This week’s readings are here.
One of the great problems with the lectionary is that its editors had to pick and choose texts and inevitably were able to include only portions of important works. That was a problem with last week’s reading drawn from the book of Esther. The same is true this week as we move into another book from the Hebrew Bible, Job. We will have a total of four readings from the book: this one, from the first and second chapter that sets up the problem. Later readings will introduce us to Job’s challenge of God; essentially Job puts God on trial. Later we will hear God’s response to Job’s case for the prosecution and finally we will hear how it all ends up (Job is richer than ever). Omitted are lengthy speeches from Job and Job’s friends that raise questions about divine justice and theodicy (why bad things happen to good people) as well as the initial tragedies that befall Job’s family.
This brief introduction to the book fails to do justice either to its literary genius or its theological depth. A careful reading of the whole book is most rewarding and brings a profound challenge to the complacency of our faith. It also helps to overcome the image of Job in popular culture—the patience of Job is a trope, but in fact the Job of scripture is not patient at all, nor does he suffer silently. He demands that God explains why suffering has come upon him.
In this week’s reading, we have the second of two encounters of God with “The Satan.” The portrayal of the Satan in the text is curious. In chapter 1, he seems to be a member of God’s heavenly court and it’s almost as if God and Satan have made a bet (“Have you considered my servant Job?”). God draws Satan’s attention to Job as a righteous man, and Satan responds by saying that Job is righteous only because he’s had it easy. So God responds to the challenge by allowing Satan to test Job, giving him power to take away all that Job has, and in chapter 2, to afflict Job himself, but forbidding him to take his life. Job is left with nothing, riddled with disease, and still he does not curse God.
The book’s answers, such as they are, will come later, in God’s response to Job. In fact, the book’s fundamental question remains unanswered and remains one of humanity’s most basic questions, asked every time there is a natural disaster, or when illness or death comes to a loved one. We want life to make sense, we want the world to make sense, but too often, it all seems meaningless. But as the Burial Office says,
“All of us go down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.”