Reflection 10/11: Beginning the Book of Job
Dear Beloved Community of St. John’s,
This Sunday, I’m starting a four-week preaching series on the book of Job. The text is rhetorically grand. It examines gnawing issues such as why bad things happen to good people, how wrong we can be even about important things, and the fundamental relationship between God and us. We’ve all heard and used the term “the patience of Job”—but truly, in the book of Job, everyone’s patience is tested, tragedies proliferate, relationships are frayed to breaking, and no one comes out unscarred. God included.
Job is a long mythic poem, high among the best narrative poetry of all ages. Job, as a work of poetic literature, exists between two prose sections: first, the set-up introduction to the rest of the story; and lastly, an epilogue that closes the action in a way that gives us pause. The philosophical question, never answered, is the nature of divine justice. If there is a god, what does that god imply about evil? Since we know there is evil, what then can we say about God? Evil searches us out, and so we can see God only through a veil of tears.
In my pastoral ministry as a hospice chaplain, the question I hear most is the unanswerable question of “Why?” “I don’t know,” is the only answer that rings true. People often say that God always has a plan, but I’ve never bought that. The message of Job is that answers are always insufficient. Invariably, life will break your heart. Subsequent healing doesn’t erase the suffering and memories of the past. Even Jesus carried the wounds of the passion after his resurrection.
In the Old Testament, God and human beings often communicate directly with each other. The books of the Jewish version of the Old Testament are in a different order than in our Christian bible. In the Jewish order, God thunders an answer to Job’s question of “why?” Yet, Job’s even daring to pose the question of “why?” to God silences God for the rest of the Bible. The question “why?” leaves even God without a ready answer.