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Sunday, December 6, 2015

God, Job and loss

While some folks are stuck debating whether or not Job was a real person who actually experienced the things written in the book in our Bible that bears his name, many Christians and Jews regard it as a parable that is illustrative of some profound spiritual truths. Nevertheless, in reviewing what some of the commentators had to say about this book, I was struck by the superficiality and materialistic nature of many of the interpretations offered. Yes, Job had a problem with self-righteousness, and he had failed to understand just how great God really is; but is that all we are to take away from this book?

For me, the entire book is about loss, and the way that we as humans process it and deal with it. Although the book makes clear that Job's friends had not given him comfort or good counsel, we see in their offerings many of the same kinds of remarks that we offer our friends and families when we are trying to console them or advise them about some loss that they've experienced in their lives. Most of the time it is unintentional, but don't many of us have a tendency to blame the victim of some disaster? "If he/she hadn't done this or that, then this or that wouldn't have happened!" In other words, he/she is suffering as a consequence of their own bad actions. "How dare you blame God for your problems! You should be ashamed of yourself!" When I read what Job's friends had to say to him, I see the kinds of remarks that many folks make when confronted with loss (including myself). Let's face it, most of us try to explain or fix things. Moreover, we would all do well to ask ourselves: Is that what this person really needs from me right now?

Likewise, it is apparent to me that this book was written from the perspective of contrasting Job's spiritual and physical condition before he suffered loss with what he experienced at the conclusion of his trials and tribulations (compare chapter 1 with chapter 42). In other words, God has improved Job's spiritual and material condition by the end of the story. The principle: God can turn lemons into lemonade - All things work together for good. Do folks necessarily want to hear that when they're in the midst of a loss? Do we want to tell folks who are in the depths of despair that all stories have a happy ending? Is that a constructive way to help someone deal with grief and sorrow?

Also, in making the above observation about contrasting Job's condition at the beginning and close of the story, have you ever noticed just how materialistic the perspective of the human author is here? In the first chapter, we read that Job had seven sons, three daughters, seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen, five hundred she asses, "and a very great household." (Job 1:2-3) Then, in the last chapter, we read: "So the Lord blessed the latter end of Job more than his beginning: for he had fourteen thousand sheep, and six thousand camels, and a thousand yoke of oxen, and a thousand she asses. He had also seven sons and three daughters." (Job 42:12-13) Everything is viewed from the perspective of personal possessions and wealth. There is no room for sentimental attachment in this account. Everything is doubled or replaced.

I can hear modern echoes of this ancient story in the way that we deal with loss today. "What's he bellyaching about? The insurance coverage built him a brand new house - better than the one he had before the tornado!" "Yes, his car was totaled in the accident, but look at that Cadillac he's driving now!" "She lost her beloved pet dog that she'd had for seventeen years, but her kids got her two of the cutest little puppies for Christmas!" Let me ask you this: How does a person replace even one child that is lost? If you had four more children, you would love them; but they could never replace or fill the hole left by the one who is missing!

Yes, the book of Job makes me think about how we treat each other in the midst of loss. And it makes me think: Maybe we should all do a lot less talking and a whole lot more listening! What do you think?

2 comments:

  1. What did Job's wife think of having to bear 10 more children?

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  2. The following remarks are taken from a commentary on the book of Job by one of my friends:
    "The account opens in chapter 1 with a description of the relationship between God and Satan that seems to have guided the theology of only a few. There is no 'great controversy.' This is not a battle between two polar powers. This is the one being entirely subservient to the will and purposes of the other. Satan is God’s tool. He plays a role in this opening chapter and then is dismissed, by the remainder of the book, as of no consequence. What Job goes through is of God.
    Job knows that it has to be from God, but he doesn’t understand it. His orthodox theology is similar to that of his friends: goodness is rewarded and evil is punished. But now he has run into a problem: he knows he has not done evil, so why is he being punished? We have the account of chapter 1, so we know why things were happening, but Job did not --- for him it was concealed."
    "Job tried to find out why he was suffering so much. He tried to understand why he was going through those distresses, but God never gave him any answers. God had him suffer through the advice of friends who each gave him their own theory about it. (God lets us be exposed to the hassle of things that never yield the truth. 'Miserable comforters all ye all' says Job.) Maybe it was his sin. Maybe God was showing him how fragile humans are.
    He was getting no peace for his shredded heart, and when he finally runs out of conversation, God talks to him. He brings to his attention 2 gigantic animals, which I believe are dinosaurs, and he says 'Job, I made those.' Job hears this, and declares 'Now I know you can do anything' and says 'I have declared that which I did not understand, things which are too wonderful for me, which I did not know.'(Maybe that’s what I’m doing right now.)
    So Job says, I don’t understand any of this, and now I am going to rest in that and be quiet. And God says, 'Good! Now I can bless you.' Wow! May God teach us to rest in him when we do not understand! Then we are a glory to him that conceals."

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