Sunday, June 24, 2012

Shut Up and Listen...

I have said on more than one occasion that this is, without a doubt, the most terrifying passage ever spoken in scripture.
“Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job?” ~Job 1:8
Thanks, God… appreciate the ‘atta-boy’… thanks so much for noticing…

God is having what almost looks like morning coffee with Satan and somewhere between “pass the sugar” and “did you see last night’s game” he sort of dares Satan to mess with Job. God touts Job’s goodness and his great character and Satan reminds God that it is pretty easy to be one of the good guys when you are healthy, wealthy, and have never suffered for even a day. God strokes his beard and considers Satan’s point and finally says, “Ok. Do what you want… bring it on. You got full access to screw up Job’s life… just don’t do anything to Job, personally”. Satan chugs the last of his coffee and says, “You’re on!” and likely mumbles to himself as he walks away, “this should be fun…”

And so it begins. Job’s oxen are stolen and his field hands murdered. Then his sheep and shepherds are burned alive. Next his camels are stolen and the camel handlers killed. And once Job has lost all of his considerable cattle and livestock, a storm blows down a house where all of his children have gathered for a party, killing them all. And still, Job does not speak against god.

So, on the next morning, Satan returns to coffee shop and after a few pleasantries and small talk about the freshness of the bagels god says, again…
“Have you considered my servant Job?”
Seriously? Really?

Satan points out that it was not really a fair bet because you can’t really get at a guy unless you get at the guy himself. God again strokes his beard and says, “OK. Do what you want, just don’t kill him.”

“I can make him sick?”


“How about boils or sores are something really nasty like that?”

“Sure… Fine… just don’t kill him”

So Satan finishes his bagel, leaves a tip (only %5, by the way) and leaves with a wicked grin barely hidden on his lips.

You can guess what happens next. Sores. Disgusting sores. Painful, itchy sores; maddening to the point that Job tries to scrape them off with broken pottery shards and bad enough that his wife suggests he ask God to kill him. All of this in the first two chapters.

Then, of course, his church buddies show up (YAY!) to comfort him and we spend the next 35 chapters of this book in deep theological discussion regarding the reasons for Job’s suffering. Job’s church buddies are pretty sure that this kind of stuff does not happen to righteous men (and, by the way, it would certainly never happen to any of them…) and so they are left to assume that Job has sinned and sinned badly in order to rain down such misery on himself.

The first three guys remind of the opening of a joke… “a Baptist, Calvinists and an Evangelical walk into a bar…” Job continues to hold to his story of blamelessness and his 3 fundamentalist friends accuse Job of everything from envy and pride to voting democrat. The fourth friend, young Elihu the Emergent, finally hearing all he can stand from the old conservative crowd, speaks up and offers a more progressive, more enlightened view. 6 chapters worth, in fact (possibly with the idea that the point is “dialog and conversation” rather than any concrete solutions). And then we reach today’s passage. After 35 chapters of theological debate; after 35 chapters of doctrinal positions and dogmatic explanations worthy of a DMin doctoral thesis; God puts down his coffee cup, stands, and speaks…
Job 38:1-11
38 Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said:
2 “Who is this who darkens counsel
By words without knowledge?
3 Now prepare yourself like a man;
I will question you, and you shall answer Me.
4 “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?
Tell Me, if you have understanding.
5 Who determined its measurements?
Surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
6 To what were its foundations fastened?
Or who laid its cornerstone,
7 When the morning stars sang together,
And all the sons of God shouted for joy?
8 “Or who shut in the sea with doors,
When it burst forth and issued from the womb;
9 When I made the clouds its garment,
And thick darkness its swaddling band;
10 When I fixed My limit for it,
And set bars and doors;
11 When I said,
‘This far you may come, but no farther,
And here your proud waves must stop!’
And the Almighty is just getting started. For four chapters Job (and his church buddies) listen as God again and again points out that he is God and that they are not. And he doesn’t so much take them to the woodshed for “getting it wrong”. It seems that their real offense is presuming to “get it” at all.
“Who is this who darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
I wonder how much of our religion is little more than “words without knowledge”? How much of our debate is born out of an arrogant belief that we can ever hope to create a systematic theology that will contain a God who “binds the cluster of the Pleiades, and looses the belt of Orion (38:1)”?

In the end, there is really no answer that satisfies. Any attempt to reach a theological answer to the “why bad things happen to good people” question requires mental gymnastics that are beyond the reach of mortal men and women. And maybe this is the only point to be drawn. God does not really answer the why so much as he pulls rank and changes the subject entirely. And, to limit our understanding further, we are not allowed into the coffee shop conversation following the end of this story, although I assume that the Almighty had a full breakfast and that Satan had to pick up the check.

And as for Job? New kids. New livestock. New house. New, more, and better everything. All things considered, a reasonably happy ending, but… I suspect he carries some scars as well; in his flesh and in his soul.

And so… I am left with little in the way of an easy 3-point lesson is this story; at least not one that brings much comfort.

1. Stuff Happens
2. Life is not fair
3. God is not bound by my theology or my expectations

And, at the end of the day, that it is still better to be Job than Job’s Kids… or his servants… or his camels. His Kingdom Come…

1 comment:

Janna Barber said...

Nice dialogue, mark. My favorite verse is near the end, where members of Job's family bring him pieces of silver and rings of gold and "comforted and consoled him over all the trouble the Lord had brought on him." So much for the devil being responsible. And yet God is good. Blows my mind.