(10/24) Job 42:1-6, 10-17 and Psalm 34:1-8, (19-22) • Jeremiah 31:7-9 and Psalm 126 • Hebrews 7:23-28 • Mark 10:46-52
In coming to the end of Job, chapter 42 tries to tidy up several strands of the story line. Job has his last word (v. 1-6), God has something to say to Job's friends (v. 7-9), and there is a somewhat happy ending to the story line of Job's life (v. 10-16). The mystery of life remains, though: perhaps reflecting the point of the book more clearly than ever.
To begin, Job acknowledges the mystery: therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know (v. 3b). It seems that Job has found both comfort and joy in God's description of the cosmos (last week's reading, Ch. 38-39, a must-re-read of the first order). For Job, somehow, an awareness of 'things too wonderful,' brought him relief from his suffering.
When a person sees a bigger view, something changes within. The prefrontal cortex, for one thing, can get more engaged, adding the capacity to think more clearly. Then a person can get freed up to see their own situation a little differently. A bit of neutrality, or detachment, makes all the difference. While the emotional system is still doing its piece, continuing to alert the brain through various systems, the intellectual system can pick up its share of the load, sorting out what's a real concern and what can be left aside.
Once the intensity begins to lessen, a person can be more herself. It's an odd thing; to care for oneself, one must have a bit of separation from oneself. Observing things too wonderful for me can lead a person to a better ability to observe herself. These experiences – whether the big 'mountaintop' moments or the small noticing of flowers on a walk, brings a person towards more contact with reality.
The reality described in Job 38-39 is that the natural world has been set up (unapologetically!) according to a (rather messy?) model of continuous decay and new life. More than that, the lack of any mention of humans suggests that we just might not be the center of the universe. That's reality – and while it may be annoying to the proud, it's good news for the humble, who find comfort in living according to the truth of how things really are.
Humble people are an odd sort – an unusual breed. They are not easily imitated, although many try to achieve a humble affect through various self-effacing behaviors. For true humility, take Bartimaeus, the blind man in today's Mark reading, who was the opposite of self-effacing! While others were trying to hush him, he pressed his case. If he had failed to raise his voice, to ask for mercy, he would not have found healing. Or take Jesus, who, respecting the dignity of another, left it to Bartimaeus to say what he wanted to be done for him. Or take Job. The book of Job is a story of a person on a path towards becoming humble. The view of the cosmos helped him to recognize of his small place in the scheme of things. As a bonus, of sorts, it helped him to stop blaming himself or anyone or anything else for his misfortunes, to stop looking for a cause for his troubles. He could look at his life without judgment.
As the book closes, Job's fortunes are restored to him, with twice as much as he had before (42:10). I wonder how much difference that made to him. Given what he had seen in that extraordinary view provided to him by God – given what he had experienced in his own illness and the loss of family members – it seems that he would have been less caught up in, or more detached from, any new-found wealth. Surely, by this point, whatever peace and joy he had found in life would have been independent of his finances! The book closes with him old and full of days: perhaps as neutral an ending as Job himself had realized.
Morning: When might it be important for me to press my case today?
Evening: What difference does it make to remember the reality of my small place in the world?
Psalm 34:2 My soul makes its boast in the LORD; let the humble hear and be glad.