Does God bless those who are faithful? Does God help those who help themselves? If faith in God doesn’t spare us pain, loss and suffering, what’s the use of it? Is God personable, desiring a real relationship with us, or are we merely vassals of divine power, or worse yet indefensible victims of either God’s whims or God’s inadequacy to build a hedge between us and evil? These are the foundational questions of existence and faith asked by the book of Job.
Called “wisdom literature” [link to definition] (along with Ecclesiastes, Proverbs and the Psalms) this book is important and difficult to read. It’s not just the message that is key, but also the how of how the questions are asked: in dialogue, using rhetorical questions, irony and poetic language. We get this from the first words: the name Job has several meanings in ancient Hebrew. It can mean “where is the divine father?” It come from the passive verb meaning “to hate” as in “the hated, or persecuted one.” The very name of Job is a word-play that asks the question : if God is loving, why do we suffer? And If we suffer, can we truly say that God is loving?
The book begins with wording similar to “once upon a time, in a faraway land there lived a man.” No one knows where the land of Uz was located. Job’s name is a word-play. Many scholars would exhort us to read the book as wisdom literature more than as historical reporting. For the point of the book is not exact historicity, but to pull us in as participants in this eternal and truly human existential dilemma about the person, purpose and power of God. That’s what scripture is.
Job is perfect in faith, we’re told that his authentic piety is inseparable from his genuine morality: he loves and serves God inside and out, in all that he does. And so the stage is set with the question to explore: What does it mean to be a sentient, suffering and solitary consciousness before God and the world?
God is shockingly presented. This doesn’t seem like the Adonai who created the world with the Word. Is this the almighty Yahweh who sees all, knows all and speaks from the burning bush to Moses? Is this the Abba God that Jesus speaks of when he asks rhetorically “what father, who when his child asks for a fish, gives a snake instead?” (Luke 11:11) Yet in all the sudden horrors, unimaginable loss and grief, we’re told Job, while recognizing the pain and difficulty of the human condition remains steadfast, a lover of God both inside and out. Is such faith true?; possible?; or merely a metaphor?
In our gospel reading Jesus talks of such faith, describing it as one that can moves mountains. Yet it’s qualified not by vastness but by authenticity, compared to the smallest of all seeds: the mustard see. It’s not size, privilege or piety that matters.
Questions for Reflection:
- How does the God portrayed in the opening of Job compare to how you imagine and envision God?
- How do you struggle with faith in God’s presence, purpose and goodness?
- What might you need to let go of in order to let God be God, not just the God you imagine?