[Another random selection from the memoir I’m finishing up…]
We ignore the ambiguity that accompanies our finitude, and thus we claim to know what we can’t know. We reduce the unfathomable complexity of the cosmos to the capacity of our finite minds. When we do this, we invariably end up blaming God or indicting victims. Gregory A. Boyd
Any snappy explanation of suffering you come up with will be horses**t. Anne Lamott
If you know me, you know that I like words. I like ones that you can find in the dictionary; but when I can’t find a real word that says what I’ve got on my mind, I like to make up some of my own. I call them, “Wigetisms.”
“Jobian” is one such Wigetism. When my pile of trials were dumped on my head at the same time a bunch of my friends asked me, “Have you read the book of Job lately?” Actually I had made several runs at the book since the bleak clouds rolled in. Though a lot of the Job story is still a mystery to me, it’s been an exceptional cache of comfort.
Now to compare my sufferings with the Bible’s biggest loser is preposterous. His pains and mine aren’t part of the same universe. In my book he’s a hall of fame loser and I’m still in the minor leagues. You could say that my difficulties are more “Jobish” than Jobian. On one horrific day he lost all of his ten children, all of his servants, and his entire business – and then later got boils all over his body! I’m charmed with ease by comparison. Nevertheless, my friends thought, considering the abrupt pileup of pains, a similarity existed – so we started using the term “Jobian” to describe what I was going through at the time.
During one my readings through the book I noticed that it was God and not Satan that started the banter between them, “Have you considered my servant Job?” At face value, it looks like God was using an innocent and ignorant guy as bait to goad the devil into a fight, thus crushing Job in between the two super powers. That may not be an entirely accurate conclusion, but it definitely didn’t sit right with me when, on one of my gloomiest days, I discovered that it was God who picked the fight.
In one of my more surly tirades aimed at God, while pacing back and forth in Bob and Jean’s living room, I exploded, “Don’t be initiating any conversations with the devil about me! If you feel you must take him on, leave my name out of it!” [I don’t recommend a constant practice of ordering God around like this. However, I do believe he’s plenty secure in himself and can handle a periodic pubescent petulance. Plus, I think he tolerates our outbursts through the filter of his mercy. At least I hope he does.]
I think Job – be it epic poem or narrative of an actual account – is more about God and his transcendence than it is about a man and his trials. I don’t advise you to make bullet points out of what you learn from this or any other story in the Bible and then shake the list in God’s face to hold him hostage to what he says about himself. He’s no slave to his own system.
I heard a radio preacher the other today claim that God was “predictable.” Giving this brother the benefit of the doubt, he probably meant that God is “faithful,” and therefore we can count on him. That I’ll buy. But “predictable”? Not so much.
I don’t like having to live with mystery and paradox any more than the next guy or gal. I prefer maps over mystery. I always like to know where I am and where I’m going. But that’s not the way it is here on this planet of his and certainly hasn’t been how it’s been with me in the last few years. It’s easy to say that God is “wonder-ful” but I have to admit that I’m not so comfortable with the “wonder” of his ways. If I had my way, everything would be nailed down and have a clear explanation – a precise definition. It would all fit a pattern. Problem is, God doesn’t fit my patterns or definitions. Accepting the ambiguity of God’s ways is huge part of living by faith, especially when pain and suffering are inserted into the mix.
At the end of the book God showed up and interrogated the sufferer. Like a detective, God questioned Job about his whereabouts while he (God) was busy creating. And then the book ends abruptly. I’m telling you this by way of warning in case you haven’t read it yet and would tend to expect a different ending.
In his profound speech, God said none of the things I would’ve predicted he would’ve said. What he didn’t say is as telling as what he did. He didn’t mention Job’s suffering (or any suffering for that matter). He didn’t answer any of Job’s questions or defend himself against any of his accusations. He didn’t explain why he was silent for so long or say anything about Satan’s role in his suffering. Instead he just showed up. He gave Job no action steps or definitive advice on how to live his life in the future.
Job got an encounter with God instead of an explanation from him. For my money, I’ll take one encounter over a thousand explanations. I may not wind up with tidy answers to all my queries, like the answer section in the back of the math textbook, but I’ll have God. Faith doesn’t mean that I have God all figured out, it means I’m learning to live with him without having him figured out. I can desire answers and even ask for them, but I don’t assume that I deserve them nor will I presume to demand them.
If I’m to have “Jobish” difficulties, I hope for “Jobian” encounters with God.