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Monday, August 31, 2009

To Speak with God

Job says of God, “See he will kill me; I have no hope.” Jesus promises his followers, “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). Jesus gives the easy yoke and the light burden (Matthew 11:30). Jesus loves people so much, when he sees them far from God, he weeps over them (Luke 19:41).

When we meet God through faith in Jesus, we realize that God loves people to the extent that he allowed his Beloved Son Jesus to die the horrific death on the cross so that sins would covered – all sins. In Jesus, we find that God is love, grace, mercy, peace, and hope. A discerning reading of the Old Testament shows God has always been these things.

Thus, we cannot go along with Job even though we know the story of his agony. We cannot affirm his doleful sentiment. His soul, blackened by pain, crushed by loss, shredded by agony, and tormented by confusion does not benefit from resurrection knowledge. Knowing Jesus, we know that even on the darkest of dark days, we have a Savior who is present in Spirit, and holds power over death. As the sermon goes, we know it is midnight all day long, it’s hard, and it hurts, but though it is Friday, Sunday’s coming.

Even so, Job’s words in chapter 13 are worth a Jesus follower’s serious consideration. “I would speak to the Almighty! I desire to argue my case with God!” God will give Job that chance, and Job folds like a cheap suit (40:2-7). God grants all that Job has clamored for in chapters 3-31, and Job has nothing to say except that he, Job, is small. But in the end, Job is vindicated. I think the reason is he keeps looking to God.

He’s mad! He’s hurt! He says God has become his enemy (13:24). He says God bound him (13:27). In other chapters, he makes much wilder accusations against God. But God can take it.

God will not stand for theologians who speak for him and self-righteously judge those who suffer. Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar get in trouble when they try to speak on God’s behalf. God doesn’t need their help. Job needs their help. But they, intimidated by the intensity of Job’s invectives and the severity of Job’s tribulation, cave in to the temptation. In a desperate situation in which they have no answers and are starting to squirm because of the proximity to misfortune, the three friends defend God against Job’s attacks.

Job calls them on it. From his dung pile, puss oozing from his sores, he blurts out, “all of you are worthless physicians” (13:4b). “Your maxims are proverbs of ashes” (13:12a). I wonder if I ever do that. I wonder if I, like Job’s friends, see a tough situation in which someone is hurting. And I, like Job’s friends, ride on my white horse, the knight in shining armor (OK, the clergy with a shining Bible). I, like Job’s friends, speak brilliant words of pastoral care that I learned in Master’s degree studies and Doctorate studies. Or, I spout truths I learned in reading thick books that working people don’t have time to read.

And after I have heroically saved the day with my clergy wisdom, I look down in the hospital bed. And the cancer has spread. And it hurts that she has to go through this alone because she’s estranged from her son and she’s divorced. Nothing I have said has made any of it better. My prattling on has only made it tougher because she has to act like I said something that matters when she knows I haven’t and I know she knows.

Then what?

I heard an outstanding observation by my friend, a Presbyterian pastor. We were in a Bible study group discussing Job, and he said, “Instead of speaking to Job on God’s behalf, the friends should have spoken to God on Job’s behalf.” In other words, why didn’t the friends ever stop to pray for Job? They were silent for week (2:13). Then they pontificated pejorations on Job for 28 chapters.

They were silent with him. They preached at him. They judged him. Why didn’t Job’s friends pray for him?

We can’t know how Job would have gone if the friend prayed on his behalf. We know in the end, he prayed on their behalf, and God listened and forgave them (Job 42:8-10). But, what matters is not the end of Job. What matters is how the story of Job and the story of Jesus and the story of the Holy Spirit play out in the daily lives of Jesus-followers in 2009.

I don’t want to be a “worthless physician.” I don’t want to drone on with “maxims [that are] proverbs of ashes.” I want to help people discover the easy yoke and the light burden.

And when I am up against it, and when I am awash in the blood that flows from my wounds, and when my soul is thrashed and wrenched and ripped, I want the flicker of faith that keeps my turning to God. Whether I hear God’s answer or not, whether things get better or not, whether I overcome or am undone, I hope that when it is my time to wallow in the Gulag and stand in the icy rain, I will look to God and trembling, say, “I would speak to the Almighty. I desire to bring my case to God.”

1 comment:

  1. I love this part-
    “Instead of speaking to Job on God’s behalf, the friends should have spoken to God on Job’s behalf.” In other words, why didn’t the friends ever stop to pray for Job?