So, a modification of aforementioned plan. Still committed to Daily Prayer. Still committeed to blogging scripture. HOWEVER. Looking ahead at the daily lectionary, we have week upon week upon week of Job. I think we need a little New Testament mojo in the mix. I mean it. Week upon week. So... maybe a little John today, too.
"My face is red with weeping," Job begins today, "and deep darkness is on my eyelids, though there is no violence in my hands and my prayer is pure" (16:16-17). Let us remember what has brought Job to this state. In chapters one and two (prose chapters, probably added later to frame the extended chapters of poetry that begin in chapter three, and which are some of the oldest scripture we got), Job, an upright, upstanding, go-to guy, is being observed by the heavenly court. Ha-Satan -- which is to say, the Tempter, not to be confused with the devil, evil incarnate, or the Anti-Christ, but a member of the heavenly court whose job it is to poke holes in everybody's nice theories-- says to God, "I bet this Job guy wouldn't be so just and righteous and goody-goody if you just took everything away from him. Just take it away. All of it." God says, "I'll take that bet," and allows Ha Satan to strip Job of nearly everything he has-- his children, his wealth, and his physical well-being. At the end of chapter two Job is sitting in a pile of ashes, clothes torn, scratching his boils with a shard of a pot. Three friends come and, at first, do exactly what friends should do: they keep silent vigil with Job in his grief. They do it for seven days.
At the end of seven days, however, Job wails aloud his rage at the injustice of what has happened to him. He has been good! He is a just man, a righteous man! How can God do this to him? (this is where the ancient poetry begins). And in response the friends of Job begin to make speeches. Their speeches all amount to some version of "You must have done something."
I mention all this background because Job is responding to his friends in this passage. "I am miserable, yes. But there is no violence in me and my prayer is pure." Job is trying to introduce his friends to a concept that darts around all through Hebrew scripture, but here gets its fullest treatment. Bad things can happen to good people. This theme winds all around psalms. But this theme is generally repudiated in the narrative of the Hebrew scriptures. Generally speaking, your enemies defeat you, it's because you screwed up. But here we have Job as a witness, defiant, crying out of the dungheap that has become his life: Not so. Bad things can happen to the decent guy, and for no good reason.
John has Jesus treating this theme this morning, and it is such a refreshing moment in a gospel that I have often had to hold my nose to get through. Jesus and the disciples see a man, blind from birth. "Who sinned?" they ask. Someone must have been really really bad, to bring this curse down on this guy. Jesus, in a remarkably lucid moment in a gospel that often has him spouting curlicues of thought, says, "No one." No one sinned. This man's misfortune is unrelated to his righteousness. Of course, Jesus doesn't stop there. He says that the man's blindness is for just this moment, the moment of spit and mud and sight, and praising God for it all.
M., one of my best friends in the world (and she's really out in the world just now, she's in Peru! and I don't mean Indiana!), and I have talked about this endlessly, both of us moaning and tearing our garments and gnashing our teeth through pretty devastating break-ups. We know we don't believe the theology of Job's friends, or the dim disciples. We don't believe that is how a loving God works in our lives-- punishing us with misfortune because we've been bad. That's not our theology! But when push comes to shove comes to heartbreak, we both go there. We both ask the questions. "Why? What did I do? Am I a terrible person, that this has happened to me?"
I look at the world, and I know full well that terrible things happen all the time to innocents. Lebanese children are buried beneath the rubble created by Israeli bombs. And so on. But this is pervasive, it is powerful, and it is ancient. I think it is because we want to make sense of the world, and it is in some ways easier and more comforting to think there's a logic to it all. On top of that, I'm supposed to be a Calvinist, which means God's plan is always at work, nothing happens that God doesn't either will or permit. But oh the miles between willing and giving permission. The miles and miles and miles. Those miles are the place of mystery, in which Mieke and Job and the man blind from birth and I all live.