it was he who sent his son to this often deeply troubled planet. It was he who sent his son to save a species well able to make more than enough trouble for itself. It was he in love who sent his son to know, pass through and to defeat the consequences of loss, pain and conflict at the most personal level.
And so it is through Christ alone our problems remain at least in the day and do not push us down into night. It is through Christ alone we remain not isolated but in the world with hope even expectation. It through Christ alone we can move our sight from the past to the future, from the cause to cure and from the evils of acrimony to the possibilities of resurrection.
For he will indeed outlast this troubled summer. He will help you outlast your troubled summer. He will undoubtedly outlast all the seasons through and bring us to a better day where there is peace perfect peace.