So when it was assigned as part of a Bible study, I cringed. Ugh. At the end of the book, in chapter 38, when God finally responds to Job’s cries, I’ve always felt the words there were the epitome of a callous, aloof God demanding obedience and respect from this poor guy, Job (not pronounced like Steve Jobs, but “Jobe,” rhyming with robe), who was taking things way better than I would have if my life had been falling apart like his.
Job, whose entire life has just been wiped out from top to bottom, has faithfully stood by God throughout it all. And when Job finally has the integrity to share with God exactly how hurt and let down he’s feeling, he gets whomped with a theological statement (instead of the wonderfully empathic cosmic social worker I personally wanted him to hear from at the end of this incredibly gut-wrenching narrative). Did I mention how much I dislike the book of Job?
This was my first theophany: When the Bible doesn’t seem to answer you, LeAnn, it means you haven’t yet discovered the question to which it’s trying to respond. Accept God’s gentleness and encouragement in the meantime.
Learning from biblical scholarship that Job wasn’t some real historical person (over whom God really cut a deal with Satan) changed how I read this A LOT. Instead, Job is a figure from Jewish tradition known for his righteousness. This character was used as the protagonist in a poem written in its time (4th or 3rd century BCE perhaps) by Jewish thinkers who were fed up with the lop-sided simplistic interpretations of the agency of the divine in the world. God, one of the names we have given to Ultimate Love and Mystery, had been reduced by some of the religious folks of the day to the easy cliche: “If you are doing well in life, it’s because God favors you. If you are suffering, it’s because God is punishing you or your parents for their sin.” OMG.
Spoiler Alert for those who haven’t yet read the book of Job: God is not some short-order cook who dishes up delectable yummies for the deserving and ignores the needs of the rest. The book of Job was written as an attempt to offer a challenge to the distorted ideas of reductionism (trying to put God in a box) which we are all prone to in every generation.
Remember what Jesus says in Matthew 5:45 about God, “who makes his sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous”? Read just the first fifteen verses of Job chapter 38
and see if the beautiful feminine imagery doesn’t stir a smile on your face as you listen for the voice of someone like Maya Angelou or Ruth Bader Ginsburg speaking these words to your weary heart (swaddling the oceans like a babe in swaddling cloths and giving them a firm NO when needed…and lighting up earth at dawn like a red garment and then grasping the skirts of the earth by its edges and shaking the wicked out of it every morning…)
Here is a God whose protection and deep compassion (for people whom you think may or may not deserve it) and doting on all of creation (even the parts—or people!—of creation you find hard to pray for) may make you feel a little more hopeful as you begin a new week. Our God is not capricious. We, like Job, are all held in the steady gaze of adoring confidence in our own unique processes and lives unfolding.
In the name of The Unnameable,