Friday, September 08, 2006

Job for the Defense

You know, I really should trust scripture. All of it. Again and again I am reminded that it is bigger than my little pre-conceived notions of it. Again and again, I am caught up short, surprised, left breathing hard in my efforts to just keep up.

Yesterday I said, "Weeks of Job? You gotta be kidding! Let me bring some Jesus, some salvation into all this darkness!" Well. Today Job reminds me that the New Testament is already woven through the Hebrew scriptures; Jesus doesn't spring up fully formed like Venus on the half shell, something completely new and unimagined. The themes of the New Testament are present and accounted for in Hebrew scripture. You just have to pay attention. It's all in there.

Today's reading, for instance, Job 19:1-7, 14-27. "Then Job answered," it begins. Job is answering one of those three friends, Bildad, who has just made a speech saying, basically, "If you're evil, God's gonna getcha. And Job, God's gotcha. So you must be evil." Unassailable logic, right? Actually, no. Faulty logic. (I could prove it with a diagram, but I'll leave that to indexed.)

Our passage, chapter 19, is Job's response. My seminary Old Testament professor, David Carr, said that Job is filled with legal/ trial imagery. And here is Job, arguing against Bildad in his own defense. And like a great lawyer, Job cuts to the heart of the matter:

If indeed you magnify yourselves against me,
and make my humiliation an argument against me,
know then that God has put me in the wrong,
and closed his net around me. Job 19:5-6

Job knows what's going on here. The three friends need to "magnify themselves against" Job, need to demonize him, need to believe that he earned all his suffering by being (one must assume secretly) evil, because they need to think they are safe. If Job is suffering because he's a bad guy, then, good, if I stay a good guy, I can avoid suffering.

Oh that it were true.

Job goes on, in verses 14 and following, to paint as pathetic a self-portrait as one can imagine, including his relatives running the other way when they see him coming, his wife being repulsed by his foul breath, all those whom he has loved turning against him. It is almost dizzying in its power and despair.

And yet. Smack me upside the head with salvation, why don't you, Job? Verse 25, and the music of Handel swells in the heart of the reader:

For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and that at the last he will stand upon the earth;
and after my skin has been destroyed,
then in my flesh I shall see God... Job 19:25-26

Oh my. This is what kills about Job: even in despair, his confidence that God will vindicate him, will give him the verdict he so richly deserves. In the Daily Prayer book, the prayer offered for Friday morning (the day on which the prayers recall the crucifixion) says, at one point,"Especially we thank you for the presence of Christ in our weakness and suffering..." When I first read that I didn't really understand it. That is probably because I hadn't really known suffering. At the point at which I was well-acquainted with suffering, however, these words took on a potency it is hard to describe. They became a kind of talisman for me, a little surprise every time I prayed them, as I struggled to make sense of what was happening to me and to find a path through.

God is present in our weakness and suffering. God plants in us the seeds of hope, tiny though they may be. God is at our side as we plead in our defense. All this from Job, whom I was ready to dismiss yesterday (or at least to pretty up). Man. I must trust scripture more. I really must work on that.

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