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,