Back in February’s Along the Way, I said if I were to write a book titled Why I’m Still a Christian, it would have a number of chapters and the biggest might be titled Original Blessing. That’s still true, but the second biggest chapter would be “Thank God for Job.” (It’s pronounced Jobe like robe, long O sound.) I truly would not be a Christian, let alone a pastor without this sacred story.
Have you read this book of the Bible?
Short story: Job, upstanding, faithful man, has a great life.
God says to The Accuser (Hebrew ha-satan), one of God’s court, “Have you noticed Job and how faithful and good he is?”
Ha-satan responds, “Let me have him for a while and you’ll see.”
Enter misfortune. Job loses his children, his fortune, and his health. His friends come over to weep and then tell him to repent for whatever sin of his has brought on this misfortune. They have a super long debate, his friends maintaining that he must repent, Job maintaining that he is undeserving of his suffering and that God has messed up.
Finally, God answers Job’s accusation, essentially telling Job that he, as a human, has no ability to comprehend what it takes to create or hold a world together, that he is in no position to critique the Creator. God’s impressive speech quiets Job into repentance and humility. Enter massive plot twist. Instead of ending the story there as if Job was simply wrong and his friends right, God then tells Job it is his friends who must go and repent. Job goes on to have his health and blessings restored.
The common theological frame of the time was that people got what they deserved and soon. The equation of faithfulness and morality with the blessings of health and wealth was a simple one. As a mythic tale, the story of Job defies such theological simplicity and certainty. It makes room for a world in which bad things happen to good people (See Kushner’s book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People). Job is the one whom God ultimately honors as one who humbly bows into the Mystery of life and the unknowing about such matters. God’s admonishment is for those who think they have it all figured out and don’t make room for any mystery in misfortune and suffering (Job’s friends).
I am indebted deeply to Rabbi Harold Kushner’s book and grateful to the Spirit that got the story of Job included in our sacred canon. As I see history and biography, it is difficult to see that those who do good always escape suffering, and vice versa.
There is plenty of suffering that humans have brought on themselves, individually and corporately. Such suffering has been an occasion for me and others to wisely re-view and repent of certain ways of being. More is needed. Yet, there is also an inexplicable kind of suffering in life that can happen that does not correlate to one’s own morality or karma or character. Whether through systems of injustice or the actions of others, some people and Creation suffer. Beyond that, inexplicable suffering happens. Job makes room for that mysterious truth and I thank Spirit for that room, for the acknowledgement of that truth.
Whether it’s Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, or the Longest Night service, I always take a little of Job with me. Couldn’t be a Christian without it.