Thursday, August 23, 2012

Notes on beginning a read of the Book of Job

Job 1: 1-22

Today the Daily Office starts a survey of the Book of Job. It is one of the most important, sophisticated, and yet difficult books in the Bible. Here are some opening thoughts on the journey ahead.

The story of Job begins in an almost fairy-tale like way. It unfolds in a near-mythical “land of the East,” a sort of laboratory wherein this strange, frightful experiment may safely take place.

Job’s comfortable perfection is held aloft for us to see and marvel at…but then “The Accuser” (what the word “Satan” means in Hebrew) strides onto the stage. God’s delight in Job’s example is turned around by Satan into a challenge. Just how faithful is Job, really, if everything is going his way? Perhaps his faithfulness is a mirage? What would happen if all the props were taken away? Would God be so pleased with Job when his “true” nature is revealed?

And here is the most frightening part: God agrees to the challenge. Job is sent into the furnace of human suffering without consultation or choice.

Much of American religion seems to be an organized attempt at avoiding the anxiety and horror of life. We gloss over it all with bright, shiny depictions of success and attractiveness...labeled "blessings" and "righteousness," but really more about a comfort and convenience akin to atheism. Who needs a God when our pursuit is not the mystical heart of things but the avoidance of reality?

And yet, isn’t this reading from Job a great deal more honest than the “prosperity Gospel” we hear preached from various pulpits today? Isn’t it a more accurate analysis of our situation than the sorry lie that good people are always rewarded and bad people “get theirs” in this world? Have we come to the point where we no longer are willing to enter into the Truth, preferring our delusions instead?

Job is first tested in this reading by having his possessions and almost all his loved-ones taken from him. His status is destroyed in one fell swoop. His response: “The Lord gives, and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the Name of the Lord.”

Job’s first words in his trial are a clear distinction between what he owns and what he is. This is a distinction many in our consumer society probably can no longer make, and something which fewer and fewer preachers are willing to speak about. Our “lifestyles” and “identities” are deeply connected to our possessions and status-symbols. We collect all sorts of “gear” to set us apart and proclaim our identity. Yet, when I visit people in hospital—shorn of all their possessions and clad only in a designed-for-maximum-embarrassment hospital gown, they cannot turn to any external “thing” for identity: it must come from within. So much of the pastoral life is about preparing people for this fact.

The opening of Job takes us the first stage down a road wherein our deepest self, our deepest vulnerability is exposed. It is a difficult read, but an exercise we must undertake. A culture of denial and triviality cannot be the Christian’s preserve. We require more, and the Holy Scriptures provide this spiritual training (ascesis, in Greek). Do we have the courage, the appetite, the capacity for this training today?

No comments:

Post a Comment