Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Slow Reading


The problem with Job is that it's sooooo long. Of course, the same thing can be said about Lonesome Dove or a five-day cricket match, both of which are absolutely worth the investment. The Book of Job is a patient, deliberate, poetic exploration of one of life's biggest unanswered questions: why do bad things happen to good people? In short, the answer it gives is three-fold: 1) we don't know, 2) we can't know, and 3) faith means remaining in relationship with God despite not knowing. But we shouldn't take my word for it. We should read the text.

This Sunday is the third week in a row when the RCL Track 1 lesson is from Job. First, we heard part of the story of Job's calamity: the righteous man who lost his children, property, and health because God allowed Satan to attack him to test his faith. Then, we heard Job's bitter response: the demand for an audience with God who eluded him on every side. This week, we hear God's rejection of Job's request: the reminder that God is God and that we are not. Next week, as we finish a four-week lectionary dip into Job, we will hear Job repent of his demand to hold God accountable, acceptance that he cannot know God's ways, and God's restoration of Job's fortune in what must be the most unsatisfying conclusion to a story ever.

This is one of those lectionary escapades that seems doomed to fail from the start. None of these lessons is the whole story. None of them gives us the entire progression that would allow a preacher to lead the congregation into the unanswerable question of why. The first week left us with the sense that God is capricious, and the preacher would need the rest of the story to make sense of it. The following week was the unanswered and seemingly unanswerable cry of a desperate man. That's often true to our experience, but it's hard to preach on that without at least anticipating God's response. This week is God's rejection of Job's questioning, which might allow for a sermon if we build on the last three week, but who's been in church every Sunday this month? It's football season.

This series from Job isn't useless, of course, and a preacher could absolutely tackle it. It's important for a congregation to be reminded that we don't have answers and if our hope depends on getting them we will always come up short. From that, Job will repent--change direction--next week. There's a contemplative acceptance in this process--a welcoming of everything that God will bring our way today, trusting that in God it will be good, remaining with God in the present, in today. Not too long ago, I offered a Bible study on Job, and we read long, long, long passages from the book, but we still didn't get to the whole thing. Otherwise, we would have spent three weeks in a row reading the same poetic part of the story. Sunday's lectionary cuts it up as best it can, but Job is a book to place on your nightstand or take to the beach and pour yourself into. It's hard to read it without interruption, but it's impossible to read it and appreciate it without some sense of continuity. As we listen to it on Sunday, I hope we'll listen with our ears open for the other parts of the story. You can get a sense of Saving Private Ryan by watching the last scene, when Ryan is standing in the cemetery in France, mourning the sacrifice of the colleagues who saved his life, but that's not enough. So, too, with Job.

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