Posted by: jevcat | September 15, 2010

The Book of Job and Me

While saying Morning Prayer today, I was struck by a verse in the Old Testament reading:  And the Lord restored the fortunes of Job when he had prayed for his friends; and the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before. (Job 42:10, NRSV).

I’ve been feeling a little Job-like myself, lately, but Job has always been a bit of a problematic book for me.  I confess to absolutely loving the language with which God finally confronts Job.  I know I’m a language junkie, but how could anyone with a soul resist the power of:

Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundations? …

Who laid its cornerstone

when all the stars of the morning were singing with joy … ?

Who pent up the sea behind closed doors

when it leaped tumultuous out of the womb,

when I wrapped it in a rob of mist

and made black clouds its swaddling bands;

when I marked the bounds it was not to cross

and made it fast with a bolted gate?

Come thus far, I said, and no farther:

Come thus far, I said, and no farther:

here your proud waves shall break.

(Job 38:4, 6-11, Jerusalem Bible)

It washes over one like the very waves it describes and sweeps all away before it, an almost literally intoxicating vision of the immensity and power of both creation and Creator.

But there’s everything that comes before and after.  God letting Satan do whatever he wants to Job, Job suffering physically and by the loss of everything he holds dear – well, he still has his wife, but she begins to sound like just another of his trials.  As do his clueless friends, who are next to useless – but who hasn’t, at some point in their life, been burdened by the opinions of well-meaning friends (or in some cases, “friends” and not all that well-meaning) who just don’t get it.  [Note to my personal friends:  this does not mean you; not 99.9 percent of the time, anyway.]  Friends are one of life’s greatest blessings, but for most of us there are moments when the prayer “Lord, help me to endure my blessings” will come to mind.  In the midst of turmoil, the last thing I want is someone patting my hand and murmuring about it being “the will of God” [my friends are way too smart to try that with me, but not everyone is so lucky]; even though I know that God is in charge, the devil is in the details (in Job’s case, literally).

Job’s the righteous one, Job knows that, but it doesn’t protect him and no one believes him.  His friends are no help at all, the suffering is incalculable, yet at the end he is vindicated and gets back more that what he lost.  My temptation is here to say sarcastically, “Well, that makes it all right then.”  As I said, I have my problems with the book of Job.

But the problems, about which one can debate the theology endlessly (and some people have) and glorious language aside, what I keep coming back to is the phrase I underlined above:  when he had prayed for his friends. God vindicates Job in front of his friends, but his losses are only restored after he prays for his friends.  For Job’s healing to be complete, for him to be whole again, he must first pray for those who did not understand his pain and thereby contributed to it, for those who self-righteously assumed they knew the mind of God, the ones who kept telling him to repent where there was no sin (maybe they were thinking of themselves), the ones who were insufferable and so made his suffering greater.

It’s not a lesson I want to learn.  It’s not something I want to have to do.  I’d rather just feel holier-than-they about all those [insert your favorite self-righteous idiots here].  Job probably wasn’t that crazy about the idea, either, but he did it.  Wholeness, it seems, is not something we can have in splendid isolation, just us and God; the circle encloses us all, and until we see that, accept and act on it, we will never be whole, no matter how much else we have.  And I’m noticing that I put that in plural, which somehow makes it feel less like something that I have to do.  Maybe I’d better go back and read that passage again …

[Note to my personal friends:  this does not mean you; 99.9 percent of the time, anyway.]


  1. Lovely thoughts, Janet…
    thank you for them, today.

  2. Thanks, Jane. I’ve been feeling awfully Job-like myself lately, and reading Job every day is amusing on one hand, under the circumstances, but on the other … So I’m just trying to make some sense of it all.

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