(Page from the Book of Job in the Syriac Bible of Paris, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
(Originally written for Speaking to the Soul, August 26, 2012)
Daily Office Readings for Sunday, August 26, 2010:
Psalm 146, 147 (Morning)
Psalm 111, 112, 113 (Evening)
Job 4:1-6, 12-21
Job 4:1-6, 12-21 (NRSV):
Then Eliphaz the Temanite answered: “If one ventures a word with you, will you be offended? But who can keep from speaking? See, you have instructed many; you have strengthened the weak hands. Your words have supported those who were stumbling, and you have made firm the feeble knees. But now it has come to you, and you are impatient; it touches you, and you are dismayed. Is not your fear of God your confidence, and the integrity of your ways your hope?
“Now a word came stealing to me, my ear received the whisper of it. Amid thoughts from visions of the night, when deep sleep falls on mortals, dread came upon me, and trembling, which made all my bones shake. A spirit glided past my face; the hair of my flesh bristled. It stood still, but I could not discern its appearance. A form was before my eyes; there was silence, then I heard a voice: ‘Can mortals be righteous before God? Can human beings be pure before their Maker? Even in his servants he puts no trust, and his angels he charges with error; how much more those who live in houses of clay, whose foundation is in the dust, who are crushed like a moth. Between morning and evening they are destroyed; they perish forever without any regarding it. Their tent-cord is plucked up within them, and they die devoid of wisdom.’
Job's friend Eliphaz means well. In our reading today (and in the subsequent paragraphs of this passage) Eliphaz, relating his dream, reminds Job of something that's an important reminder to all of us--that we're a pretty small speck in the universe, and it's not about "us" but about God--but then Eliphaz messes up his own soliloquy at the end. He finishes off with that "Are you SURE you haven't done something wrong? You HAD to do something wrong to have God THIS mad at you," bit.
Eliphaz reminds me a lot of those people, who, when I've been in the middle of a major life stressor, say things that they think are "kind"--(or even "Christian")--and by my way of thinking, they're so theologically far off the mark that I want to just take a stick and clobber the person--but they're my friends, so I don't. (Well, and also because it would be assault and the State Board of Healing Arts would have issues with that.)
"God doesn't give us anything we can't handle." (Baloney. God is not a personal spiritual fitness trainer, forcing me to do spiritual ab crunches "for my own good," and with a "no pain, no gain," mentality.)
"God needed an angel so that's why so-and-so had to die." (Oh, give me a break. God has plenty of angels. And if I die prematurely, and I find out that was the reason, God and I are gonna have some words, for sure, pulling me out of the middle of all the good stuff I was working on, and away from all the love in my life. That sounds kinda imperiously needy to me.)
"Everything happens for a reason." (Well, maybe, but I don't think the reason is, "Because God is a manipulator and a micromanager.")
But you get the drift.
The fact is, we have no right to project God on any other person. We have enough to do in sifting out God's call in our own lives. As painful as it is for Job's friends, Job needs to be in his place of misery to get where he is going in his relationship with God.
I have read the book of Job many times in the deepest darkest hours of my own lament, and trust me, I can become very Job-like, figuratively throwing ashes on my head and not eating or sleeping well and generally looking pitiful. But like Job, there's a place where God finally watches all this dramatic misery and finds a way to say in a roundabout way, "Oh, for crying out loud, Maria, you act as if I'm not in charge around here. Get over yourself." But other people telling me to get over myself never works.
The more I read the book of Job, the more strongly I wish his friends would have just sat with him in his misery and just been with him, with few words. Maybe just pray alongside of him or offer sacrifices for healing of his tragic troubles.
This is a place where, when we fast forward, any of us might begin to see where "just being who we are in our parish community and at worship" is critically important. It's where services such as healing services, comfort services, recovery services, and "blue Christmas" services can be deep wells of ministry. It's where things like blessings and anointings become important parts of that healing. Who can each of us be in those places as steadfast people of love and quiet faith? I know when I look back at the hardest times of my life, the people who just hung out with me and checked in with me "for no reason" were the people I came to love more deeply in a new way, and it often made room for me to be the same way for someone new, who was going through a rough patch.
Where is each of us called to simply sit and be, in the course of another person's pain? Where's the empty spot in the life of the church where we can fill a vital ministry of presence for others?