“The Eastering of Job”
Jonesborough Presbyterian Church
To begin our third and final look at Job, let’s remember that Job is a man of means. He has lots of livestock, lots of money.
The storyteller also implies that Job’s excess is a sign of God’s favor. So, as ancient as this story is, chapter 1 of the Book of Job presents a god similar to that of today’s prosperity gospel. And such deities prove all-too-human. What else but pride would permit even a god to do something so un-Godly as to accept Satan’s dare to test Job?
The story vividly illustrates the way that humankind creates all manner of gods in our own image. And for 37 chapters the characters in Job continue to assume this human-imaged god. Then, in Chapter 38, something catastrophically glorious happens. As Forrest Gump says when the hurricane hits his shrimp boat, “God showed up.”
“Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind: ‘Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
‘Gird up your loins…I will question you, and you shall declare to me.
‘Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
‘Have you commanded the morning since your days began, and caused the dawn to know its place…Have you entered into the springs of the sea, or walked in the recesses of the deep?
‘Have the gates of death been revealed to you…? What is the way to the place where the light is distributed, or where the east wind is scattered upon the earth? Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades, or loose the cords of Orion?
‘Who provides for the raven its prey, when its young ones cry to God, and wander about for lack of food?’” (Selected verses from Job 38)
Do you see what the story does? It exposes that impressionable, weak-spirited, small-g god of chapter 1 as an absurdity, and it introduces Yahweh, the Creator, the eternal and capital-G God.
Now, Job is still suffering, still feeling broken and defeated, but he’s also enlightened and newly hopeful. He realizes that the god whom he has blamed and to whom he’s been complaining is decidedly not the God who will redeem him. Both humbled and emboldened, Job opens himself up to Yahweh.
Listen for God’s Word:
2 “I know that you can do all things,
and that no purpose of yours
can be thwarted.
3 ‘Who is this that hides counsel
Therefore I have uttered
what I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me,
which I did not know.
4 ‘Hear, and I will speak;
I will question you, and you declare to me.’
5 I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
but now my eye sees you;
6 therefore I despise myself,
and repent in dust and ashes.”
7 After the Lord had spoken these words to Job, the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite: “My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends; for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. 8 Now therefore take seven bulls and seven rams, and go to my servant Job, and offer up for yourselves a burnt offering; and my servant Job shall pray for you, for I will accept his prayer not to deal with you according to your folly; for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has done.”
9 So Eliphaz the Temanite and Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite went and did what the Lord had told them; and the Lord accepted Job’s prayer.
10 And the Lord restored the fortunes of Job when he had prayed for his friends; and the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before. (Job 42:1-10 NRSV)
Now I know, Job says to God. You can be and do as you please. You will not be hindered.
Job realizes that all of his furious ranting against God rose from an understanding of God based solely on rumors.
“But now my eye sees you,” says Job. “Therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”
Having desired death, Job has now experienced a death. And while this death does not release him from life and its bitterness, it does give him a new lease on life through a whole new kind of faith. He dies the death that all human beings must die in the process of living into more authentic images and mature understandings of God.
Job’s new theological understanding is a kind of resurrection experience. And once Job staggers out of his tomb, God puts that new faith to work. Just like Jesus forgiving his disciples for their betrayals and denials, Job finds he must forgive andintercede for the friends who abandoned him in his suffering.
To experience resurrection here-and-now, we forsake all of our small, vengeful, Protestant-work-ethic gods. To live an Eastered life is to live sacramentally—forgiving the unforgivable, loving the unlovable, working for justice, and recognizing God’s holy presence in the midst of the mundane. This is to have our “fortunes” restored.
Job may have some material fortune restored, as well, and a freshly-Eastered Job handles his new wealth very differently. Job 42:15 reads: “In all the land there were no women so beautiful as Job’s daughters; and their father gave them an inheritance along with their brothers.” This detail may seem trivial, but Job’s radically new generosity reveals the effects of his awareness of a holiness and a wholeness in the Creation that a chapter 1 god cannot offer. Surrounded by and saturated with Yahweh—the God who acts within yet exists beyond human comprehension—Job subverts sacrosanct tradition and makes his daughters equal to his sons. This scandal foreshadows Jesus healing on the sabbath, talking alone with a Samaritan woman, and “eating with tax collectors and sinners.”
In its straight and narrow confines, self-serving theologies always try to distort God into something friendly to any status quo that supports privilege and ignores injustice and suffering. For instance, we do know, don’t we, that the phrase God helps those who help themselves is not biblical? Indeed, it’s antithetical to biblical witness. That god dies a slow but memorable and transformational death in the pages of Job—and on the cross.
Both Job and Jesus live and die in ways that proclaim a God who helps those who cannot help themselves. Their stories reveal that true knowledge of God includes the embrace of suffering as well as happiness. And both stories reveal that blessings—material and spiritual—are only truly blessings when they are shared in humble and generous gratitude and when they become acts of justice and peacemaking.
That’s especially true when they are shared with people who do not “deserve” them—like Job’s prayers for his friends and like Jesus’ life itself. And don’t such things define grace?
Richard Rohr is fond of saying that Jesus comes not to change God’s mind about us, but to change our minds about God. It seems to me that Job’s story has that same mission. It has become, for me, a kind of CliffsNotes version of how individuals and faith communities progress from Santa Claus and fairy godmother images of God to images that inspire awe, humility, hope, and action—images that inspire us to participate in God’s resurrecting presence in this beautiful if all-too-broken world.
I usually cringe when I see pithy little sayings that churches post on yard signs. In my opinion, too many of them express theological positions worthy only of the god of the first chapter of Job. Recently, though, I saw one that said very simply, “The struggle is real. So is God.”
If Jonesborough Presbyterian is a vibrant, relevant faith community, it’s not because of good staffing and programming. Those things can help, of course, but the real difference occurs when we choose, individually and corporately, to acknowledge and enter the suffering of the people next to us in the pew, at the grocery store, the post office, the ball game, the coffee shop…
Job and Jesus both tell us that God is Eastering the Creation toward justice through the ways of love and the means of grace. Through many deaths and resurrections, God is transforming us into a people of gratitude and generosity in and for a world which sits among ashes, crying out for deliverance.
Now, while we can’t do the delivering, we can offer our hands, our feet, our voices, and our prayers to God who speaks, acts, and loves through us.
So even now, whether through us or in spite of us, God is Eastering the Creation and making all things new.