Anyone who reads the Book of Common Prayer Daily Office, a two-year series of daily Bible readings arranged according to the Episcopalian liturgical calendar, knows that we have been slugging (maybe too strong a word!) through the seemingly hopeless saga of Job. Words like patience, endurance, faithful and righteous come to mind when we read Job. Seems like a simple enough story...God and the devil have a bet to see if the devil can tempt Job away from his faithfulness. The devil says no problem and off he goes threatening every single bit of stability and life that Job ever had. Job has three well meaning friends who try to convince him that if he were more faithful and if he were more righteous, these atrocities would not be happening to him. Job says no, God would never do these things to someone who loves him...And Job perseveres...never really doubting God, never cursing God, but begging God to respond to him...and in my most favorite passage in all of scripture, God Responds as only God can Respond (capital R intended!)
Job 38. 1 - 4
Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind:
"Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me. Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding."
And then, after a powerful declaration of Omnipotence by God, the story unravels with a deus ex machina, and they all "live happily after ever"...Job remarries, has more children, his riches are restored, and he lives on to see his descendants into the fourth generation.
In the study of literature, we would call this commercial fiction because it seems so predictable, and the good guy wins. But in reality, a study of the book of Job reveals a much more complicated piece of literature. Clearly we have two traditions telling this story, thus the frame story. The language is beautifully poetic, perhaps more beautiful than any other book in the bible. Job's struggle is cataclysmic and inhumane and God's response is shocking, but pastoral. Many scholars consider it a masterpiece of world literature.
For the next few months, I plan to study Stephen Mitchell's translation of Job and share some of his insights and interpretations here. If you would be interested in joining me in this study, please check back in every now and then and give your thoughts.
The book is The Book of Job by Stephen Mitchell and is available at Amazon or in local bookstores. I look forward to sharing this journey with you.