What a rich series of texts today.
Tricky to decide where to focus, but as today is the only time this year we will hear from the book of Job, that is what we will explore! The first thing I believe it is important to remember is that the bible itself is an Anthology, a collection of different styles of writing around a theme…the theme of God’s relationship with humanity.
Within that anthology the Book of Job is a type of parable, a morality tale, rather than a history. It is a tale that seeks to explain that eternal question “why do bad things happen to good people”, however I’m not sure that the most important thing we can learn from Job is that answer. Now I love the book of Job and I hope we can start a bible study and one day delve deep into the details of this amazing parable, but for today….a summery.
The parable begins with Job; a fantastic person and very successful, as well as pious one. God, we read, brags about Job’s faith to Satan and they make a bet. Satan bets that if bad things happen to Job, his faith with fail. And then we read bad things do happen…everything that could destroy a man, short of death, befalls Job. In the face of his soul crushing situation Job curses the day he was born, but remains faithful to God.
We also get to read about Job’s friends who come by to ‘console’ him, and like many good intentioned friends…their words are less than helpful. They start with the intro…”I hope you won’t be offended, but…. “ Then for chapters each of Job’s friends insist that Job’s suffering is a result of Job’s own sins… 11 5 If you will seek God and make supplication to the Almighty, 6 if you are pure and upright, surely then he will rouse himself for you and restore to you your rightful place. 11 ‘Can papyrus grow where there is no marsh? Can reeds flourish where there is no water? …no smoke without fire, right?
Yet, Job insists that he is innocent and not only continues his faith in God…but, and this is the bit I love…Job ‘insists that he should be able to speak directly to God and plead his case. “O that my vexation were weighed and all my calamity laid in the balances!” 7:11 “Therefore I will not restrain my mouth; I will speak in the anguish of my spirit; I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.”
'Job pleads… no… insists that he should be able to speak to God, that he has a valid complaint that God should hear and judge. Job laments chapter after chapter…insisting God tell him where he went wrong…and insisting that he is righteous and upright. Job confronts God over, and over, going as far to insist on a fair trial by God and asking for his indictment to be written down.
Now, each of the characters in the parable of Job know God to be just and righteous…the friends therefore blame Job for deserving God’s wrath. Job however, insists that it is God who is unjust and demands that God and he go to court and settle this, because God isn’t behaving as God.
Today’s reading is the answer that God gives to Job in response to Job’s insistence on a fair trial. “Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me. Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?” God declares his pre-eminence at length to Job and Job upon hearing God’s answer is content that he has been heard and becomes thoroughly humbled. Job’s friends are reprimanded soundly and Job’s fortunes are restored…and all those who abandoned Job in his troubles… return to him in his good fortune. Now what I love about the book of Job is…Job’s insistence …not that he is innocent, but that since he is innocent it is clear that God is not behaving as God should.
Job believes in a God who is just and insists that God should act that way…even to the extreme of wanting to take God to court over what amounts to a breach of covenant! I love it! So many of us Christians have been taught not to question God. That a faithful person is humble and meek, accepting of trials and suffering just like Job was. And if…if… we pray hard enough, if we are faithful enough…only then will we be blessed. If not, we will be cursed.
But what is faith like Jobs? Is it submission? How many of us have been taught to be like Job and rant at God in times of trouble…to speak, to yell, to insist on God answering our pleas. For many this seems heretical, impious, unchristian! Where in the world did we get that idea?
The bible is full of people who yell at God, who speak to God as if they truly had a reciprocal relationship. They speak to God not as equals, but as beloved family who believe and indeed expect that they ought to be heard. We have too often been taught that a good Christian submits, without question, and embraces humility. But Job not only insists on being answered by God…but IS answered by God! God listens, God hears Job and God answers Job…at length.
Now perhaps the answer isn’t what Job expected, or even wanted to hear, but that is besides the point. Job calls and God answers. The other interesting point is that God answers, without answers. God doesn’t explain what happened or why…God poses questions to Job. “I will question you and you shall declare to me.” Some of the best answers, and often the most frustrating answers are more questions. Why God! we shout, why do you let children starve in this world? Why do we languish in poverty and war, why do the innocent suffer! Why? God might answer, do you allow this to continue?
We as Christians are not called to be meek, submissive, passive supplicants. We are people of faith who are a part of a greater covenant and if we want to question God, which we should…we should expect an answer and we may not like it. In fact it may be a question and a challenge right back. Too often we behave like the friends of Job…seeking out blame and trying to find a reason why things are happening that we don’t like. When far too often there is no simple answer…only more questions.
The big questions of life are not neatly pigeon holed and sorted, but are rather by their very nature messy and confusing. We blame others for the problems in this world, but how hard do we try to help? Job’s friends didn’t show up with food, medicine and offer to house him…but rather tried to assign blame and find reasons. They distanced themselves as we often do…as if misery and poverty was contagious. I love the book of Job, and the psalms and much of the Old Testament because the people in these stories, poems, histories, and songs really believe they are in a living, working relationship with God. They may act on that in objectionable, or frankly murderously sinful ways, but they really did think God was with them…in a relationship that was eternal, and in a way, mutual.
They will be my people, and I will be their God. Today’s reading from Job emphasizes the grandeur, the power and eternal omnipotence of God…but what it misses, is the truth that this same omnipotent God has condescended to be in relationship with us. Eternal, tumultuous, real and mutually interactive relationship with us. Perhaps not always in the ways we wish, but there nonetheless; ready to listen, to respond, to answer and to question us in return. It is humbling, and it is empowering.
Ours is a God who can take all the emotions we can throw at any time and at any volume…and like it or not responds. Don’t doubt it. A good Christian isn’t someone who never questions and never gets upset. Rather a person of good faith is someone who expects God to answer and is ready to hear God’s question to each of us…and act. “Who has put wisdom in the inward parts, or given understanding to the mind?” Certainly God has, and I believe God expects us to use it. amen