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Tuesday, October 03, 2006
Focus Scripture: Job 1:1, 2:1-10 This is barely the beginning of the story, this passage from the Book of Job. Most of us have some familiarity with Job and his story, this exquisitely artistic reflection on the question of suffering, especially undeserved suffering. Back in the day, as some folks say, there were those (in deuteronomic theology) who said that obedience and faithfulness to God’s precepts, keeping the covenant, would bring prosperity, health, and safety. Disobedience would bring a curse Most of us, then and now, can "do the math": when disaster strikes, there must be a good reason, specifically someone’s guilt. Look at the claims of TV evangelists who blamed the tsunami on various sins and sinners; their attempts to explain such massive suffering mirrors in some ways the words of Job’s friends who are clumsily interpreting the religious tradition in order to make some sense of Job’s sudden calamity. This introductory passage sets the stage but also hints, in a way, at the ending, for Job’s response to his wife’s urgings to curse God and die (let’s remember that this woman has lost not just everything but all her children, too) is a question: "Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?" Sitting in the ash heap, separated from community and cleanliness, unclean, surrounded by loss, Job, whose name has come to mean patience in suffering, speaks almost philosophically of the mystery of life, which holds countless, undeserved blessings as well as immeasurable, indescribable loss. In all these circumstances, Job suggests as he scrapes his diseased skin with a piece of broken pottery, God is in charge of everything. And that is one reason this book moves us so. Beyond the cases pressed by Job’s friends or the despair of his wife is the stubborn insistence of Job to press his case to God. It reminds one of stories about Jewish suffering where, in the face of death, the survivors recite the Mourner’s Kaddish. The reader might think this prayer is sorrowful and focused on death, but it is instead a beautiful song of praise, magnifying God and expressing the hope we share of God’s reign coming in fullness on this earth. A very different way to respond to death and loss than blaming and speculating on causes, indeed. Perhaps many of our strivings today, along with our avoidance of the larger questions of life by distracting ourselves with entertainment and noise, are ways to find security and protection from suffering. We don’t want to think about it (did Job think about it when he was healthy, prosperous, and surrounded by his children?), and we hope, deep down, that our self-help programs, our insurance policies, and our safety procedures will somehow protect us. We hope we won’t get caught off-guard, unprepared, or ill-equipped to handle what comes at us in life. We might even hope that the earplugs in our ears will insulate us from hearing about the suffering of others, or having to deal with the questions that suffering prompts. All the talk shows in the world can’t provide the answers, though, and we find ourselves, like Job, standing, or sitting in the ashes, and silent with wonder.


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Kairos-Milwaukie UCC Blog

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary by Rev. Rick Skidmore and Rev. Jim Ogden.

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