Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Emmanuel - God With Us

For Christians, the book of Job doesn’t fall under the “good news” contained in the New Testament Gospels, and therefore it rarely receives much attention from the pulpit. Christians, however, need not find specifically Christian concepts in the book of Job for it to speak to their suffering.

Job’s friends are quick to provide resources to end his suffering, employing traditional reasoning: If you are good, God rewards you. If not, God takes away. Thus, Job must have done something to incur the wrath of God, and all he need do is repent. Job fires back, saying that if God would only hear him out, he would be vindicated. His friends, then, fall back on another hallmark of divine theology – the unknowable God. God’s ways are not human ways; thus, who are mere mortals to question the ways of the divine? Both responses are easily seen in the Christian community and in its theology.

Job’s approach, however, is overwhelmingly one of complete defiance against his circumstances. Job’s willingness to argue so passionately with his maker – for chapter after chapter – illustrates another resource for dealing with suffering: getting angry.

For Christians, this approach is less common – God is often seen as both untouchable and unapproachable. To argue with such a God is, therefore, seen as extremely inappropriate and sacrilegious. Yet, for Job, a deep sense of respect can be seen in his venting. If he truly did not care for God, why would he spend so much energy crying out? Why not give up and walk away? No, he is determined to hold God accountable. In a sense, he doesn’t give up on God.

Finally, the lack of any satisfactory answer in the book of Job itself – when God finally does show up, God’s “answer” to Job addresses none of the issues raised in the preceding chapters – gives hope to those who have no answer themselves. Here again the Christian can find solace in the fact that no answer is given, mirroring real life with all its grey areas, its trials and seeming randomness.

What I do not find in these texts – one important omission that is crucial to my own theology – is the idea of God suffering with us. In Job, God eventually responds to Job (and even restores him), but there is absolutely no sense that God is present amid Job’s suffering. And when God does finally show up, God comes across as a taunting bully, telling Job to “gird up your loins like a man” (38:3).

In a world where suffering is systemic and without mercy, the two traditional approaches discussed above are, I believe, completely inappropriate. The latter two, especially the permission to hold God accountable, can be extremely powerful to empower those who intimately know the suffering that Job experiences. The idea that God suffers with God’s creation, however, can be a comfort beyond all words.

The idea that God is with my mother, whose dementia at age 59 has taken away her beautiful mind while cruelly leaving her withered body, is beyond all intelligent rationale – yet I must believe it to be true. For the 24,000 people who die per day simply because they have no food, does an immanent God who starves with the wretched of this world provide more comfort than a God whose ways we can never hope to discern? I strongly think so. This God is the One I have come to know in my life.

This God is present in the world – a world that, like Job, passionately yearns for justice. God may not have addressed this lack of justice in the book of Job, but perhaps this shows the intent for us, as humans, to share some of the responsibility for our own broken world. When we are confronted with ferocious and sickening examples of a world already beautiful but not yet whole, we are challenged to dispense with our normal response of “Where was God in this?” – I would propose that God is there, in the thick of it, holding back the water yet admittedly unable to stop the carnage – and ask, instead, “Where were we?”



At 12:29 PM , Blogger Pastor Lori said...

I love Job, as I do most of the OT. My favorite part is when God *does* finally chime in and says, "Where were YOU when I was doing all the hard work?" In essence, "Who the hell do you think you are?" I also like that his friends, worthless in their speech, first sit with him in silence for 7 days, just being there with him. That's why I go to the nursing home, after all.

Last night I studied Esther. That, together with your blog entry, points out to me how we impose God when God isn't always there. God doesn't behave as WE expect God to do (imagine that!), so we "make up" an attitude, words, even presence for God, especially in the OT stories. And I wonder, does that mean we're filling in a blank that makes us uncomfortable, or that we are so sure God is fully present in creation that God doesn't always have to be named to be present? I say, Yes. Both. And it is our faith that allows us to live in the ambiguity, the "liminal space" as one of my friends says.

You continue to blossom; will the beauty never end?


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