Job, Holy Week, And Me
By Mark Olson
During the services of Holy Week several readings are taken from the book of Job. Job itself is an interesting book. My usage of the word interesting reflects a background in math which divides topics into two categories: interesting or trivial (obvious). Like Revelations in the New Testament, Job has a daunting reputation for being “interesting.”
A Summary of the Narrative in Job
In the first two chapters Job starts off with a conversation between God and Satan. God points out Job as an excellent example of a good and Godly man. Satan offers that he's only that way because his life has been blessed. So, God allows Satan to Job to the test. First, Satan removes Job's accomplishments, namely his wealth and his children. After that fails to move Job, his good health is removed, and we find Job sitting on a rubbish heap using a piece of broken pottery to scrape pus from the sores covering his body. Yet after all this, Job still “did not sin with his lips before God.”
Now three friends visit Job. These friends are princes and kings, peers and companions of Job prior to his losing his possessions. They begin a conversation about why this has happened and what it might mean. His friends think the fault lies with Job because he has sinned or failed to worship God rightly. Job denies this, he has been faithful to God, charitable to the poor and needy, and is blameless. Yet still this has transpired.
There is a young man, unheralded in the prior conversations who makes the point that God punishes more severely and for smaller infractions those to whom he has given much. So perhaps Job's sin was minute, but because he was so well rewarded, now he is severely punished.
Finally, God speaks in answer to Job's inquiries and to their conversation. God's answer, like much of Scripture, is a puzzle. God doesn't answer Job's question and plea for an answer directly. God says basically, much like he did to Moses, I am. I am creator of the Universe. And this, in a succinct epilogue, ends the book. God restores Job's “stuff” and pronounces that “he will rise again with those the Lord raises up.”
The Fathers teach us that Job was a type of Christ. Typology is a biblical hermeneutic (a way of extracting meaning from text) which was practiced avidly in the centuries following Jesus. After the midpoint of the first century, and for more than a few centuries to follow, Christian scholars, teachers, and preachers searched both scripture and nature, but especially the Old Testament, for reflections and hints of Jesus, the resurrection, and other elements or events in Jesus’ life. Job is, in fact, seen as a type of Christ. Job, like Jesus, was an innocent condemned to suffer. This is one reason why Job is read during Holy Week.
The Natural Ethical Algebra
When we are in kindergarten we develop a common notion about righteousness. This kindergarten moral, or what one might term a “natural ethical algebra,” is predominant even outside of the schoolyard. Another phrase for this is a “tit for tat”—a natural notion of ethical behavior, i.e. repay good with good and evil with evil. If you do good, you are rightly rewarded; if you do evil, you should be punished. This is a notion of ethics which is applied for interactions between men and between God and men.
This kindergarten balance, this natural ethical algebra, is confounded and rejected in Job. We find that ethical notion rejected in many of the lessons throughout Lent and in much of Jesus' teaching… becoming one of the themes of Holy Week.
More of these stories:
· The Harlot and Judas (Bridegroom Service during Holy Week)
· The Prodigal Son (Luke 15: 11-32)
· The Publican and the Pharisee (Luke 18: 10-14)
One can run rampant citing ways and examples drawn from Jesus' life and his narratives. His death is yet another one of these examples. Jesus quite regularly inverts the natural/normal status of our expectations regarding the ethical/algebra equation during his teaching and his life.
How can the Harlot and Judas be seen to refute the normal ethical balance?
Judas was a man of means, he handled the financial aspects of the ministry of Jesus. Harlotry, in first century Israel, was almost certainly not a position sought for in either wealth or status, but one likely driven to by circumstance. Judas was one of Jesus' disciples, the harlot—likely not even permitted to worship. So, by our ethical equation then, Judas should by rights, be the better person, for he has received much more. Yet this is not the case.
The case of the Publican and Pharisee is a more obvious example. Jesus, in recounting the story, justifies the Publican — a reversal of the expectation we arrive at via the normal ethical algebra.
There is another word used in connection quite often to the book of Job, namely theodicy. Theodicy is defined as an attempted answer to the problem of evil, or the branch of theology that defends God's goodness and justice in the face of the existence of evil. In short, how can a good God permit evil in the world? Job's wife states the crux of the problem when she asks Job, “Why, as you are blameless, can you not fault God for your innocent sufferings or even for the memory of our dead children?” How can a good, powerful God permit evil in the world; or more specifically, permit Satan, on a lark as it were, to test Job and thereby kill his children?
Modern events such as the earthquakes in Chile, Haiti, and Armenia, the tsunami in Indonesia, and the Katrina hurricane in New Orleans all often raise questions of theodicy. Why did God allow these things to happen? This question also comes up in the context of the numerous infamous massive genocidal events of the 20th century. When we consider such questions, perhaps we should consider the relationship between these modern events and the lessons learned from Job, the Harlot, and Holy Week. A large part of the accusatory argument against God laid at His feet by the theodicy question, depends crucially on the normal ethical algebra. If you take that norm away, and reverse or confuse this algebra in fundamental ways, it becomes necessary to re-examine how you view God and His actions.
Similarly, we need to re-examine the ethical algebra we use to evaluate other people. It is far too easy to fall into the trap of reverting back to older/natural assumptions. Why was Job, the harlot, the Publican, the Prodigal son, and so many others justified contrary to expectations? How can we apply those reasons to form a new ethical algebra by which we can evaluate both theodicy and our perception of others in our daily life?