10/17: Job 38:1-7, (34-41) and Psalm 104:1-9, 24, 35c • Isaiah 53:4-12 and Psalm 91:9-16 • Hebrews 5:1-10 • Mark 10:35-45
The book of Job, often cited as the most profound book of wisdom in the Bible, is an unusual duck. To begin, Job is wealthy, and the Lord is pleased with his behavior, bragging about him to 'Satan,' a sort of prosecutor in the court of heaven. Satan suggests that Job would be less faithful if he were less wealthy. The Lord gives Satan permission to test that idea, and the game is on. First, property and children are destroyed, and Job remains faithful. Then, after some renegotiation between the Lord and Satan, Job's physical health is attacked, with terrible sores over his whole body. Still, he does not complain. His wife, asking do you still persist in your integrity? advises him to curse God and die (2:9). Three friends come to visit and, horrified at what they see, sit with him in silence for a week. Finally, Job speaks, cursing the day he was born.
Over the next 35 chapters, the reader finds a thorough treatment of the problem of pain. Job's friends are a case study in how not to be a friend. They are absolutely convinced that if one suffers, one deserves it, somehow. Job, they insist, must have done something wrong. At one point, Job calls them miserable comforters, and wonders what provokes you that you keep on talking? (16:2-3).
What causes people to keep pressing their point, long after it's clear that the other person is not buying it? In this case, Job's friends can't seem to face the reality of the situation. Job was a good guy; now they see him suffering. Unable to move beyond a good-guys-win perspective, they pressure Job to say something to support their previously shared view.
When people feel less anxious, they can manage differences. But when people feel threatened (oh my gosh I too could be covered in boils), then everyone watch out. A true friend gives the other room to explore what's on his mind. One does not have to agree; one does have to stay interested and respectful: managing reactivity within oneself rather than dumping it back into the conversation. Showing up is thing one; staying open is thing two.
Job's heated discussion with his friends, when paired with the fight among the disciples in today's gospel, bring up the subject of conflict. Many of us endure a false peace as easier, somehow, than the anxiety stirred by sticking with one's own views. Real peacemakers, on the other hand, don't avoid conflict; they use it to broaden the perspective for all (Mark 10:42-45).
Back to Job. At the end of the book, God scolds Job's friends for not speaking rightly (42:7). In the middle, though, the friends-as-foils piece works well for considering the limits of a simplistic cause-effect, reward-retribution framework. How does a person understand the unmerited suffering of this world? The increasing pathos culminates in chapter 31, when Job, reviewing his conduct over the years, finds that he has met his own standards. He stops talking and waits for answers on how life works.
When God shows up in today's reading (Job 38), it is without direct answers. Here, one will not read why the wicked prosper nor why a loved one dies in the prime of life. Instead, God goes big picture. Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? (38:4). God speaks – eloquently – for two chapters, talking about everything from ravens to lions, from constellations to climate. Interestingly, while many wonders of the cosmos are named, people go unmentioned. We may (understandably, in my view) wish for a different world, with less pain and more comfort, for starters. Here, though, what we're offered is reality: sometimes glimpsed by those who persist in their integrity.
Morning: When might I show up and stay open to others' views today? How can I manage myself in the midst of conflict?
Evening: Where did I notice the wonder of the natural world today? Where did I see unmerited suffering?
Psalm 104:24 O LORD, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.