Reading the book of Job over the weekend has really brought back memories of my undergrad days in college. I took a course, colloquially known as “Arts and Hum” with Dr. Hans Juergensen, and during the course of that class I read the book of Job for the first time. We were to write a paper about why we thought bad things happened to good people.
Mercifully, I don’t still have that paper because I know it was full of trite inanity that only an eighteen year old with little life experience can spout in the face of this text. I mean, really? What were we thinking trying to explain why God allows Satan to test Job in the ways that he does? And why is it that what hangs with me from that course, aside from my total sense of shame that I could not remotely understand what it meant to face suffering, was the pained expression on Dr. Juergensen’s face when we were offering our understanding of it. I remember that I had to admit, early in the process, that I’d only been to church a handful of times in my life, had never really read the Bible, and honestly had no clue what I was doing. A friend of mine (her sister is Katie’s godmother) took me with her to meet her minister so he could talk to us about it, but, at that time, it was like the school teacher on Charlie Brown. I don’t know if I ever thanked her, though, for going so far out of her way to help me, so if I didn’t, let this serve as that thank you. I truly appreciate the time you took to help me understand, even if it didn’t take, the effort was appreciated then and is appreciated now.
And now, I can look back on Dr. Juergensen and I understand the slightly pursed lips, the valiant effort not to shake his head when we were discussing. We didn’t know jack and we didn’t know that we didn’t. We didn’t know what it means to struggle or to have faith tested (for those who have it). The worst event, that most of us could remember, that had happened in our lives was the Challenger explosion, and we knew that wasn’t God, that was equipment failure.
Now, this is not to say we were all free from unexplainable events or instances where you’d wonder where God was, but I just didn’t see how that experience connected to the book of Job, but now I do. I think I see where this text is going and I think I have a far better understanding of the meaning of it . . . the reasons why God allows Job to be tested. The test is, theoretically, from Satan, but I think more accurately, Job is being tested by his fellow man.
It reminds me of the inherent danger of assuming that you know the standing of another’s soul. How arrogant of us to assume we know “why” something happens. To assume that bad things happen because God is punishing us. That makes so little sense to me, and yet so many people feel they are in a position to judge the life of another. (Yes, I’m looking at you, Pat Robertson.)
Part of the reading that I did back in “Arts & Hum” and the thing that stuck with me more than anything from the Book of Job was When Bad Things Happen to Good People by Harold Kushner. The image that he used was of God as a celestial soda machine. If you push the right buttons, He delivers what you want. Kushner says this is what many people talk about when they talk about God and it’s the idea that supports intercessory prayer. If you pray hard enough, and get enough people praying with you, then you’re doing what you have to do to get the answer that you want. It’s the idea of the all-powerful God.
And I’ve heard it all, by the way. That if you didn’t get what you wanted, then you didn’t pray hard enough, didn’t put enough faith in God, didn’t truly believe. And I think that’s crap. On the top of my list of useless things that people say, the notion that someone didn’t pray hard enough or have a strong enough relationship with God to prevent an occurrence and that, further, someone should be so arrogant as to point it out themselves. The book of Job is looking at you.
Look at Job’s friends. Really think about what they’re doing. They’re attempting to force Job to admit to something he didn’t do for their own comfort. It’s not, as they seem to imply, to save his soul. No, it’s to make them feel reassured. Because if Job didn’t do anything wrong? If he is, in fact, blameless? Then they, too, could be subject to the same experiences that Job has. In other words, they’re counting on their own righteousness to “save” them from what Job experiences, but that only works if Job has actually brought this on himself.
The alternative is a God of compassion, but one who cannot control human events. And I think that’s a down right scary concept to a lot of people. If God isn’t in control, then what purpose does He serve? What is His role? I like Kushner’s view that God provides a place of comfort, a place of renewal, a place where compassion is the key.
And that’s probably a good thing given the number of people who have horrific experiences at the hands of the godly — like Job. So, what I got from this round of reading Job is fairly straightforward. Each person is responsible for his or her own soul and his or her relationship with God. It is not our place to assign blame or to assume judgment based upon what a person has gone through or is going through.
God does not make bad things happen to people. He does not reward people for either shunning or attempting to “school” someone in the error of their ways or for suggesting that you’ve brought trials upon yourself. He will punish them unless they acknowledge the error of their ways AND make amends to the person that they’ve attempted to coerce.
This is a vision of God that I can get behind.