I admit I have a love-hate relationship with the story of Job.
I love it because it contains some beautiful, inspiring passages, they’ve become part of liturgy. I hate it because it’s basically the story of why bad things happen to good people and it doesn’t provide a very satisfying answer.
Bad things happen to Job, really bad things. And for no reason, or not one that seems acceptable, anyway. The story is something of a set-up and he seems to be but a pawn between forces beyond his awareness or control.
Most of us can relate; we know what life is like: One moment, you’re on a boat, enjoying the sights; the next, in the middle of a storm, and you might not survive. When that happens, it’s not unusual for us to wonder ‘why me?’ or even cry out: where are you God? Don’t you care that we are perishing?
Writer Debi Thomas says, “The Hebrew scriptures are full of such questions and accusations. Where are you? Why won’t you save us? How much longer? Rouse yourself, Lord! Why have you forsaken us?… How many times I’ve bruised my faith on the assumption that chaos is always and everywhere an unholy aberration, its very existence in my life a proof of God’s apathy, God’s coldness, God’s indifference — and maybe even God’s non-existence.” (Journey with Jesus, Current Essay, Proper 7
There are no easy answers. Rather, the readings today provide only questions: God asks Job, with rhetorical flourish, a series of “where were you?” questions that put him in his place. Jesus, perhaps annoyed at being woken up from a well-deserved nap, dispatches the storm and also silences his bewildered followers, questioning their faith.
These passages are difficult because it’s hard to accept that basic premise that bad things happen to good people. We want the “everyone gets their just reward” version of life. We don’t want to deal with the complexities of chance or change. We want certainty, predictability, order and stability. Life is anything but.
We’ve all had these types of experiences: undeserved, unforeseen calamity; a breach of trust that can’t be explained; risky behavior that doesn’t turn out well. It is really, really hard to accept something that happens for no good reason at all.
And here, too, my love-hate relationship with the Book of Job, comes into play.
While I was serving as a chaplain at a hospital. A young man, a cook at a local restaurant, was dumped outside the emergency room. Left there by his so-called employer, who drove off, not to be heard from again. He collapsed at work, but being undocumented, 911 wasn’t called, rather, he was loaded into a car and driven to the hospital, wasting precious time.
I became involved because I spoke Spanish as the hospital tried to determine what happened and track down the family. He had suffered a massive stroke and was put on life support.
I kept vigil with the man, waiting, being available just in case someone would show up. And they did. A cousin, a sister. Then, the task was to explain to them what was going on medically, but I couldn’t explain what had happened ethically or morally to this man.
It was disheartening. It was absurd. It was callous. I felt adrift, as a boat in a storm. When the poor, the disenfranchised are so brutally treated, taking away what little dignity they have, it is difficult to comprehend.
More than once I found myself asking the same questions Jesus’ followers did: where are you, Lord? Don’t you care that he is perishing? Trying to manage the emotions of the family members, I could feel myself sinking into a slow-boiling rage. I had no ready answers, none at all. I could not speak about the injustice of poverty. I had few words of comfort for those who had endured separation upon separation, and now this final one. I could translate the language, but couldn’t make sense of the horror they were experiencing.
I clearly remember the room he was in, the twilight and shadows, the whirr of machines beeping and pinging, keeping him alive. There was a storm raging around him and in my heart. When his closest brother finally showed up, he couldn’t take it in: the man looked so peaceful, sleeping, calm. Why wouldn’t he wake up?
I updated the brother on the latest news. No good outcome was expected. One last test awaited that would determine whether a disconnect would happen and his life would come to an end. The brother leaned heavily against the wall, sighing. Yes, it was one of those sighs. Too deep for words.
Then I noticed the Bible he was clutching. I don’t know why but I asked him where in the book, did he find hope? He immediately opened the Bible to Job 19:25. You may not know the citation off the top of your head, but will be familiar with the words “ for I know that my redeemer lives…”
Job says this in a part of the story, after he has suffered multiple calamities and is particularly anguished and sorrowful; he is misunderstood by friends and feels alienated from God. The storm he is living through is of epic proportions, yet he still finds a way to trust.
“I know that my redeemer lives…” little did I know that, at that point, I was the one being saved. Those words were a lifeline, the peace that stilled the storm raging within me.
Bad things happen to good people. We want explanations but won’t get them. Instead, we get question upon question. It’s amazing to realize that “suffering and evil don’t always lead to a loss of faith. Often, the harsh realities of this broken, disordered world are what draw people to faith.” ( D Thomas, ibid)
Just because we don’t get the answer we want or think we deserve, doesn’t mean that God is asleep. Just because we can’t see how things will play out, doesn’t mean that Jesus won’t show up. Just because we are afraid, storms rage, and we are about to go under, doesn’t mean no one cares. I could not have imagined being quoted Job in that room so filled with darkness and sorrow, where so much loss and cruelty was in evidence. Yet, even as I nursed my righteous anger, God showed up to comfort me. Me, not them!
Actually, God showed up for all sorts of people. While I was immersed in this battle, other storms were being quelled. Storms I knew nothing about.
That man did not die in vain and neither was his life wasted. Because of him, someone who needed a heart got one. Someone else, his lungs; someone a kidney. Others received corneas, and tissue and bone, he became a living legacy: his dignity denied in life, was restored in death.
After Jesus calmed the storm, he asked his disciples: “why are you afraid? Where is your faith?”