Sunday, February 8, 2009

A Reading From the Book of Job

The book of Job is a dramatic poem, which consists of a series of conversations which deal with the question of the suffering of the innocent, and of retribution.

The first conversation, in Chapter One is between God and Satan:

What have you been up to lately?
The usual, roaming about the earth, looking for someone to pester.

Have you noticed my servant Job? There is no one quite like him on earth. He is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.
It’s no wonder! You’ve put a wall around him, and his household, his flocks, and everything he owns. But, give me some time with him, and he will surely curse you to your face.

All right then, everything he has is in your hands, with one exception: I will not allow you to take his life.

And so, the devil went off to do to Job everything that he could to get him to curse God.

Today’s First Reading is taken from Chapter Seven, after six chapters of everything that has befallen Job since the LORD gave the Tempter power over him. And it is clear that Job is at the very end of his tether.

Life on earth is drudgery. The property owner is no better off than the hired help. I’ve had to put up with months of misery, and I can’t remember the last time I’ve had a good night’s sleep. When I go to bed, I toss and turn, until the sun comes up. My life passes by more quickly than the shuttle in a weaver’s hand. They are coming to an end without hope. My eyes will never see happiness again.

That’s where today’s First Reading ends. But I can not go on until I have moved ahead from verse 7, the last verse the reader proclaimed, to verses 20 and 21, at the end of the chapter:

Why have you made me a target? How have I become a burden to you? What have I done? How have I sinned? I sense that my end is near, and I want you to pardon my sins, whatever they are, so that I can be at peace with you before I go to the grave.

You see, Job, like many of us, looks at pain, suffering, misfortune of any type, as a sign of God’s anger, his punishment for our sins – or, if we’re a bit more enlightened, as a purification, a cleansing of our sinfulness, not like a lady’s beauty bar with lotions and emollients but like those gritty industrial strength cleansers you might see over the sink in the auto repair shop.

Getting right to the point, let’s go back to the beginning of the story of Job. The devil is roaming about the world, seeking someone to devour. And it is the LORD who points out Job, challenging the devil to have his way with Job. And the devil takes the challenge, expecting that, when he’s finished with the man, God will have lost the game. Fact is, God knew the outcome before the game was started. The devil doesn’t need to be reminded who is going to win, in the long run, he’s known that from Day One. The “moral of the story” isn’t about Job at all, but about you and me. No mater how bad things seem, if we can look to the LORD and say, I don’t understand why I’m having all this trouble. I really don’t know if I’ve done something wrong. But if I have, I’m sorry. Please forgive me. I know you love me, and I want to love you and to do right. Help me make up for my sins. With your help, I’ll do better from now on.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You might be interested in this online commentary "Putting God on Trial: The Biblical Book of Job" ( as supplementary or background material for your study of the Book of Job. It is not a sin to question God, to demand answers from God. There is a time and a place for such things. It is written by a Canadian criminal defense lawyer, now a Crown prosecutor, and it explores the legal and moral dynamics of the Book of Job with particular emphasis on the distinction between causal responsibility and moral blameworthiness embedded in Job’s Oath of Innocence. It is highly praised by Job scholars (Clines, Janzen, Habel) and the Review of Biblical Literature, all of whose reviews are on the website. It is also taught in 262 US high schools in 40 states through Chapter 17 in The Bible and Its Influence. The author is an evangelical Christian, denominationally Anglican. He is also the Canadian Director for the Mortimer J. Adler Centre for the Study of the Great Ideas, a Chicago-based think tank.