If you follow the daily lectionary (Here is one on line source.) you will have started reading the Old Testament book of Job. The nice thing about the daily lectionary is that we read large sections of the Bible but, as I especially appreciate with Job) we don’t read all of it. Now, to be sure, you should read all of Job once or twice in your life. I’m a Bible nerd and I find Job a slog but there is value in the slog. (I’ve written several times about the book of Job. If you are interested,use the “search” box to find them.)
To very briefly summarize, Job is a wealthy man but also a righteous man. The common wisdom and theology of the time held that righteous people were blessed with material things and “bad” people, the unrighteous were punished. So the book of Job sets up a problem, Job is righteous, a good guy- so wealthy and happy, with a happy, loving family, etc,etc. But essentially Job loses everything but his life. His children die, all his material possessions are destroyed or taken. Even, finally, his health. In none of this does Job question God or become angry with God.
Job has three friends who hear of his misfortune and come to visit. They sit with him, silently for 7 days and 7 nights.
After this time has passed Job speaks and curses the day he was born. Job states if he was dead, he would be at peace. At this, Job’s friends cannot keep silent and they start explaining to Job why these things have happened to him. Among other things they tell him.
As for me, I would seek God, and to God I would commit my cause. He does great things and unsearchable, marvelous things without number. He gives raid on the earth and sends waters on the fields; he sets on high those who are lowly, and those who mourn are lifted to safely. (Job 5:8-10)
So far so good? Trust God, everything will be fine.
Here’s what comes next.
How happy is the one whom God reproves; therefore do not despise the discipline of the Almighty. For he wounds, but he binds up; he strikes, but his hands heal. He will deliver you from six troubles; in seven no harm shall touch you. In famine he will redeem you from death, and in war from the power of the sword. (Job 5:17-20)
I’m giving away the end, but at the conclusion of the book, Job’s friends are told that what they said is wrong. The book is clear that this is bad theology.
So I wonder, why do we still hear these sorts of “comforting” comments still today? We still have variations on “trust God and everything will be fine because God is teaching you something and in the end you’ll be fine.”
Now, I’m a big believer in trusting God. But I also know- through personal experience -that trusting God doesn’t mean everything will be “fine”. Or at least “fine” as most of us would define it. Sick people stay sick. People die too soon. Marriages fail. Future plans are crushed. I wouldn’t call those things “fine”. I also don’t blame God for them. Someone else’s sickness is not God trying to teach me something. The hurricane in Puerto Rico is not God teaching all of the people of Puerto Rico something.
So why do these answers persist? In part because the Bible is a text in conversation with itself and there is a theology- deuteronomistic theology present in the Bible. This very simply stated, says that people who follow God’s will are blessed (in this lifetime and in this world) and those who don’t follow God’s will suffer the consequences ( in this lifetime and in this world) So these ideas are there, they are “biblical”. This is what Job’s friends will continue to claim, over and over and over again- Job is suffering because he sinned, failed, disobeyed. Job’s suffering is Job’s fault.
I think, however, there is another reason this idea persists. It fits our sense of right and wrong. If something bad happened to you, you must have been bad. And certainly, sometimes that is true. If I rob a bank and go to jail- I did a bad thing and now I pay the consequences. But sometimes there is no cause and effect. Sometimes whatever happened is not under my control and not my fault.
Well Job is a long book, so we will have more to talk about. But what do you think about this idea that God wounds and binds up, strikes but heals?