Blameless

October 7, 2018/Job 1:1; 2:1-10


“There was once a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job.”

It’s the perfect set-up for a fairy tale, a “once-upon-a-time” sort of story.  We hear the opening words and we nod our heads – oh yes!  I remember that one.  We wait for the tale to unfold, to make its familiar turns and deliver its closing moral.

But Job is not a fairy tale like the ones we grew up hearing our parents read to us at bedtime.  Yes, the hero of our story faces problems and setbacks.  Yes, he is “blameless and upright” – he’s a good guy.  And yes – I’m not giving anything away here; you know the story – everything turns out all right in the end.  Or does it?

“There once was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job.  That man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.”

No one questioned Job’s goodness.  He lived a life of kindness and generosity toward others.  Because he had been blessed?  Because he had built up a decent bank account, owned a fair bit of land that he stocked with thousands of sheep and camels, oxen and donkeys?  Because he had seven sons and three daughters?  Was he good because he had been blessed?  Or had he been blessed because he was good?

That’s where we begin to get lost in this story about Job.  Which came first – Job’s piety, or Job’s good fortune?  Maybe we focus on this question because it is the question that the Satan asks God.  In the portion of chapter one that we did not read today, the heavenly beings – including the Satan – gather before Yahweh.  The Satan has been roaming around on earth, and Yahweh points out his servant Job.  “There is no one like him on the earth,” God tells the Satan, “a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil.”  The Satan, in training since the early days in the garden, was smooth of tongue.  With a smirk, no doubt, he answered God.  “Well of course he does everything you command.  Look at everything you’ve given him.  You have blessed the work of his hands.”  But the Satan does not stop there – he challenges God to a “duel” of sorts.  “But stretch out your hand now, and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.”

By the time we pick up the story in chapter two, Job’s oxen and donkeys, his sheep and his servants, his camels – and his sons and his daughters – have all been killed.  “In all this,” the story tells us, “Job did not sin or charge God with wrongdoing.”

But the Satan is not done with Job yet.  Determined to turn Job away from God, he covers Job with oozing sores, so thoroughly inflicting Job’s body that he does not even enter his house but rather sits among the ashes, scraping his sores with a broken piece of pottery to find some relief.  His wife has had enough – “Curse God, and die!” she tells Job.  But still, our fablest tells us, Job did not sin with his lips.

No, Job is not a fairy tale like those our mothers read to us at bedtime when we were little.  This tale forces us to ask hard questions and search for answers that do not easily appear.  Why do the righteous suffer?  Is it possible to be good in the absence of blessing?  This story “invites us to see these two questions as two sides of one question, a question whose two sides are two sides of a covenanting relation re-assessing its own foundation.”[1]

Asked another way, the story of Job wrestles with questions like: What is the relationship between blessing and faith?  Do persons believe in order to be blessed?  Or is faith instead an expression of gratitude because we have been blessed?  And what happens to faith when those blessings are no longer … present?  Why is there suffering, and what effect might it have on faith?”[2]

Rabbi Harold Kushner pondered these questions thirty-plus years ago in his little book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People.  His son, Aaron, was three when they discovered that he suffered from progeria.  Remember the Brad Pitt movie, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button?  Aaron had begun dying the day he was born – he stopped gaining weight at eight months.  He lost all his hair at age one.  The doctor told Rabbi Kushner and his wife that Aaron would never grow taller than three feet, would never have hair, “would look like a little old man while he was still a child, and would die in his early teens.”[3]

Kushner writes:

How does one handle news like that?  I was a young, inexperienced rabbi, not as familiar with the process of grief as I would later come to be, and what I mostly felt that day was a deep, aching sense of unfairness.  It didn’t make sense.  I had been a good person.  I had tried to do what was right in the sight of God.  More than that, I was living a more religiously committed life than most people I knew, people who had large, healthy families.  I believed that I was following God’s ways and doing His work.  How could this be happening to my family?  If God existed, if He was minimally fair, let alone loving and forgiving, how could He do this to me?[4]

Kushner writes that he knew that day that he would eventually write his book.  Writing it would help him process his own questions about what it meant to be faithful and good, about who God is and how God works in the world.  It also, he hoped, would help other people who had faced difficult times, “who wanted to go on believing, but whose anger at God made it hard for them to hold on to their faith and be comforted by religion.”  And he hoped it would help “people whose love for God and devotion to Him led them to blame themselves for their suffering and persuade themselves that they deserved it.”[5]

People like Job.  And his wife.  And like you and me.

Because I want you to hear again these opening words from the story about Job.

“There once was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job.  That man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.”

Job was blameless.  Nothing that would happen to him in the pages of his story would be his fault.  And none of it would be God’s fault.

Job’s friends will visit and suggest otherwise.  Job’s wife lays the blame squarely on God.  “The book of Job offers no easy answers to the suffering and injustice of this world (indeed, it likely was written to challenge any easy answers that had been offered).”[6]  It further asks, “In a world of both blessing and suffering, why is there faith at all?  What good is faith?  If persons of faith suffer as much as any other, then what’s the use?  Why not follow the counsel of Job’s wife, and curse God and die?”[7]

Maybe you’ve never asked these questions about God, about faith.  Maybe you’ve felt guilty for just thinking them in a dark corner of your mind.  Job’s story gives voice to the hard questions of faith, of justice, of God.  Now we must search for the answers.

[1] J. Gerald, Janzen, Interpretation: Job, 50

[2] J.S. Randolph Harris, Feasting on the Word B/4, 123

[3] Harold S. Kushner, When Bad Things Happen to Good People, introduction

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Harris, 125

[7] Ibid., 127

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