Paul D. Daniel, Minister
I find the Book of JOB to be one of the most meaningful in the Old Testaments.
JOB teaches us to talk to God in a relational way where we have the right to assert our inherent worth and dignity;
especially when we experience loss, grief and what seems like arbitrary suffering.
After all, isn’t God supposed to be a loving presence, a comfort in a time of trouble?
JOB addresses that issue and the nature of God and what it means to live a faith filled life.
He ponders what are the rewards of his devotion. Can we have hope without the promise of some reward for our belief?
The answer is perhaps not. With the gift of free will, our direct relationship with God becomes even more mysterious seemingly more distant.
No longer can we physically experience God (no more burning bush as Moses experienced, or physically wrestling with God as did Jacob.
God has become less present in the everyday affairs of human kind.
God takes a step back into mystery, requiring us to take responsibility for our own actions, to take moral sides in the battle between good and evil.
Our only satisfaction when we choose good over evil is the knowledge we did the right thing as we come to know it….
As we look at the book of JOB we see a fundamental change that occurs in our relationship with the eternal. The story begins simply. We learn that JOB is a happy man—
he has ten great kids and a wonderful wife.
He a wealthy but pious man who fears God, prays every day.
He turns away from evil and often gives thanks and praise for all he receives.
God seemed very pleased with JOB.
“He’s a great example, of a faithful man in all things”, said God.
But, the story soon takes a sinister, if metaphorical turn.
In a somewhat revisionist tongue in cheek interpretation;
God and Satan meet in a bar on a Friday night, the Sabbath, and both are off duty after a tough week of saving and damning humanity.
Soon they are belting down shots, telling jokes until the conversation suddenly turns serious.
Satan turns to God and says, “JOB is only faithful to you because you treat him so well. You reward his good behavior.
If you stopped treating him with kindness, I’ll wager that “Job, if forsaken, will curse you to your face”, JOB, 1:11.
A boastful God vehemently disagrees, proclaiming, “JOB is a devout man of faith and will not disavow me”.
Satan laughs and challenges God to put his money where his mouth is.
Very well, the Lord says, “he is in your power; only spare his life”, JOB, 2:12.
Satin proceeds to inflict great misfortune on this upright and blameless man,
taking his wealth away, killing his children, causing great physical illness and pain, all to see if he will remain faithful.
His own wife, similarly afflicted, curses him and tells him to denounce God and die.
But JOB remain strong in faith even though he sufferers greatly, “he did not sin with his lips,” JOB, 2:10;
Job falls to the ground and praised God.
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,” he said, “and naked shall I return there;
God gave, and God has taken away; blessed be the name of God.”
In all this, JOB did not sin or charge God with wrongdoing. JOB, 2:21-22”
In a similar situation, we might ponder in our own hearts how long we would endure such torment before abandoning our faith.
Through it all, Job remains defiant yet resilient and hopeful, but he is
driven to redress his grievances directly with God;
especially after his dearest friends blame him for his own suffering.
“God is punishing you,” they said; “because you were not good.”
In response to this rejection JOB addresses a fundamental question for all people of faith,
what kind of God do we worship if at all.
We UUs favor imagining God in very different way
UU minister Paul Rasor writes,
we often see God not as vengeful and capricious) but as a “creative power of evolution in the universe,
or the power that makes transformation possible in our lives,
or simply as the ultimate mystery within which we all must live”.
Today, belief in a supernatural God or Satan is generally not part of Unitarian Universalist practice.
Yet most of us see ourselves in some sort of relationship with God,
the universe, nature or however we experience transcendence.
We wrestle with how to choose good over evil in a world indifferent to our suffering and death.
For many of us the mystery of the holy lies out of the reach of our finger, the grasp of our mind.
JOB does offer us some guidance as to how we deal with adversity.
He finally suffers enough and curses, not God, but the day he was born.
In anger and despair JOB says to God, “You have turned cruel to me…you persecute me”. ……..
He demands and prays for a “better deal”.
When no answer is forthcoming, he resolves to reject this vengeful, angry God and
begins to decide for himself what kind of God he wants to worship.
He demands that God meets him on the battleground of earthly torment,
where humanity and God can instead relate with love, compassion and one might even say in partnership.
Through much discourse and with lots of arguing they actually begin to forge a new relationship.
Job comes to understand he cannot fathom God’s power and purpose;
he cannot legitimately challenge such immense power.
Job says, “I know that you can do all things. No plan of yours can be thwarted…
Surely, I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know…
My ears have heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.
Therefore, I despise myself for questioning you and repent in dust and ashes.”
God in turn comes to acknowledge Job is righteous and did not deserve such punishment.
A truly monumental thing has happened here: God begins to talk to the chastened Job,
not as an equal but with love and a new understanding of how vulnerable Job is at his hands.
God even admits he too has limits, that he is not all powerful… Wow!!!, holy mackerel, that’s was not only unexpected it is a fundamental change in how we know GOD. After all he/she is GOD!!!
He confesses to Job that while he created the Leviathan and Behemoth of the sea, symbols of chaos and evil,
He cannot control them completely.
You see, after God created both good and evil, he/s unleashed them upon humanity.
along with that, he also bestowed upon us the most profound if sobering gift,
that of “free will” and the responsibility for choosing either good or evil.
With this new responsibility and understanding,
Job seeks a different kind of God; one who abandons retribution
for a more authentic covenant based on mutuality and trust, truth, love and justice.
That is a faith for all times and can be for all UUs.
The idea of a God of mystery ultimately reminds us of our limited understanding and perception of the cosmos.
Our acknowledgement of mystery at the core of our struggle for meaning is why we worship and pray.
Like Job, we too have come to demands mutuality, love and respect,
in all our relationships, within and beyond the confines of our humanity.
In so doing we acknowledge and accept that humanity is an integral part of the
interdependent web of existence embodied in our seventh principle.
In all this, God demonstrated his power over humanity, but did finally talk to Job, if not as an equal, then at least as a junior partner in a new conversation.
We UUs demand the same and want to “speak to the Almighty, and argue our case with him/her.”
In so doing, we discover that we are called to articulate our faith and
define what it means to have an authentic relationship with ourselves, each other and ultimate mystery that we describe as God or love.
Prayers are our part of this conversation. We are called to listen for the answers
perhaps it comes on the wind or in the silence of an aha moment, or
an epiphany, a moment of déjà vu, synchronicity, a peace that passes all understanding.
Our prayers help us to accept that the universe is both
immutable and unknowable, filled with limitless possibility, yet ever evolving. Imagine it a God that both changes and want, even need to be in relationship with humanity.
What we come to know in JOB is how to respond to suffering when no reward response is in the offing. We must learn to deal with our own feeling of isolated and loneliness on our own.
The great poet William Wordsworth wrote this of God in Tintern Abbey –
“- [we want] a sense sublime of something far more deeply interfused,
whose dwelling is in the light of a setting suns, and of the round oceans and the living air, and the blue sky, and in the mind of man:
a motion and a spirit, that impels all thinking things, all objects, of all thought, and rolls through all things”.
We must become meaning makers for our own lives.
Our hope lies in the reality that we have also been given the tools to cope with both joy and sorrow.
We have within us the ability to find an inner courage to confront adversity,
to find something to feeds our soul: music, poetry, art, literature and love;
to feel a true connection to nature, the universe and to the entirety of humanity.
God of our own understanding may be the weaver of the web, or
its unifying principle that spans both space and time, or
God may be of our own creation; it matters not.
We exist not out of some great cosmic plan but by chance and evolution which has brought us to this very place and time.
We have developed the power to reason, to create moral laws to guide our lives.
We come to exalt in our new found freedom to determine our own fate and faith,
By living freely, we have learned that what we say and do has consequences beyond our knowing.
We have learned to trust our own experience and rational minds to create a better world.
Love, that some call God guides us.
This is the love and compassion that JOB finally finds in God;
as a result of his very human struggle with suffering, as an innocence man.
Job’s faith has become like ours, one of mutuality freedom and trust;
a faith willing to embrace in John Muir’s words; “the soon to be discovered”.
May we always trust that freedom and ourselves to make the right choices.