We are going to be hearing a lot from Job in the next week so it might be a good idea to put his story into some context.
The Book of Job deals with probably the hardest question in theology—why do bad things happen to good people? It’s a hard question in two ways: first because it is pretty much an intractable one. Not only is it difficult in itself—I’ve never heard and answer that satisfies—but any answer you try to give so easily shades over into obscenity. How am I supposed to speak about your pain without undervaluing it and betraying you? I never do know how you are feeling or what you are suffering.
And that’s the second way this problem is intractable—it isn’t found in theology books—it’s not like the theology of the Trinity which is complex and abstruse and … who cares. This question is asked by a grieving mother who has lost her baby. By a heartbroken man whose wife has died. By the child who can’t explain the pain of her cancer. By our friends and our neighbours and our lovers—by our own aching hearts.
So how does the book of Job handle this mess? Well … it tells a story. This is the only book of the bible which makes no claim to authenticity—it is as plainly a fantasy as if it began with “once upon a time”.
But a story has certain advantages over a treatise. If the author tells it well enough we get caught up in it—we begin to care about Job, we let our own lives emerge to colour his, we enter his experience. And we ask the question his way. And we see what happens.
Job gets an answer, of sorts, at the end but you might wonder whether it is much of an answer when you hear it. Yet if you enter the story enough to care at all … then maybe there in itself is the seed of the only answer that counts.
If the story draws us in and defeats the distance we make to keep from pain, if it puts us in touching distance of compassion, then maybe we learn a little about love, a little about ourselves, and a little about God.
September 30th, 2002