Happily Ever After…

Lectionary Passage: John 42: 1-6, 10-17
To read this passage online, go to http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=218124859

We come to the end of the Book of Job.  Job has suffered.  He has lost everything.  He has questioned God and expected God to give him reasons for why all these horrible things have happened to him.  But the actions of God are not centered in conventional responses to wickedness and righteousness.  The universe is, instead, filled to the brim with mystery and surprise and wonder.  God’s answer to Job is:  “Think again, Job.  Open your eyes wider to the whole of the cosmos.  Redirect your attentions away from what you have done to what I am doing.”  This is the turning point—Job now has received a new vision of God as YHWH, creator and sustainer as well as struggler with a complex and mysterious order.  It is that new vision of YHWH to which Job responds here.

Job inhabited a closed-minded world of retribution and distributive justice, where people get what they deserve, where there is a just God to see that all get what they earn based on who they are and what they do.  But then Job is invited out to a new world, a world not based upon simple, distributive justice.  And Job sees now that he is not the center of the world—that his relationship with God is found in his interconnectedness to all of the cosmos—that he is but a small, albeit essential, part of the wisdom of God.  In other words, Job has found not an answer but a true relationship with God.  In her book, Sometimes I Hurt:  Reflections on The Book of Job, Mildred Tengbom says it like this: “No one could tell me where my soul might be; I sought for God, but God eluded me.  I sought my brother out and found all three—my soul, my God, and all humanity.”  (Page 200)

So some would like the drama to end here.  After all, hasn’t Job gotten the point?  But if Job has become new, we must see him act out of his newness to discover if that newness is genuine.  We need to see Job back in the world again.

And so the Lord restores Job’s life.  Some of us struggle with this.  It gives it a sense of some sort of fairy tale ending and we all know that that type of ending is seldom, if ever, realistic.  It also gives us the image of that all-too-common presumption that God somehow rewards us, accepts us, or even (as horrifying as this notion is to me!) loves us based on what we do or who we are. But think about it in the context of the larger vision to which Job and we as readers have been invited.  God does not just put Job back together again.  It is better.  If we read it literally, it is better because Job is given more.  But, again, step back and look at the larger picture.  Perhaps it is a metaphor of what is to come.  It says that Job’s days were blessed but it doesn’t say that others were not.  Perhaps it is a vision of what the world can be when we allow ourselves to look at it through the lenses of God.  It is a world of plenty in which all of Creation prospers.  It is a world where we recognize family and our interconnectedness.  It is a world where all receive the inheritance of the world.  It is a world where we all die, old and full of days of a life to come.  “And they all lived happily ever after…”

God has allowed Job to be the hero.  God lets us struggle and win and when we lose our life, God gives it back to us.  The point is that Job actually encountered God and his life changed.  Catherine Marshall once said that Those who have never rebelled against God or at some point in their lives shaken their fists in the face of heaven, have never encountered God at all.” 

God remains Job’s God.  There can no longer be any talk of “reward” here—we have dispensed with that way of thinking.  God has blessed Job because God loves and wants to bless Job.  There is no other reason.  It is not for us to ask why.  Restoration is a feature of life; restoration is what God can do and does.  At the end, I don’t get answers.  I get a deepened relationship with God.  God doesn’t come with easy answers; God comes offering presence.  THAT is the Wisdom of God.

The story of Job is the story of life—our story.  It does not travel in a straight, easy-to-follow line.  It is not level or soft or easy.  It means much, much more than that. If someone tries to present it in some other way, they just don’t get it.  Sometimes life is chaotic; sometimes it’s just hard; and sometimes, through no fault of our own, it’s downright unbearable.  Answers are not what we need. That’s why I like Job.  It DOESN’T give you answers; it teaches you how to journey through life.  So, here is what I get from the story of Job:

  1. Life happens (but we are never alone.)
  2. Some things just don’t make sense.  (Perhaps we are reading them through a clouded lens, or even too MUCH correction—try wearing your contacts AND your glasses)
  3. We need to make sure that our images of God do not stand in the way of God’s presence in our lives or in the lives of those around us.
  4. God desires to be in relationship with us more than God desires for us to figure God out.
  5. Sometimes we need to just shut up and listen.
  6. Sometimes we need to just give up and let it be.
  7. Everything comes from God.  God breathed life and it was so.
  8. The future is an enigma.  Our road is covered in mist.  There will be times when the journey seems perilous and filled with despair.  But when we fling ourselves into what seems an impossible abyss, it is then that we will finally meet God.
  9. God is God.  We are not.
  10. And then we will die, old and full of days, and realize that life has only just begun.

Grace and Peace,


Finally God Speaks!

“After the Whirlwind”, by Nigel Wynter

Lectionary Passage:  Job 38:1-7, (34-41)
To read this passage online, go to http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=217564661

Boy, thirty-seven chapters is a long time to wait!  Job has waited, begged, screamed, and threatened to just throw it all in and walk away and finally, in this 38th hour, God speaks.  Now you could read it as if God is some sort of tease dangling hope in front of us until we just can’t take it anymore and then suddenly stepping in as some sort of pumped up superhero.  Or you could read it as if God had some permanent unyielding plan that outlined when it was Job’s turn for God’s time and when it was not.  Or perhaps you could read it that the omnipresent God is not, that God comes when God comes and the rest of the time God eludes us.  I think, though, that the problem rests not with God but with us.  And rather than God teasing us or avoiding us or eluding us or existing as some sort of passive-aggressive super-deity, perhaps we are somehow blinded to that ever-presence of God.

Maybe God had been speaking the whole time.  Maybe in the midst of Job’s pleas and Job’s demands, God really was speaking.  Maybe Job was just so wrapped up in trying to figure out an answer that he missed God’s Presence in his life.  Maybe the only answer for which Job was listening was not the answer at all.  Maybe Job was so sure what the “right” answer was that he wasn’t open to what God was offering in his life.  But when Job reaches the depths of despair, when Job is silenced by everything that has happened, when the noisy friends finally shut up, it is there, there in the silence, that God speaks.  But rather than a booming answering voice demanding apologies or repentance, once again God speaks Job into being.  It is not the voice of the judging God that Job’s friends had claimed would come and set Job straight but is instead the eternal voice of the Creator, once again speaking all that is into being just as God did in the beginning and every moment since.  The whirlwind is not to be confused with a tornado or a hurricane or some other destructive phenomenon.  It is instead the creative, life-changing force that, though undefined and unexplained, is the very voice of God speaking us into being.

And Job is reminded to look around, to look at all of Creation that has been laid down, to breathe in that which Job cannot make and cannot control.  Long ago, the rabbinical teachings noted that of all the animals listed as God’s handiwork–lion, raven, the wild ass, the wild ox, the ostrich, the hawk, the eagle, etc.–none had any real use to humanity.  In other words, the ordering of Creation is not about us; it is about God.  God doesn’t punish Job but rather subtly (well, as subtle as a whirlwind can be, I suppose!) reminds him that God is always present, always speaking Creation into being.  God doesn’t offer answers, as much as we think that would clear everything up.  Rather, God offers Presence and Love.  And that’s probably all God needs to say.

And after the speech, Job is changed.  He doesn’t have any more answers than before.  But what he does have is the realization that in all things, there is a God who is waiting to pick him up or hold him or cradle him in the arms of Love.  The realization came not because Job had faith and not because he believed in some rumor of a God that he learned in Sunday School but because in the depths of his life, he met God and finally the two began to dance.  Perhaps God does not desire our allegiance or our belief or some sort of blindly obedient faith.  Maybe God’s deepest desire is for us to make room in our lives and in our thoughts and in our prayers for God to speak us into being once again.  Shhhh!  God is about to speak…

Grace and Peace,


The Silence of God

Lectionary Passage: Job  23: 1-9, 16-17
To read this passage online, go to http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=216907967

You know, when you think about it, most of spend a good part of our lives looking for answers. We look for answers about what to do with our lives, how to prepare for our lives, and where to go with our lives. We search for answers about the weather, the stock market, and the highest-rated sports team. If we wonder about anything in this world, all we have to do is “Google” it (“Google” now being the catch-all answer to finding the answer to pretty much any question that you have.)  Even much of our faith has to do with a quest for answers. We search for answers as to what we should believe, how we should understand God, and what type of person we should be. And we wait, sometimes with an almost desperate impatience, for answers to our prayers. But sometimes, those just don’t seem to come.

Maybe that’s why this Book of Job is so hard for us. After all, we have grown accustomed to the notion that somewhere in the Scriptures, we will find the answers that we most desire and that will make our life full (and probably a little easier!). But contrary to what we may hope, Job offers no real answers to life’s suffering or life’s heartaches except faith. In fact, the writing takes all of those contrived images of God and shakes them at their core leaving nothing for us but a relationship with God. And maybe on some level, that IS the answer.

But, in all truth, this section of Job is even harder to read than the one last week.  After all, it almost seems like our good friend Job is throwing in the towel.  Here he is suffering beyond all reason and he’s done nothing!  He does not deserve this! WHERE IS GOD?!?  Good grief, at least show up so I can complain to you!  And give Job a little credit. After all, his complaint is not that he is suffering—he seems to have resolved himself to that. He doesn’t even seem to be questioning why God would do such a thing. Perhaps he is more comfortable with some of that mystery that is God than many of us. Job’s biggest complaint is that he feels God has deserted him. He feels that God is absent in his life. And yet he still holds his integrity, unwilling to sin before God.  And then, jumping to verse 16, his tune changes a bit. He admits that he is a little afraid of God, afraid of what God will do. He wants desperately to vanish into darkness and away from God. His image of God is falling into one that could quash him, could crush him. He almost sees God as an enemy and, yet, he is still not willing to sin before God. He is holding out for one small vestige of hope.
To understand how Job got here, we probably need to look at the mounds of answers that he has been fed from those that count himself as his friends. First, there is Eliphaz. Eliphaz probably sees God as “The Fixer”. You know the type. “Look, Job, if you just submit to God, if you just have faith, God will fix it.” And then there’s Bildad. Bildad is one of these people that sees God as “The Judge”. “Well, Job,” he says, “I don’t what you did wrong, but it must have been pretty bad because we only get what we deserve. After all, God is just, right? So you must be guilty.” And, lastly, we have Zophar. Interestingly enough, Zophar assumes that whatever he says must be what God is saying. “So, obviously, Job is wrong and I am right.” Good grief, no wonder Job opts to just sit in silence. You know, when you think about it, these are understandings of God that are alive and well today. In fact, there are probably few of us who haven’t at some time in our lives, fallen into these understandings. After all, they put us in control. If we do right, then God will fix it or reward us or somehow give us proof that our faith is working. And, yet, faith is not about being in control. We cannot save ourselves. That’s the whole point. Faith may not even be about trust that it will turn out alright. Maybe faith is instead about trusting that one will find God, even in the midst of the darkness.

So Job admits to being faint of heart, to not understanding at all why all of this has happened to him. Because, after all, it makes no sense. Job was good. He was righteous. He did nothing wrong. Why is this happening? He wishes that he could just vanish, wishes that the darkness would just take him. But instead, he waits. He waits in the silence and trusts that God is there–somewhere.  Job is essentially letting go–letting go of his need to understand God and understand life.  He is letting go of his need to figure it all out.  He is letting go of his need to have all the answers.  After all, faith is not about having all the answers or being certain of what’s going to happen.  As Richard Rohr, says “faith is having the security to be insecure.” (From Job and the Mystery of Suffering)

Sometimes life doesn’t make sense.   Maybe in those spaces when no answer is given is the God who is keeping silence and maybe God is more present in the silence than even in the answers that we have.  When you think about, do you think that sometimes our answers and our language about God get in the way of how God is being revealed in our life?  Austrian-born Israeli philosopher Martin Buber once wrote that “an eclipse of the sun is something occurs between the sun and our eyes, not in the sun itself.”  Perhaps our faith and our understanding of God is the same way.  Maybe we’re seeing all we can handle for now.  Maybe our questions are a whole lot more important for us than having the answer to it all.  (And here’s a hint:  We’ll read the story of our friend Job fo two more weeks.  I have it on good authority that it all turns out OK.  It just doesn’t look like what we thought it would.  Hmmm!  Isn’t that amazing that that keeps happening?)

Let go of your need to have all the answers and just be with God–there, there in the silence and hiddenness of a God who is waiting not to be defended by our answers and our words but to be given the space to say us into being once again.

Grace and Peace,


Our Just Reward

Lectionary Passage: Job 1:1; 2:1-10
To read this passage online go to http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=216363206

This week is the first of several weeks that our Lectionary includes passages from the Book of Job.  I love Job so I have to warn you that you may get your fill!  Someone asked me the other day why I loved this book so much.  I’m not sure.  I also don’t really know what that says about me.  I think it’s because it’s real.  There are no pretenses that are left about God or about ourselves after we read Job.  In fact, Job takes all of those contrived images of who God is and shakes them at their core.  We stand there, like Job, stripped of all we know leaving nothing for us but a relationship with God.

The story begins like a fairy tale usually begins:  “There was once a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job.”  You could just as easily say, “Once upon a time in the land of Uz, there lived a man named Job.”  Job is depicted as righteous, blessed, and happy.  Every thing had gone well for Job.  He has a comfortable house with a large, roomy chef’s kitchen and a terrace overlooking a lush green valley.  His wife is happy and they’ve never had an argument.  His children are perfect.  There has never been a problem with drugs or behavioral problems or kids that just can’t seem to make it work.  And Job–he is healthy, happy, and has lovely straight teeth.  Life is perfect.  Job is righteous and upright and God has blessed them all. 

Really?  Oh come now!  Yes, my friends, it IS a fairy tale.  I mean, get real, no one’s life is perfect.  If they say it is, they are either lying to you or lying to themselves.  Life just doesn’t work like that.  Life is not perfect.  Instead, it is rich and deep and profoundly full of abundance and poverty, joy and sorrow, health and sickness, hope and despair, life and death.  And in those crevices between all of this emotion and all of this stuff, we find God.

We are uncomfortable with this idea of God “testing” Job.  I mean, really, do you like tests?  What kind of God does that?  But, remember, testing is not just about right and wrong.  If life becomes a focus only on getting the right answers, then there is no hope for any of us.  Think of testing more like a chemical test.  The outcome is not good or bad as outcomes go; rather, it is different, changed, something new.  So maybe God does allow this hassatan character to “test” Job a bit.  Keep in mind, this has nothing to do with either the first century notion of “satan” (notice there’s no capital letter–this is not a title or a person or even a being) or the later-contrived notion of a little red man with horns messing up our lives.  (I mean, personally, I do a good enough job of that myself!)  Rather, this more of an adversary operating on God’s behalf.  And the test proves that, even changed, Job’s integrity and Job’s love of God is intact.  When all that he knows and all that he relies upon is whisked away, Job still loves God.  But the adversary claims that Job would give all of this for his life.  He proposes a “skin for skin” challenge.  So, what would Job do if YHWH attacks Job’s life?  There is Jewish midrash that claims that God’s directive to spare Job’s life actually outwitted the trickster and skewed the whole question.  The command was like saying, “you may break the wine bottle, but you must not let the wine spill.” 
So the satan afflicts Job with foul boils that cover his body.  It was more than painful.  You remember the cultural understanding of that.  He would have separated from the community and shut away with the other unacceptables.  Job’s wife begs:  “Stand up for yourself!  Curse God!  DO SOMETHING!”  But Job remains steadfast.

SO, the prosperity gospel is not some new notion!  How many of us fall into the trap of thinking that if we just live right, eat right, vote right, play right, act right, worship right, and pray right, then God will reward us with prosperity or ease or eternal life.  You can fill in the blank.  Whatever it is, we will receive our “just reward”.  But then the story of Job drops into our lives like a cannonball.  Job’s story reminds us that God never promised us ease and plenty.  Rather, God promises Presence, Grace, and a Love more incredible than we can ever fathom–now, tomorrow, and every tomorrow thereafter.  No matter what we do, God keeps God’s promises.  Isn’t that better than worrying about whether or not we’ll be rewarded or punished in the future?

5th century theological St. Augustine of Hippo laid out two types of love–uti and frui.  Uti is essentially the love of use, the love for something because of what it gives you.  Admit it, you love money.  Now you’re not IN love with money.  You don’t look at a pile of green paper (or now a bigger number on your electronic bank statement) and love it.  But you pursue it because of what it will bring you.  That is “uti” love.  But “frui” love is loving something not because of what it will bring you but for the subject of the love itself.  It is unconditional.  Augustine maintained that our problem was that we often love God with “uti” love.  We love God because God will reward us (or because we are afraid of losing God’s support in our lives.)  But God desires something different.  God desires to be loved not because of what God can do for us, not because of any reward we hope to gain, but because in the deepest part of our being, we are made to love God and enjoy God forever. 

So, why do bad things happen to good people?  I don’t know.  Why do bad things happen to bad people?  I don’t know.  Why do bad things happen at all?  Job gives us no answers.  The story just reminds us to love the questions and the journey and the God who walks with us through it all.

So, go and love God…just love God.

Grace and Peace,