Friday, June 29, 2007

Cyprien Katsaris, Liszt's Thing About Funerals and Death, and the Mystery of Job's Suffering

Victoria Concert Hall and Theatre
While there was tussling over where a certain warm body will be come Sunday, I ran like a robber's dog out of the office and scored a cheap-seat at the evening's Singapore International Piano Festival.

(The bad joke about the Singapore International Piano Festival 2007 is that when someone asked what'd happen if last-minute cheapseat tix to Cyprien Katsaris' gig weren't be had, the reply was that I'd be Liszt-less.)
Because this is the generation of the ipod and of life having a soundtrack, my earworm set Mike Reeves' latenight tasty taster of Job to the amazing Cyprien's repertoire.

(The first amazing thing about The Amazing Cyprien is his wonderful list of late Liszt, past long-maned showmanship and into contemplation of suffering, death and redemption:
LISZT, Trauervorspiel und Trauermarsch
LISZT, Nuages gris
LISZT, Hungarian Rhapsody No. 5 (Héroïde-élégiaque)
LISZT-KATSARIS, Czárdás obstiné
LISZT, Bénédiction de Dieu dans la solitude
LISZT, Am Grabe Richard Wagners (I hope he wasn't spitting on it)
WAGNER-LISZT, Isoldes Liebestod

(The other crowd-pleasing stocking stuffers were:
SCHUBERT-LISZT, Three Song Transcriptions: Ständchen - Der Müller und der Bach - Ave Maria
CHOPIN, Waltz in A minor, Op. 34 No. 2
CHOPIN, Nocturne in E-flat major, Op. 9 No. 2
CHOPIN, Berceuse in D-flat major Op. 57
CHOPIN, Fantaisie Imprompet Op. 66
BACH-SILOTI, Prelude in B minor
BACH-KATSARIS, Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV565))

(The more amazing thing about The Amazing Cyprien is that he can keep track of all ten digits in the midst of noodling up and down the ebonies and ivories and leapfrogging and reverse leapfrogging and making sounds like there are actually 4 hands on board or like church bells tolling over the grave of his son-in-law or like lovelorn young men beside babbling brooks or as in the Gottschalk encore: cheeky banjos in American minstrel shows. He is able to ensure, for example, that those fingers haven't noodled clean off the keyboard and started tickling some nice lady in the front row. Man. He ought to be in a circus alongside the bearded lady, the lion tamer and the sword swallower.)

(The even more amazing thing about The Amazing Cyprien is that there wasn't even a whiff of burning despite the enormous amount of air friction his high-speed fingers must have generated.)

(The further more amazing thing about The Amazing Cyprien is his distinct familial resemblance to Bobo the Clown. (Mind, this is said without meaning any offence to clowns (or The Amazing Cyprien), having myself been the Sad Clown in a now-defunct Clown Ministry.) "Doesn't he look like Bobo the Clown?" I texted someone sitting in the slightlymoreexpensiveseats. "No, Krusty. :)" Which was spot on. The Amazing Cyprien would look just right, back in his room after 3 encores, flinging his tux and corset at the monkey butler in a corner and, alternately fagging 3 ciggies simultaneously and taking huge swigs from bottles of XXX, cussing the coughing, sniffling, rustling, jangling, muttering Singapore audience for being worse than a colony of obstinate tuberculosis-ridden gossipy bag-ladies.)

But really truly gobsmackingly amazing thing of the night was the suffering of Job, the grand mystery of suffering: why a good and sovereign God would allow an innocent man like Job to suffer. The thing about a Mystery is that you can't throw neurons at it and expect to understand it. Like the gospel (itself a Mystery), the answer to a Mystery needs to be revealed to us.

Job's comforters (humans, not duvets) thought they were pretty sorted folk. The reason, they said, for Job's suffering was really quite simple: people get what they deserve (Job 4 etc). Don't plead innocent, Job, when it is obvious from all that has happened to you that you are somewhat guilty. But we learn that God's anger burns against Job's friends because they have not spoken of God what is right (Job 42:7). The reason for suffering is not simple cause-and-effect.

The story of Job's friends would have concluded with their death for blaspheming the name of God. But God graciously allows them a way out: the sacrifice of seven bulls and seven rams. Poor innocent bulls and rams. What did they ever do to deserve to die so horribly? Nothing. They suffered because God was angry with Job's friends. There is a such a thing as innocent suffering.

God calls Job "my servant" at least 4 times in the book and as God's servant, Job is called to be a mediator to his friends – to pray for them. Just as Job pleads for his friends not to be dealt with by God as they deserve, he knows that there is someone in heaven who pleads for him, not to be dealt with by God as he deserves (Job 16).

Even to a casual reader of the New Testament, the Book of Job seems to point inevitably to the cross. And indeed, it is at the cross that the problem of suffering is asked and answered. The Mystery of Jesus, though wholly innocent, suffering for the sin of the whole world. At the cross, we see that through greatest suffering comes the greatest blessing. We do not know why we are afflicted with particular suffering. But we know that there is no suffering that God doesn't care about and no suffering that God is powerless to stop. God is intimately involved with the suffering of his Son on the cross. There is no senseless suffering. God only allows suffering so that he can bless us through it. However inexplicable and horrendous our own suffering, the Book of Job and the story of the gospel tell us that we will never lose any thing by our suffering. We can only gain. Let us not rage and despair in our darkest hours. Let us turn to the cross and know that God uses our pain to bless us more. Trust God that he knows what he is doing. Trust God for better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness or in health.

What comes of Job's suffering? At beginning of the Book of Job, we read that Job is a man in charge of many animals in a garden in the east. Alot like Adam in Genesis 2, huh. And at the end of the Book of Job, Job is blessed with twice as much as he had before. Very Isaiah 61 indeed. Furthermore, the blessing of Job is not just material. Note that he grants his daughters an inheritance along with their brothers (this was hundreds of years before Moses). And later, we know that it is only because of inheritance by a woman that Jesus inherited the line of David. Very cool.

The end to all the hints and nudges and winks and wriggling of eyebrows is this: we can learn from Job that no suffering is senseless, though it may in this lifetime appear inexplicable. God is still trustworthy throughout our suffering, and we must continue to trust him and treat him as God and hold to his word as true. This is not the blind trust of people who are groping about for a psychological analgesic. This is a trust built on the good foundation of Job's vindication and Jesus' resurrection from the dead. This is a trust that Job's mediation for his friends was only a picture of the real mediator's work. This is a trust that the blessing of Job was only a model of the true blessing to come for humanity.

James tells us that it is through suffering that the goal and purpose of creation is attained. So hold steady in the midst of suffering.
Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful. (James 5:11)
It is like the sentiment of Les Préludes from Alphonse de Lamartine's Nouvelles méditations poétiques that so moved Liszt that his prefaced his revised score with:
What else is life but a series of preludes to that unknown hymn, the first and solemn note of which is intoned by Death? Love is the enchanted dawn of all existence; but what fate is there whose first delights of happiness are not interrupted by some storm, whose fine illusions are not dissipated by some mortal blast, consuming its altar as though by a stroke of lightning? And what cruelly wounded soul, issuing from one of these tempests, does not endeavor to solace its memories in the calm serenity of rural life? Nevertheless, man does not resign himself for long to the enjoyment of that beneficent warmth which he first enjoyed in Nature's bosom, and when the 'trumpet sounds the alarm' he takes up his perilous post, no matter what struggle calls him to its ranks, that he may recover in combat the full consciousness of himself and the entire possession of his powers.
It is also like the Lamartine poem excerpt (Liszt was quite a fan) that The Amazing Cyprien read before the performance of Bénédiction de Dieu dans la solitude:
D'où me vient, ô mon Dieu ! cette paix qui m'inonde?
D'où me vient cette foi dont mon cœur surabonde?
A moi qui tout à l'heure incertain, agité,
Et sur les flots du doute à tout vent ballotté,
Cherchais le bien, le vrai, dans les rêves des sages,
Et la paix dans des cœurs retentissants d'orages.
A peine sur mon front quelques jours ont glissé,
Il me semble qu'un siècle et qu'un monde ont passé;
Et que, séparé d'eux par un abîme immense,
Un nouvel homme en moi renaît et recommence.

(Whence, O God, comes this peace which floods over me?
Whence comes this faith with which my heart overflows?
To me who, not long ago, uncertain, restless,
And tossed on waves of doubt by every wind,
Sought the good, the true, in the dreams of worldly sages
And peace in hearts resounding with tempests?
Scarcely have a few days brushed past my brow,
And it seems that a century and a world have passed away,
And that, separated from them by an immense abyss,
A new man is reborn and begins again in me.)
Only, the answer is more than just Romantic affection and perfumed bosoms but in Job pointing forward to the gospel.

It is like Frodo and Sam during the Nazgûl attack where Frodo is about to give up:
Frodo: I can't do this, Sam.

Sam: I know. It's all wrong. By rights we shouldn't even be here. But we are. It's like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn't want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it's only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn't. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something.

Frodo: What are we holding on to Sam?

Sam: That there's some good in this world, Mr. Frodo… and it's worth fighting for.
Only, this hope is more than just a fantasy. It is a hope with a sure and happy ending, one far better than even the best novelist could ever imagine or begin to describe.

Job's story is our story. Because of Jesus, we will not be dealt with as we should. Because of Jesus, we will be brought like Job through our suffering to God's blessings. There awaits for us a new body, a new family, a new much more excellent inheritance. We are looking forward to a future that is more wonderful anything this world has ever seen, a future more marvellous than Eden. A future in which Satan will be finally defeated. A future where there will be no more death and no more destruction. A future which is not just paradise regained but creation perfected.
I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day
upon the earth. And though worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall
I see God. (Job 19:25-26)

For now is Christ risen from the dead, the first fruits of them that
sleep. (1 Corinthians 15:20)
And there remains only one tragedy: that some will not be able to enjoy this because they do not realise that they need to be saved from being dealt with as they deserve, eternal destruction for ignoring God. They will not have Jesus plead for them as Job prayed for his friends.

Go to my servant Jesus, God says. He has already sacrificed himself for you. Go to him and ask him to pray for you and I will accept his prayer and not deal with you as you deserve. And do it soon, before the time has passed and it is too late.

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At July 03, 2007 11:04 am , Anonymous tom said...

People are watching Christians. They learn from our life what Jesus is like and life in Him. But they learn best, not from when we are on top of the world but when we underneath it and it's weight pushes down. They learn that life is not a bed of roses but a bed of thorny blackberry bushes - and yet Jesus is there - healing, touching, forgiving, transforming the terrible into the holy.

So live life - the good and the bad. When the good comes rejoice. When the bad comes mourn, yet in it all do it in the face of God. Let people see the real you that God is working in and with. It'll draw more people to Christ than any sermon.

At July 12, 2007 11:40 am , Anonymous Anonymous said...

You might be interested in this website on Job which fleshes out the legal dynamics at play in God's authorization of evil and Job's putting God on trial through an Oath of Innocence. It has been highly praised by Job scholars.

Robert Sutherland


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