While I don’t feel like it’s the “right” answer, whenever I’m asked – what is your favorite book in the Bible – the first one that pops into my head is the Book of Job.
Do you know someone in your life who is going through something – or has just had something happen – and you think – that’s not fair? Why would that happen to someone like this? Or – you, yourself? Are you in a period of your life where you think – why is this happening? This is not what I expected? This does not seem fair? Why God is this happening to me?
If that resonates with you then I would encourage you to spend this week reading or rereading the book of Job It’s not a long book – you could read a couple chapters each morning or night and be done in a few days. And it’s easy to follow – it written like a play – and not too many characters – God, Satan, Job – his wife – and three friends.
And it’s an exploration of a question – all of us will ask multiple times in the course of our lives – why, God, why? And since we just heard the end of the book – an ending which might have sounded tacked on and trite – like a fairy tale – I thought we’d explore Job – which is a book of questions. Questions that prompt God to say open your eyes – to new ways of seeing. Risk seeing with the eyes of faith.
You know that Christmas carol – Do you see what I see? That starts to play in my head when I get to the part of the book where God answers Job – because that’s how God answers Job – by listing – and it’s a very long list – all the things God sees – that Job doesn’t. "Do you see what I see - NO!" Who could see what God sees? Things like –
Do you know the expanse of the earth?
Where is the dwelling of light? How about darkness?
Has the rain a father – who has begotten the drops of dew?
Who has wisdom to number the clouds – or can tilt the waterskins of the heavens?
And for many years – I used to hear that list as if God was yelling at Job. Poor Job – who had simply demanded God hear his prayers. Job – who isn’t at all patient, I don’t know he has that nickname – demanding to understand why – when he was such a good person, faithful and law-abiding – why everything his family, his fortune, his honor, his health – was brutally taken from him? Why, God, why?
You’ll remember he first asks his wife – who says, just curse God and die. That’s one way people respond to tragedy. Holding on to anger can feel safer, make us feel righteous and in control. It can feel safer than falling into the hurt.
Then he asks his friends – which is the bulk of the book. And at first they support Job – they come to weep with him, to comfort him. But the tragedy doesn’t go away – so they start to try and make sense of it. Then they try and fix it – but they can’t do either. And because they can’t fix it or solve it – they find fault. And ultimately – they blame Job. It must be his fault – certainly he did something to deserve what happened.
That’s another way people sometimes respond to tragedy – look for someone to blame. Our section this morning skips over God’s response to Job’s friends. God says to them – you have not spoken what is right – but Job did.
Job protests. His friends rationalize.
Job prays. His friends blame.
Job weeps. His friends argue.
Job stays in relationships with God the whole time – even though he is angry. And God tells Job to pray for his friends. And we can wonder if Job’s prayer might have begun – Father, forgive them…
I think that’s something really helpful for us about Job. The whole book is a prayer – and it isn’t that his prayers aren’t answered – God responds. It’s just not the response he wanted – or expected.
When God responds with that long list of all the wonders of the world – it’s like a soliloquy of God’s awesomeness. And as I said I’d always heard it in my head with this tone of – Who do you think you are, Job? I made EVERYTHING – so just who do you think you are demanding to talk to me? And used to think – that’s why Job recants in dust and ashes – because he realizes how insignificant he is.
But – a few weeks ago – I heard another take that made a lot more sense to me. Do you all know Margaret Meade – the famous anthropologist? I heard an interview with her daughter – Mary Catherine Bateson – and she talked about how her mother and father loved the Book of Job – because you know as anthropologists – nature, creation was God’s answer.
But her take was different – “I think the point about the Book of Job is that Job is a virtuous member of an institution. He’s respectable, he obeys all the rules, he’s complacent, he goes through the appropriate rituals that were required in his community at that time. But he’s lost his sense of wonder. And then God says, “Look. Just look. Realize how beautiful it is. How complicated it is.” *
And I wonder if God whispers his response in Job’s heart – You are a part of this awesomeness Job – you are woven into it.
The poem “Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver – concludes with this –
"Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, / the world offers itself to your imagination, / calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting— / over and over announcing your place / in the family of things."
God isn’t lording his majesty over Job - God is curing his blindness. As Paul says – I pray that you may see with the eyes of your heart enlightened. God is opening Job’s eyes to his place in the family of things. Opening his eyes to the wonder and beauty – and awesomeness taking place in every moment.
When we open our eyes to the wonder of things – we are far more likely to be able to empathize with another person, especially when they are struggling with an event that doesn’t make sense. When we open our eyes I think we are far more likely to see something in our own lives that we can be grateful for.
What’s really amazing – the incredible faith Job models – is that he wants to take his place in the family of things again. I don’t think it’s a fairy tale ending. His family was destroyed – children were lost. Do we think that God simply replaces Job’s children? Or – that Job chooses life? Chooses to live again – to love again? And he loves lavishly. It reads he gives an inheritance to his daughters – that didn’t happen then. But maybe that’s part of the gratitude? Living and loving with more freedom. There is something that can happens when we move through loss. We can’t replace what is gone – but we can choose to live more fully with what we are given.**
All our readings this morning are God speaking to us on this day, at this particular moment in our lives. All of the “lessons” are encouragements to us to see God on this day, at this particular moment in our lives. Our as our psalmist prays –
Look upon God and be radiant – taste and see that God is good. Open your hearts friends, that your pain and loneliness be turned to Love; and then we shall rejoice in the Beloved together.+ Amen.
* From interview On Being (http://onbeing.org/program/transcript/7977#main_content)
** Inspired by… http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1455
+ Psalms for Praying: An Invitation to Wholeness Nan C. Merrill