Archive for the ‘God’ Category

Plot Twist

October 14, 2018

We don’t often talk about plot twists in Biblical texts, but the book of Job has a couple worth noting.

Job’s friends are well known for their unhelpfulness. But as unhelpful and annoying as they are, they do seem to accomplish one thing. As Job listens to their assessment of his  situation and their suggestions for how to fix things, he realizes that they are wrong. All along Job has contended that he doesn’t deserve what has happened to him. His situation initially is expressed as despair. What can he do? Almighty God has acted and Job has no recourse. But as Job talks with his friends, he moves from despair to demanding to be heard. Perhaps in having to defend himself against his friends, Job realizes he can present his case to God. He’s terrified of course and fully expects to die, but he insists and persists. It is an important shift, from despair to demanding to be heard. Job uses courtroom language, he has a case to present. Job speaks less to his friends, and speaks more to God.

“But I would speak to the Almighty, and I desire to argue my case with God…Let me have silence, and I will speak. and let come on me what may. I will take my flesh in my teeth, and put my life in my hand. See, he will kill me: I have no hope; (or though he kill me, yet I will trust in him) but I will defend my ways to his face. This will be my salvation, that the godless shall not come before him. Listen carefully to my words, and let my declaration be in your ears. I have indeed prepared my case; I know that I shall be vindicated.

“Only grant two things to me, than I will not hide myself from your face; withdraw your hand from me, and do not let dread of you terrify me. Then call, and I will answer; or let me speak, and you reply to me. ” (13:3,13-18, 20-22)

The book continues with Job and his friends continuing to talk until chapter 31 which ends “The words of Job are ended.” And so we might think the book is over, or we might be expecting God to now respond. But no, oh no, there is one more friend- Elihu. He has waited to speak out of respect for his elders but now he scolds the friends and Job for six more chapters.

Then finally, finally, God shows up. After 37 chapters of all these men talking, trying to explain God and God’s ways, God shows up. And God’s response is essentially, “I’m God, creator of all that is and I’m not explaining myself to you.” And Job’s response is “Yes you are God and I am not.”

In some ways the exchange between God and Job is an unsatisfying plot twist. We don’t get the answer we want. At least I don’t get the answer I want. Why do people suffer? For Job it appears to be enough that God shows up.

We do learn what is not the answer to the problem of suffering- the common belief that good things happen to good people and bad things to bad people. This is clearly said to be wrong. Not only by Job. God makes it quite clear, “My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends; for you have not spoken what is right, as my servant Job has.” (42: 7)

There are many things we could and should discuss, but a couple of points seem important today. We are clearly warned away from simplistic, mechanistic explanations about suffering. Do good and you are rewarded, do bad and you are punished is not an adequate explanation. It seems wise to avoid that line of reasoning.

Job has spoken “what is right”. But what of all that Job has said is the “right” part? Are Job’s speeches demanding a hearing and justice what God affirms? Or is it what Job says in response to God’s revelation to him. “See, I am of small account: what shall I answer you? ” (40:4) “Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know…I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you: therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” (42:3,6).

Or is it all okay? Does the creator of all that is understand our frustration, our anger when we don’t understand, when we feel like God isn’t treating us fairly? Does God come to us in the midst of that anger and despair, in the midst of our questions? The book of Job tells us yes. But God does not come with tidy answers or a formula to be applied to life. But with the presence of God’s own self. I wonder if what Job got right, is that Job was honest with God. No false piety. No theological abstractions. Job trusted God to hear him in the very midst of Job’s bewilderment, his pain, his anger. And Job was right about that. God heard. God hears. God responds.

The Impatience of Job

September 30, 2018

My plan to post daily, clearly didn’t work out. Nevertheless, we plod on.

Job, a long, often boring book. An often a misunderstood book. Sometime people talk about the book of Job as if it contains the answer to the problem of evil. If you read the book, it doesn’t. Evil and suffering are not explained. People talk about the patience of Job. However, I don’t think Job is particularly patient.

Job is a man who loses everything. His friends come to comfort him- and they do for a while. But eventually the friends can’t help themselves, they decide to explain Job’s situation to him. They explain why all the bad things happened to Job. It’s quite simple, Job sinned. ( FYI, they are using the idea of sin in a particular way. Sin in this context is not a state of being, it’s not a moral failure. here sin is a breaking of a particular set of rules.) Job professes his innocence. The friends continue to tell Job that he has sinned and needs to confess and repent. Job maintains that he hasn’t sinner and so has nothing to confess. This dialogue goes on for a very long time.

At the beginning of the book, Job just wants to die. He doesn’t understand why God has done (or allowed) tragedy to strike him. Job isn’t interested in understanding, he simply, desperately wants his suffering to end. But over time, Job’s perspective changes. He decides he doesn’t want to die. What he eventually wants is a chance to make his case before God and he wants God to explain God’s actions. In this request, demand even, Job is persistent. He is however, not particularly patient. Patient is defined  by Dictionary.com as “bearing provocation, annoyance, misfortune, delay, hardship, pain, etc., with fortitude and calm and without complaint, anger, or the like.”

For example, in chapter 19 Job answers his friend Bildad, saying, ” If indeed you magnify yourselves against me, and make my humiliation an argument against me, know then that God has put me in the wrong, and closed his net around me. Even when I cry out, ‘Violence!’ I am not answered; I call aloud but there is no justice. He has walled up my way so that I cannot pass, and he has set darkness upon my paths. He has stripped my glory from me, and taken the crown from my head. He breaks me down on every side, and I am gone, he has uprooted my hope like a tree. He has kindled his wrath against me, and counts me as his adversary.”

Job continues in this vein for 18 more verses. Not very patient.

What Job is, is persistent. He says, “Today also my complaint is bitter; his hand is heavy despite my groaning. Oh that I knew where I might find him, that I might come even to his dwelling! I would lay my case before him, and fill my mouth with arguments. I would learn what he would answer me, and understand what he would say to me. Would he contended with me in the greatness of his power? No’ but he would give heed to me. There an upright person could reason with him, and I should be acquitted forever by my judge.” (23:2-7)

Job is persistent even though he is afraid. “But he stands alone and who can dissuade him? What he desires, that he does. For he will complete what he appoints for me; and many such things are in his mind. Therefore I am terrified at his presence; when I consider, I am in dread of him. God has made my heart faint; the Almighty has terrified me; If only I could vanish in the darkness, and thick darkness would cover my face!” (23:13-17)

Job maintains, in the face of the wisdom of the time, that he is innocent and is being treated unfairly. He tells his friends and he tells God. Even though he is afraid, Job maintains his innocent. He expects God to hear and to respond, even though Job is “terrified at his presence”

While Job is hardly an example of patience. Job is a model of persistence. And he stands in a long tradition of people who, in essence, stand up to God and demand God pay attention to what is going on.

What do you think about this? Do we dare call God out over injustice? Should we?

 


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