Some people are fortunate enough to have a “forever” friend and mine is Linda. She is the ying to my yang. She lights up our friendship with her positive outlook and wonderful sense of humor. Even though we live thousands of miles apart, we are soul sisters in our hearts forever and always. We stay in touch and given half a chance, we can talk for hours on topics like our grandchildren, work, religion, and even politics. Recently, we were able to get together for lunch and shopping. As we talked, it became apparent that Linda was hurting in mind, body and spirit. Our previous conversations on the phone, did not allow me to get a read on how deeply she has been affected by the difficulties of the last few years. As we sat together, I sensed a real tiredness both mentally and spiritually.
My conversation with Linda reminded me of the biblical character of Job. I am participating in an on-line Bible class with the goal to read through the entire Bible in a year and recently we read through the Book of Job. Throughout my life, I have heard that people who display the “patience of Job” were exceptional people. Beyond his patience, people often understand this story to be about Job’s faithfulness to God despite his terrible loss and suffering. More than once, I have heard it preached that we, as Christians, are supposed to emulate this patient faithful servant of God so that we too can trust that God will pull us through our tough times and bless us in our faithfulness. However, could there be more to the story? The author of “Getting Involved with God” Ellen Davis, offers another approach as she writes, “The focal point of the book is not God’s justice at all, but rather the problem of human pain: how Job endures it, cries out of it, wrestles furiously with God in the midst of it, and ultimately transcends his pain---or better, is transformed through it.” (pg.122). According to Davis, in the midst of his anguish and suffering, Job doesn’t let God off the hook for his pain and losses but calls on the Almighty for a one-on-one conversation. As I read through the text, what surprised me is that God respects Job’s angry rants and gives him the conversation he so desires. We can yell at God, really?
Job wrestles with God through the pain of losing everything and I mean everything, children, livestock, all of his property and finally his health. Throughout the conversations with his wife and friends, Job recounts his faithfulness to God, his family, friends, neighbors, as well as the poor and needy. According to Job, he has been faithful. It seems like Job, in all of these conversations, was looking for answers but I wonder if he was also looking for God? Where was God in his misery and suffering? Job didn’t back down from God’s power so much as he seeks it in his demand to see God face to face. Davis states, “Job rails against God, not as a skeptic, not as a stranger to God’s justice, but precisely as a believer.” (pg. 133).
How does God react? As is often the case, throughout the scriptures, God shows Godself in unexpected ways. This time God has a conversation with Job through a whirlwind. Chapters 38-40 are filled with wonderful poetry of the whimsical side of God. There are creatures that are ugly, gawky, happy, unthinking, and at times cruel and God creates them all because God can. Job gets the full discourse on how God has created everything with thoughtfulness, boldness and beauty. Job was mistaken when he anticipated that because of his sacrifices to God, or his support of the poor and weak, or as a faithful servant, that he could pay God back in some way. Instead, through this extensive description of all aspects of nature that surrounds Job, God shows that he gives out of love, without cost for all the beauty, calamity, and freedom of the created world. God asks Job to change his focus as Davis explains, “in effect, ‘Look away from yourself, Job; look around you. For a moment see the world with my eyes, in all its intricacy and wild beauty. The beauty is in the wildness, Job; you cannot tame all that frightens you without losing the beauty.” Davis reveals that through this conversation, God is asking Job if he can love and accept what he cannot control (pg.140). Eventually, Job is humbled by his conversation with God and admits that he was wrong in his perception of the Holy One.
After this harsh and often weary story of Job’s suffering, the human side of us wants to jump to the end of the story where God replenishes or replaces what Job has lost, his wealth, status and children. However, any parent will say that no child can ever be replaced with more children. A parent always feels the deep loss and hurt of a child’s death. Davis contradicts the expected interpretation that Job was thrilled with more children but wonders at what cost Job had to trust God again with everything that was precious to him. Trusting God in this way puts Job’s in a vulnerable place. Can he trust God again? His new and more complete understanding of God, gives him the courage to father more children as well as TRUST that God will not destroy them again. (pg.142). I think Job finds hope in that vulnerability. His hope rests in a God who remains faithful to him and will continue to bless Job’s faithfulness to God. There are no easy answers for Job in his suffering or Linda during this troubling onslaught of issues. But just as Job identified a hope in a faithful God, throughout our conversation, Linda too admits that she is trusting that God is working in the midst of all of her struggles. In this vulnerable hope, she trusts that God will carry her through whatever lies ahead.