Job Prayed for His Friends

151025_coverJob 42:1-6, 10-17

Year B, 22nd Sunday after Pentecost

Job was a righteous man who was obedient and loving to God. He was very wealthy, with great herds, seven sons, three daughters, and property. God has a debate with Satan about whether Job would love and obey God if God did not protect him. So God says, “Take your best shot!” and Satan destroys Job’s life to make his point.

Satan’s argument is interesting.

  • Why does Job or any person reverence God?
  • Is it an implicit bargain for security and well being, or is the relationship independent of circumstances?

What follows is the tragedy of Job’s misfortune and his dialogue with his three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar, and Elihu, who seek to comfort Job. First they sit with him in his grief, but then they start to give him advice about why he is suffering and how to end the suffering.

The underlying belief of these dialogues seems to be this:

  • God will bless and prosper the righteous, so wealth is a sign of righteousness.
  • God will punish the sinful, so misfortune, loss, and disease are all signs that you have sinned and need to confess.

Job’s friend Eliphaz starts out by saying to Job, basically, “Clearly you have sinned against God.”

Job is completely sure that he has not sinned. He knows he has been true to God and has not earned this misfortune, so he rails against God, challenging God, complaining, and lamenting his misfortunes.

Job is a book that is at odds with itself. The dialogue is not resolved. God seems to get the last word, but even then the resolution feels incomplete. Basically, God wins the bet with Satan and restores Job’s fortune. Job gets new sons and daughters, new herds and property, and lives to a ripe old age.

The happy ending rings a bit hollow though. God never truly answers Job’s question of why a righteous man should suffer.

That brings us back to the central question Satan poses to God. Why should Job or any person reverence God? Is it an implicit bargain for security and well-being, or is the relationship something more, something that does not involve a transaction? Are we saying to God, I will love you if you keep me safe? I will be faithful if you heal me, protect me, and bless me?

I think that a lot of the time we have to answer, yes to these questions. We want the Idol God who will transport us from our suffering and struggles to a life of happiness and fulfillment, whether here in this life or in the next. We want the predictable, well behaved world and God that Job’s friends try to convince him of. The book of Job pulls the rug out from under that hope.

The ending of the Book of Job has an interesting detail that we miss in the reading we heard today. As we heard last week, God speaks to Job out of the whirlwind. In today’s reading we hear Job’s humble response. Then our reading skips a few interesting verses and we hear the happy ending of Job’s restoration. In those skipped verses, God speaks to the three friends. He condemns them for speaking incorrectly ABOUT God, OF God. Job speaks TO God, and the friends speak ABOUT God.

In good fortune or bad, Job speaks to God. He may be complaining or railing against God, but he speaks to God. Even when he feels abandoned and unjustly punished, he continues to pray to God.

The problem for us is the same as the problem for Job. There doesn’t seem to be a way to escape from life’s suffering and struggles. In fact, Jesus invites us to enter into life, embracing the suffering and struggles. Jesus goes through suffering and loss just as Job does, and more, losing his very life, and like Job he continues to call out to God. When Jesus says on the cross, at the moment of his death, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” he is fully embracing the suffering of life, and he experiences the loss of the God who would remove the suffering, but not the loss of God. He still calls out to God.

When Jesus is resurrected, he still has his scars. The resurrected Jesus passes through life, suffering, and death and then shows us how to participate in what God is doing. He does not escape from life, instead he embraces life.

When we embrace life, our suffering does not end, but we are changed. When we stop praying to God to remove us from our suffering and instead ask, How can I help my sister, my neighbor, in their suffering, we are participating in God.

I love this little detail at the end of Job: And the LORD restored the fortunes of Job when he had prayed for his friends. Job prayed for his friends. Even in his suffering, he prayed for them, and that is when he was blessed.

The Rev. David Marshall
St. Dunstan’s Church, Shoreline WA
October 25, 2015

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