The Eyes of Experience: A Sermon on Job, part 4 of 6

by Reverend Kenneth E. Kovacs, PhD

At one point (or many), we all hit a wall when we realize that our perspectives are too narrow and limited and we’re called (or sometimes forced) to yield to a wider frame of knowing. In his essay A Defense of Poetry, written in 1821, poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) said that poetry “purg[es] the film of familiarity which obscures from us the wonder of our being”.[1] Something of the same is required in order for us to “see” God. The “film of familiarity” is wiped away and we’re allowed to see something anew. Job confronts the inadequacy of his former ways of framing the world. His new experience yields a wider, more comprehensive view of reality, of justice, even of God. It’s a gracious reframing of his world, his self, the God he thought he knew—something far more profound and expansive. Job’s vision changes everything.

I believe similar visions do occur, not necessarily in the literal sense (although I’m sure that’s possible), but in varieties of experience that yield a similar reframing of existence. I’m using seeing here as a metaphor for transformed perception. I’m talking about a moment or many moments over the course of a lifetime—moments of extraordinary insight, encounters with the numinous, religious experiences of significant power and terror and even beauty—when the Holy helps us “see” what we could not “see” before, giving us new “spectacles,” as John Calvin (1509-1564) likes to say (135), allowing us to see more clearly in the “theatre” of God’s glory.

To see. That’s the critical point.[2] Says Job: “I had heard of you with my ears”—that is, before—“but now my eyes see you.” My eyes. My experience. Wisdom received through my perception, not someone else’s. More than hearing about God, Job comes to know God for himself firsthand. And yet, significantly, what Job is able to discern, what he’s able to perceive, comes to him only upon hearing the Voice from out of the whirlwind. Job’s ability to see with fresh eyes is contingent upon what he hears. This should not be surprising given the value, within Israel’s experience, placed on hearing. “Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one” (Deuteronomy 6.4).  Yahweh consistently summons people to hear. The divine Word speaks, and when heard, new worlds come into being. Lives are formed and reformed; perspectives are changed, transfigured; and we are given a new set of “eyes” to perceive ourselves, our neighbors, and the world.[3]

Job discovers the inadequacy of faith that comes through hearsay, the kind that is passed on from others and received passively. It’s been said that “[t]he person who hungers and thirsts after justice is not satisfied with a menu. It is not enough for [one] to hope or believe or know that there is absolute justice in the universe: [one] must taste and see it” (Mitchell xxvii).  Surely Job had heard about God, about what God is like. He had lived secure in his understanding—that is, until everything falls apart. What he receives graciously in the end is not the inherited faith of tradition nor the pious platitudes of well-intentioned family and friends, but something far more valuable, something that comes through his own existential encounter—a journey only he can take, yielding wisdom learned not from afar nor at arm’s length but within his guts, his heart. It is something of God that cannot be taught in a classroom or found in a book. It has to be felt.

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You can download the complete essay, published by the Zürich Lab here, or find it on Amazon in Kovacs’s recent collection: Out of the Depths: Sermons and Essays (Parsons Porch, 2016).

This week, we are revisiting “The Eyes of Experience: A Sermon on Job” by Reverend Kenneth E. Kovacs, PhD, originally published through the Zürich Lab. We are republishing the essay in six sections over six days, part of our preparations for a lecture, book launch and exhibition at our Berlin LabThe Legend of Job in Art, Philosophy, and Psychology on Saturday October 14, 2017 and for our Exploration in Jerusalem this December. With The Legend of Job we’ll celebrate works by acclaimed Newfoundland artist Gerry Squires and calligrapher Boyd Chubbs who, in 2015, created the first illustrated edition of the Book of Job; the work was Squires’ last. A copy of the book will be on display at the Berlin Stillpoint Lab through November, and in December, at the Zürich Stillpoint Gallery.

Notes:

[1] Published posthumously by Edward Moxon in Essays, Letters from Abroad, Translations and Fragments (London, 1840). Cited in Paul Bishop, Jung’s Answer to Job: An Answer (Brunner-Routledge, 2002), 50.

 

[2] The use of “seeing” may be problematic, particularly for those who are visually impaired. “Sight” is to be interpreted metaphorically (as perception, awareness, a way of coming to understanding) as well; a literal interpretation is not necessary.

[3] The early followers of Jesus of Nazareth viewed him as “the Word [become] flesh” who “lived among us, and we have seen his glory. . .” (John 1.14). The voice of Yahweh is heard in Jesus. Similarly, Christians are summoned to “listen to him.”  See Matthew 17.5.

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