Job 14:7-15; 19:23-27
Last week we were reminded of our ability to not only be in dialogue with God but to be angry with God and to express our sense of frustration and even betrayal. There is something very valuable about being able to complain, honestly, with both God and with one another. As Canadians we are known around the world for apologizing at the drop of a hat with “sorry” being one of our most frequently used words. It is as though, collectively, we do not complain to each other. Christianity lost that sense of being able to complain to God that we find in Job.
According to Latin American theologian Gustavo Guitierrez complaint is described as “a legitimate element of prayer but as well the enraged outcry of the poor is also a legitimate form of prayer.” The late Arthur Gold put the story of Job in this way: “The Satan asks God why he continues to put up with the Jews, this particular people he has chosen, even though they treat him so impertinently. They complain so much! Why can’t they be more like the Greeks, who stride erectly into whatever fate holds for them without all the grumbling? God, in Gold’s telling, answers he prefers the Jews and their discontented murmuring. ‘At least’, says God, ‘it shows that they still believe in me, and they think I could do better.’”
Job does have a lot about which to complain. His friends are not all that helpful either as they confuse the role of God in Job’s life and in the world in particular. They seem to believe that if you do things in a certain way then you will prosper and if you do not prosper then you are being punished for failing to things properly. That was certainly the position held by Eliphaz as we saw last week.
Job knows he has done his best and yet all that he had gained in life is lost. He is in deep despair that has gone beyond asking the question ‘why’ to simply asserting that life itself is hopeless. Trees will come back when they are cut down. Given water, new life will flow. But for humans, we die and are laid low, claims Job, we expire and where are we? In all of creation Job sees the possibility of new life emerging from death and despair…but not for him, not for human life.
I suspect that even for Job this conclusion was difficult to accept. If all of creation had the possibility of rebirth than why not humans as well…God had made humans not only as part of the creative process described in Genesis but God had made them in his own image. God had made them for relationship with God. How could they not, in harmony with all other creation, also experience rebirth and new life? So Job came, at this point, to this conclusion: if my friends are right and I have somehow managed to displease God maybe God would put me in the underworld, the abyss, so that at least I would not suffer and where I could even wait that day when I might be able to favourably make my case before God. Job cannot understand why all this has happened to him but he is not ready to blame himself and he is not yet ready to reject God. In language of our God it is as if he is asking God for a time out. Behind this desire to be set aside there is an underlying sense that in this depth of despair something like hope exists—even if Job can’t see it!
That is an amazing foundation for trying to come to grips with life when life is turned upside down. When we see school shootings in Florida we see that something like hope exists. When we see refugees band together inside the camp to try and improve their situation with soap making projects we still know that something like hope exists.
Like Job we may not be able to see it but when examined against the experience of the rest of our lives we know hope to be there. The families of victims in this long litany of despair spanning just the last two weeks, as well as citizens and travellers impacted by the unimaginable violence, have all come to the same conclusion: “This does not define us. We have too much to live for to live in fear. We may not understand what is happening but in the depth of despair something like hope exists.”
Job’s dialogue about his plight will continue for many chapters more but in chapter 19 we hear him speak the reason for his cautious optimism and unspoken hope. He wishes that his words could be written in some way that they would be imperishable for what he is about to say is not only the source of his hope but is the foundation of his faith…based on the stories of his ancestors and built upon his own experiences of God…
”I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.”
Job is expressing his conviction that as a member of God’s family, God, as his Redeemer, will fulfill the family member’s obligation to a family member in need. Nature is reborn because that is the way nature was created. Job, you, and I are reborn because we are part of God’s family, where we have a personal relationship with God Creator—Father and Mother of us all.
Every time I hear Job’s confession sung in Handel’s Messiah I feel shivers up and down my backbone. “I know that my Redeemer liveth.” The music itself is quite amazing. The words repeat the confident “I know” over and over again. Eventually in this part of the oratorio Handel moved from the words of Job to the words of St. Paul thereby linking the Hebrew faith of Job with the experience of the Christian faith. Those words are “For now is Christ risen, for now is Christ risen, the first fruits of them that sleep.”
For Job his deep faith, even when he was angry with the God of that faith, allowed him to claim that ultimately, no matter what happened in Job’s life, he knew that his Redeemer lived. He knew that as bad as life might get there was always room for something like hope.to exist. He may not understand and he may not find it easy to accept but somewhere in the midst of his loss and suffering, pain and hurt, there was that continuing sense that his God was a God of relationship and in that relationship, God would meet his needs as one of God’s family.
As Christians of course we build on Job’s experience. We have the added blessing of Jesus life, death and resurrection to aid our sense of hope when despair is the more natural option in life. Job anticipated this hope and it was, in the end, sufficient and for Job a miracle will occur. For you and I we can thrill to the words of Handel’s Messiah knowing that even in our lives, knowing that while our challenges may not be as great as Jobs they are nevertheless very real, and can be equally debilitating. Yet even in our worst days we too can sing: “I know that my Redeemer liveth…For Now is Christ risen.”