17 October 2019
Do we strive for a predictable god whom we can understand and therefore control to some extent? In some ways, that's a question that might lie at the heart of the story of Job. In Job's story, we meet his friends who represent the conventional wisdom of the day - what we refer to as the "worldview.". Conventional wisdom said that good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people. Therefore, since all hell was breaking out in Job's life, he must have done something bad.
As the story continues, Job's life spirals down and Job becomes increasingly bitter. He had everything and loses everything-and to top it all off, he has friends who insist it's all his fault. And through it all, Job decides that if only he could talk to God, reason with the great creator of the universe, he'd be acquitted of the judgment placed upon him by his friends.
Not surprisingly Job feels abandoned. No matter where he turns, forward, backward, left or right, he can't find God. And this frustrates him as much as anything else. "Thick darkness" hides God from him.
Job knows he hasn't done anything wrong to deserve his fate and though he has suffered tragedy, illness and a loss of all his possessions, he refuses to give up on God. But the conventional wisdom that the good were blessed and the bad suffered, doesn't add up any more. Job and his friends had been on the same wave length. But now Job's old theology, world view, is under severe pressure because he knows he hasn't done anything wrong whereas his friends accuse him of covering up his sinfulness to preserve their view of God.
And knowing he hasn't done anything wrong, and the story tells us that is so, Job concludes that God is being "arbitrary".- What God desires, that God does. Job can arrive at no other conclusion based on his worldview.
The more Job struggles, the more he sinks into desperation and depression. He wants to disappear into the darkness.
Then, finally God speaks. Job is confused His life is swirling around him - or at least what's left of his life - and still he hasn't got a clue about why. By this point, Job may have been wondering if God even existed - wondering if he was talking to himself! What do you do when everything you've ever believed seems to fail you? And then, without warning, God is in the whirlwind
Job hears God's voice and the way the story is told, God isn't terribly happy with Job. Way back in the beginning of the story God had said: "Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil.". The story was set up saying that God is Job's biggest fan. Job is the one who is going to be God's defender, the one God could count on no matter what
And Job has really tried. But life has a way of beating us about sometimes, and there's no doubt that's what has happened to Job. And when that happens, the one that often takes the brunt of our anger - along with possibly our family and friends - is God. We think that we're entitled to an explanation, and we want one!
So, God responds to Job: "Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?". : Do YOU really want to put ME on trial when you don't have a clue how the world operates?
Get ready Job because now God is going to question you.
WHERE? WHO? CAN YOU? The questions come, one after the other, almost so quickly that Job's head must have turned to mush. He knows, as he hears one question after the other, that he can't possibly answer ANY of the questions. After all, he's only a person and God is God.
God continues to pound Job with questions-and the questions go on for four full chapters of wonderful creation poetry it really rubs in.his ignorance - Surely YOU know, for you were born then, and the number of your days is great
Job's world had crashed around him and what he thought he knew had crumbled into nothing. He was left with choices. One was to reject God. Job didn't do this - the story is about hanging in there.
The other path was that Job needed to examine his own assumptions about God and this is the hardest way. To burrow through the smothering layers of conventional wisdom of the parts of his Sunday school faith that no longer held up, to expose the core that lay underneath. To find the real God part.
The questions of God pelted down removing the layers, like an onion skin unpeeling, painfully reducing Job to ground zero.
Job has been so busy trying to prove his own position - that he hadn't done anything wrong - that he hadn't taken the time to assess whether the world view the way he thought about God was valid. Its understandable in the chaos of suffering, after all evaluating the positions we hold risks finding they are flawed and that might mean we'd have to change them. Heaven forbid! [The process the apostle Paul later called metanoia, a whole new way of seeing the world. ]
What happens when what we think we know crumbles around us? I think what happens is that we defend our position NO MATTER WHAT-even if it's not rational, even if there's no way we can justify what we're doing. When our world is crumbling, it's often difficult to think straight. It would make much more sense to evaluate what we believe before our world crumbles, but since most of us hope that will never happen, we don't do it.
Our worldview has a huge impact on our beliefs. If, for example, we believe the world should be fair, then when anything happens that isn't fair, we become angry with God. Or if we believe in a world where God controls everything, then it's God's fault when things go wrong! Or if we believe that prayer will change God's mind, then when it doesn't, we wonder where God is. But over and over the Bible says start with who God is. And allow God to develop our world view.
Job has forcibly had the outer comforts of his life removed which "the accuser" claimed was the only reason Job has faith at all. Now through the questioning of God, Job is now having the world view which supported him for so long stripped away - They are strong poetic questions about the mystery of creation itself. Things of beauty , terror, life and adventure - things beyond Job's imagining. The who, what and where, ask Job to look up, out and past his own thoughts to find a bigger God than he had previously had and his previous questions become redundant. Conversion.?
The book of Job deals head on with how prevailing worldviews-paradigms, conventional wisdom, whatever we might call them-can really muddy the waters-not only in how we handle situations, but how we view God. We may not be aware of that, because we often surround ourselves,-consciously or subconsciously,-with people who think the same way we do. It makes things seem okay because what we believe is consistently echoed back to us.
Maybe, in that sense, Job's friends played a crucial role in helping him. The more he listened to them, the more he understood that his worldview - and theirs - was flawed. They had always echoed his worldview but now, because of his changing situation, he realized how misguided it was. Maybe Job needed a diversity of friends.
The disciples of Jesus were having the same challenges as Jesus challenged their assumptions about the messiah. The way that led to pain and death and the resurrection were too risky to contemplate so they kept falling back on the model of greatness which echoed the human organizations they knew about.
Jesus slowly prises apart their world view with loving persistence, as he is doing with ours. Challenging us to allow God in, to open our hearts to a new way of being. Where God is bigger than we can imagine and those conventional wisdom tells us are first are not and those who lovingly serve others are serving God's own self.
With thanks to Janet Weiblan on PRCL whose work on Job I have used, adapted and added to.
Rev. Margaret Anne Low
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