We began by suggesting these four Sundays of reflections on Job’s story required us to ask ourselves in what ways the Book of Job connects and/or does not connect with each of our lives. Each of you will provide the “answer to Job.”
That first Sunday I suggested that at the beginning of our reflections we need to take into account obstacles that get in our way as we work on our Plan A in life. However, we cannot forget that a Plan B may arise.
I told you about Jane Needham and how she dealt with the Plan B. Her life continued in the last years “caught” in an iron lung. I tried to indicate that she turned Plan B into Plan A in the way she conducted herself.
I suggested that when Plan B takes hold of our lives we are forced to deal with Job’s question posed near the beginning of the book to his wife, “shall we accept good at the hand of God, and not accept evil?”
Job asks that question without even knowing about the deal the satan and God have made. That deal forced Job into Plan B. The deal between the satan and God never gets mentioned again in the book but it haunts the entire book of Job.
The second Sunday we looked at one small section of Job’s dialogue with the three friends. We hear his bitter complaint against God. It is all a part of his dealing with Plan B that has taken over his life.
I suggested that especially when Plan B takes over our lives we too often resort to what seems more like shaping God into our desired image. Not being shaped by being made in the image of God.
Like the lady who had a good muffin, as she explained, because Jesus was always around her and a God who always found her a parking place when she needed it. The God mode the muffin lady got into is like our thinking if we get to the so-called God Mode on our personal computers and imagine we had found the “golden egg,” the real control we wanted. We do the same with God as we do with the God Mode on our PCs.
We do that knowing that the real God Mode came to us through God’s only begotten Son. God came to experience the human realm.
If we keep that in mind; if we begin anew to understand the “old rugged cross’ and not merely the gold covered cross we so frequently see in our churches and around our necks, we will better be able to deal with the Plan Bs of life.
The third Sunday we tried to gather our reflections around the LORD’s question raised with Job, “If you know so much, where were you when I created the earth?”
The LORD asks that question not only of Job but of each of us. The LORD asks questions not to humiliate us but to give us time to think through our choices, our responsibilities, and our beliefs. The LORD asks questions throughout the Bible of all kinds of people.
We had the good fortune of Cliff sharing some of his and Chris’s anguish, yet finally hope, in light of one of the most tragic moments in their lives. For me Cliff’s witness in dealing with Plan B was precisely what I hope each of you will reflect on in the midst of all of your questions around the theme of “Why me O LORD?” In those moments Job’s story intersects with our stories.
FINAL CHAPTER (“THE GOOD ENDING”)
So here we are today at the end of the story. Many people rush to the last couple of verses in the 42nd chapter and assume that is the message regarding Plan B. We need to be careful not to get in the good woman’s God mode. God may help with muffins and parking places but it is not going to be satisfying in the midst of Plan B.
I cannot believe that the message of Job is, if we just stick with it long enough, the LORD will doubly bless us in this life. We can too easily think that after all the hardship Job went through in the end he pretty much multiplied where he was at the beginning, But was he? How do you get doubly blameless and upright? How do you doubly fear God and doubly turn away from evil? And what does it mean that the LORD gave him twice as many children and bread and wine? Is that really the point of the book of Job?
I do not think it is helpful to go merely to the end of the book of Job where everything is doubled in Job’s life and assume we have found Job’s answer. No the “happy ending” of the book of Job does not reside in Job’s getting everything doubled. There is no way a second set of children does away with the sorrow of the death of the first group of children. Think about it!
Here are a few things I take away from the book of Job.
- First, to paraphrase another person "Some of God's most precious gifts come in packets that make your hands bleed….” (Plan Bs)
It certainly was part of Job’s story.
Have your hands bled lately? Has your heart? Has a friend betrayed you? Has a loved one left? Are you facing an uncertain future? All you can see is that the perfect Plan A for your life has crumbled like a house of cards. Can God's grace reach you even in your darkest hour?
It is certainly not a perfect analogy but the superb violinist Itzhak Perlman tells the story of his performing at the Lincoln Center when one of his violin strings broke (that is the beginning of Plan B). He continued to play, improvising new arrangements of the music to avoid the one broken string. The concert was a huge success. Afterwards, Perlman commented, "Sometimes it is the artist's task to find out how much music you can still make with what you have left." I would suggest that is good advice even for those of us who are not musicians.
So your perfect plan didn't work out. Are you going to reject God? Are you going to turn inward in self-pity? Or are you going to improvise a new arrangement for your life? Are you going to re-submit your life to God's care and find out how much music you can still make with what you have left?
- Second is a quote from Mark Twain, "You cannot depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.”
“I had heard of you with the hearing of the ear,/ but now my eye sees you/ therefore I despise myself,/ and repent in dust and ashes.
The last part of what I just quoted is a complicated set of expressions in the Hebrew. There are at least a dozen ways to translate the line with “despised” in it. Let me give you two better ways.
The first, “Therefore I will melt in reverence before you,/and I have received my comfort,/ even while sitting in dust and ashes” (David Clines). And the other is “Therefore I will be quiet,/comforted that I am dust and ashes” (S. Mitchell).
It is worth noting that the word translated “despised” in our NRSV translation here in Job 42 occurs 9 times in Job and is always with the sense of “to comfort” not with “ to despise.”
I can say to you that I have as it were never understood how at this point in the book of Job he could say of himself, “I despise myself.” If that is what the book of Job is driving at then I am not terribly interested in Job’s story.
I think the story drives at telling us Job was a man who trusted in God and in doing that could draw trust. Not a person who at the end “despised” himself.
The very first words of Job’s story is where we begin to build a picture of the human called Job. Oh yes, he was probably not entirely blameless since he was not God. He was not the LORD. He finally came to see he was not the LORD. This is the point at which Job’s seeing, imagining was getting into focus.
He certainly feared evil which is what got him in trouble from the beginning because God made a deal without telling him or his family or his friends. Surely the LORD could have found no better human being on the face of the earth to present to the satan.
To modify Mark Twain’s words, "You cannot depend on your eyes or your ears when your imagination is out of focus.”
A priest in a relatively well known movie about Rudi (a Notre Dame football player “wantabe,” comes upon Rudi in the sanctuary. When he hears Rudi’s story he tells Rudi that in 35 years of religious studies he has only learned two incontrovertible facts: "There is a God, and I'm not Him."
If you come away from Job beginning to see that distinction that the priest told Rudi you have taken the first step in understanding ways to deal with the Plan Bs of your life. You will have begun to get your imagination in focus. 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 25 October 2015.