Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Job's Legacy

It seems no coincidence the week the lectionary begins the Job cycle our nation witnesses three horrific shootings. Within a week six children and three adults are dead from Wisconsin to Colorado to Pennsylvania. It is in the midst of a nation trying to make sense of the senseless, that we begin reading this story.

The Book of Job is a classic attempt to find meaning in suffering. It seems that since the beginning of time humanity has struggled to make sense of the pain and chaos of the world in which we live. Why do bad things happen to good people?

At first glance we may be tempted to interpret Job as yet another version of the omnipotence of an almighty God who brings forth both good and evil. After all, it is God, who in a bet with the devil inflicts upon Job every type of misery possible, taking his health, wealth and family as a test of his faithfulness.

Yet, when we delve deeper into the book, we , like Job, begin to question this image of a detached, capricious, all-powerful God who blesses and curses as if all a whim. In the course of his suffering, Job argues fiercely with God, questioning how God can be both all good and all powerful and allow such horrific things to happen in the world. Through his own radical suffering Job begins to see that this image of God does not make sense. Our experience of life's pain, sorrow and tragedy tell us that God cannot be all powerful and all good at the same time...for then why would God allow humanity to delve into the depths of such suffering?

The theologian Burton Z. Cooper interprets the book of Job as a journey from the traditional image of an all-powerful God to a new image of a vulnerable God. In his article "Why God?" he writes this:

"Job is healed when a new image of God appears to him. Now be can let go of the monarchial image of God. He is healed because, in letting go of the image of all-controlling power, he is letting go of the experience of God as the enemy, the one who "crushes" him. The "thee" that he sees in "now my eye sees thee" is God the friend, the vulnerable one, who is there with him in his suffering and whose caring presence heals him. He does not repent of his concern for God's justice; biblical faith can never have enough of that concern. Job repents of his loathing for life, his sense of despair, his lack of faith in the goodness of the creation. Thus, he is ready to return to life."

Far from being an answer to the question of why we suffer, the Book of Job helps us to understand the utter meaninglessness in our suffering. It is as absurd as a bet between God and the devil. What Job teaches us is that despite our inability to make sense of life's tragedy, we can be assured of the presence of God in the midst of it all, vulnerable and suffering with us.

The three shootings this week cannot be made sense of. No matter how much psychoanalysis we might do on the perpetrators, no matter how many times we question the security of our schools, no matter how often we might seek to understand the root of violence, we will never make sense out of the senseless. Suffering is a part of the chaotic world in which we live.

The only thing we know for certain is that in the midst of it all, God is with us, embracing us and covering us in Divine tears.


People go to God when they are sore bestead,
Pray to God for succour, for peace, for bread,
For mercy for the sick, sinning or dead:
All people do so, Christian and unbelieving.

People go to God when God is sore bestead,
Find God poor and scorned, without shelter or bread,
Whelmed under the weight of the wicked, the weak, the dead:
Christians stand by God in God's hour of grieving.

God goes to all people when sore bestead.
Feeds body and spirit with God's bread,
For Christians, heathens alike, God hangeth dead:
And both alike forgiving.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, "Christians and Unbelievers" in Letters and Papers from Prison, ed. E. Bethge, tr. R. H. Fuller (New York: Macmillian, 1953), pp. 224-25. Trans. adapted by author.

1 comment:

Kirk VanGilder said...

Sadly, I see that the folks of Westboro "Baptist Church" (that's Fred Phelps' crew) are planning on picketing the funerals. They apparently want to "get back" at the Governor there who has been critical of them after they picketed the funerals of soldiers who died in Iraq. Thankfully, these people are getting far enough from Christianity that even Fox news was starting to call them an "interest group based out of Westboro Baptist Church" rather than "Christians."

Although I suppose for Fox they may be trying to occlude the odious use of religious language to promote bigotry more than they hope to distance these people from what "Christian" means. I didn't happen to catch how CNN was portraying the Westboro folks. Did any of you?