Tuesday, September 28, 2010

When being right is really wrong

Through the Bible in 90 Days: Day 37

Read: Job 8:1-24:25

Verse that stood out:
Have you never questioned those who travel? Have you paid no regard to their accounts - that the evil man is spared from the day of calamity, that he is delivered from the day of wrath? - Job 21:29

Job is such a fascinating book. The vast majority of the book is an extended conversation between Job and his three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. Job, at this point, has lost everything (except his nagging wife) and is covered with sores. He looks so bad that his friends didn't initially recognize him. They sit with him for seven full days and don't say a thing. When they finally open their mouths, Job wishes they hadn't.

It's not that their words are mean spirited or even false in a general sense. In fact, their speeches resonate well with the rest of scripture. Many of the Proverbs and Psalms and all of what's called the Deuteronomistic History teach that obedience leads to blessings, disobedience to disaster. "Job," they say, "If you do what God wants you to do, he'll bless you. He'll take care of you. God, after all, punishes evildoers and blesses the righteous. Isn't that what has been taught through the generations?"

Job tells them that their problem is not that they don't know the Bible (they know parts of it well), but that they don't know real life. They certainly don't know his life, his heart, his soul. What they say may be true in a general sense, but it is not true in many specific instances. Have they not travelled outside their religious ghettos, he asks. Have they've not paid attention to how the world works? If they had, they'd realize that in real life, sometimes good people suffer and bad people succeed. In real life, simplistic answers don't always satisfy (they certainly don't comfort!). In real life, sometimes the most faithful thing we can do is yell out to the heavens that things don't make sense.

Job, understandably, makes his friends nervous. He's messing with their neatly constructed theologies, but he makes an excellent point. Often, life has more questions than answers. Our choices, at that point, become to pretend like life makes sense like the three friends. Or, we could despair that life has any meaning at all and just give up, as Job is tempted to do on occasion. Or we can shout at the heavens, for at least in the shouting, we've still committed ourselves to the fact that there is a God to/at whom we shout. Doesn't seem like much, I know, but sometimes arguing with, shouting at, or questioning God (or just letting someone else argue with God) is the best our faith can do.

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