Jane Boyle Needham in her book, Looking Up (1959), tells about her own Job-like experience. Before doing that we will need to engage the characters in the book of Job story or we run the risk of missing things that could confirm what we hear in the story OR challenge what we hear in the story.
The purpose of our reflections on Job is to take the four Sundays of the book of Job lectionary readings and find where they connect or do not connect with our own life stories. Reflecting on the character of the individuals and figures could change your life. Identify even with the characters you don’t like. And find out the reasons for your dislike or likes.
Back to the Needham story in Looking Up.
One day as Jane Needham lay in a hospital bed her doctor said to her, "Jane, nobody knows what's ahead for you. Maybe a wheelchair, maybe not, but you have to face this fact that from now on, all you'll have is the crumbs of life--crumbs, and your three wonderful children. (Remember Job and his wife didn’t even have their children.)
“So that's your deal,” the doctor said. "It will be easier being brave, developing your character and if you do that, you'll inspire others."
How would you like to hear that from your doctor? What would you do? How would your character develop? What might you learn from others? Others around you? Your understanding of who and what God is? Your perspectives on fate.
Well, eventually Jane ended up in an iron lung. And one day she overheard a mother and child talking in the hospital corridor. The little child ask her mother as the two walked out of Jane’s room, "Will she ever get out of that thing?" The mother answered, "Never, dear. Never in this world." When Jane heard that, she finally accepted her condition. She said, "I lay there accepting paralysis for the rest of my life and offering it up to God."
The consequence? Simply stated, Jane became the most radiant person imaginable, inspiring others through her life and her writings. (She told her story to others since she could not write in the iron lung.)
I don't know how people do what Jane did, except by growing their sense of character, understanding their relationships to the characters in their lives, including the character we call God, and developing some sense of how God figures in their own lives.
Maybe as we share the Job lectionary readings over these next four weeks we will find some answers to Job. I did not say the answer to the book of Job. I said some answers to the book of Job.
I want to do one thing this morning. Try to set up the need for us to reflect on the characters (different figures) in the book of Job.
First, is Job the central character in the book? My simple answer, “NO.” But it is something we will want to be reflecting on.
Only because Hebrew books receive their name from the first words of the text is this book named Job. Each of the characters is a piece of the puzzle of what we call the book of Job.
Without all of the characters there is no real story. This is a very simple point.
In your own story, if you leave out your parents would you be able to tell your real story? Can you leave out your children from your story? Can you tell your story without the neighbors you like and those you hate? Can you leave out those you have worked with? Can you disregard those who have disappointed you? If you leave them out is it a real story?
The book of Job encourages us to learn about all of the characters in the story. For the sake of discussion do not forget God is one of those characters in the book of Job.
Read the story of Job with all of the pieces of the puzzle. Don’t leave out the ones you would rather not deal with. In addition try to read the book of Job from the standpoint of each character. Try to tell the story from each character’s perspective.
This is the most essential background we need to keep in mind as we go through the book of Job.
Job is certainly a significant character in the book. He displays a developing character as the story unfolds. In many ways Job’s essential character is a guiding theme.
In the very first verse Job’s character is described. He is described in a fourfold way: blameless, upright, one who feared God, and turned from evil. Outside of the words in the first verse we learn he has health, wealth, family, friends--all the things that most people treasure and think will lead them to have the very finest character.
Second big question, “What do we hear about at least one of the other characters in these first two chapters of Job? What do we hear about God? Isn’t the story setting us up to think of God as a deal maker? Read Job 1:6-12.
About the only constraint on the deal between God and the Satan is that the Satan cannot lay a hand on Job. Job will be under the Satan’s power.
How do you like this character, God, so far? And what do you think of God making a deal with the Satan? Is the character of this God one you like? Is that the way you think of God? Were you surprised?
I don’t think Jane Needham came to think about God as a deal maker.
At the beginning of the story Job is silent and acquiescing Job. Nothing like he is going to become even in chapter 3, let alone later on in the book.
Just as Job seems to change God’s character seems to evolve in the course of the book of Job. Here at the beginning Job and God are contrasting characters and have contrasting characters. Is God blameless, upright, and turned from evil?
I think our initial perceptions, reflections, thoughts about this book of Job arise from these contrasting characters. Do you agree? What would you say by the end of the book?
In our text this morning another character suddenly appears, Job’s wife. We don’t learn much about her. Not until later renditions of the story do we get a name for her. Dinah is one of the names she is given.
Job’s wife plays an ambiguous, some would say disconcerting, role. Her arrival certainly arouses a response from what was a pretty silent Job. Her presence and words at least get a verbal response from Job.
I think it is reasonable to expect Job is threatened by her suggestion that he “curse God and just die.” You might ask, could a blameless, upright, God fearing human think of such a suggestion?
We need to remember that Job and his wife do not know about the deal between the Satan and God. We do but we are readers. Their children do not know.
Of course Dinah’s invitation to “curse God and die” can and certainly has been heard as a further “temptation” of Job. On the other hand, Job’s wife does not doubt his integrity. She must have thought that death was better for her husband than lingering pain and no recovery in sight. What she says can be understood as impious but it arises no out of impiety. It can be thought as humane and entirely for Job’s benefit.
One interpreter said, she is a realist whereas Job is nothing short of an idealist, at least at this point in the story.
Let’s think about Job’s wife for a minute. Rarely has the scene been viewed through her eyes. Look at your order of worship picture on the cover from Georges de La Tour (1593-1652, who frequently painted chiaroscuro scenes lit by candlelight).
Another window on Job’s wife is given in a lengthier comment in the Greek translation of the Book of Job. At the beginning of the verse where Job’s wife speaks it adds, “When a long time had passed.” It is easy to understand that this emphasizes that Job’s wife was not impulsively or unthoughtfully weighing in with, “Curse God and die.
Even more interesting is what she says following the recommendation to her husband.
How long will you endure, saying, Behold, I will wait yet for a little time, looking for the hope of my salvation? Behold, the memory of you has been blotted out from the earth, the sons and daughters, the travail and pain of my womb, whom with toil I reared for nothing. And yet you yourself sit in the decay of worms, passing the nights under the open sky, while I am a wanderer and a servant, from place to place and from house to house, waiting until the sun goes down, so that I may rest from my toils and from the pains that now grip me……
Job’s counter question to his wife, “If we accept good from God, shall we not also accept harm?” leads us to begin to see that while he may have been silent he must have been reflecting on his circumstances. The question infers Job is asking about human behavior toward God.
The question does evidence a kind of trustfulness that God knows what God is doing. Of course when Job opens his mouth again in chapter 3 we begin to hear what we hear in some Psalms like Psalm 39.(3:1), namely silence is only becoming the fire in the suffering person.
In conclusion, it is easy to say at this initial point in the story, Job has not reached Jane Needham’s heroic character she seemed to display in spite of her being confined to an iron lung. Neither Jane nor Job were aware of what lead to their state of suffering.
We will continue in the coming weeks to listen to/for Job’s interactions with other characters, his developing character, and his long sought after demand to hear and see God. Where are you in your encounters with others, including God? Amen.
*Thanks to many interpreters, commentators, writers, preachers, students, friends, and others in countless settings whose ideas have shaped my reflections. This sermon was preached on 4 October 2015.