Note: This series is sourced from Discipleship Ministries, an agency of The United Methodist Church.
This month we explore the book of Job, a book that is somewhat unique in our Biblical texts. Job gives us no time stamp when the events happened. Unlike many Old Testament books that begin by announcing who is king in Judah or Israel, Job begins, “There once was a man in the land of Uz…” (Job 1:1). Job’s location is not even in Israel. Literarily, Job contains prose and poetry, as well as irony and lamentation.
Although the book is unique, the questions raised in the Book of Job are enduring. Why does suffering come to the righteous? If God is all-powerful, why can’t God keep the righteous from suffering? If God is all loving, why do evil, pain, and suffering exist? Instead of providing neat and tidy answers, the Book of Job invites us to struggle and question along with Job and his friends. Along with Job, we can wonder if having hard luck or difficult circumstances are the result of God’s anger.
Job 1:1, 2:1-10 (CEB)
1:1A man in the land of Uz was named Job. That man was honest, a person of absolute integrity; he feared God and avoided evil.
2:1One day the divine beings came to present themselves before the Lord. The Adversary also came among them to present himself before the Lord. 2The Lord said to the Adversary, “Where have you come from?”
The Adversary answered the Lord, “From wandering throughout the earth.”
3The Lord said to the Adversary, “Have you thought about my servant Job, for there is no one like him on earth, a man who is honest, who is of absolute integrity, who reveres God and avoids evil? He still holds on to his integrity, even though you incited me to ruin him for no reason.”
4The Adversary responded to the Lord, “Skin for skin—people will give up everything they have in exchange for their lives. 5But stretch out your hand and strike his bones and flesh. Then he will definitely curse you to your face.”
6The Lord answered the Adversary, “There he is—within your power; only preserve his life.”
7The Adversary departed from the Lord’s presence and struck Job with severe sores from the sole of his foot to the top of his head. 8Job took a piece of broken pottery to scratch himself and sat down on a mound of ashes. 9Job’s wife said to him, “Are you still clinging to your integrity? Curse God, and die.”
10Job said to her, “You’re talking like a foolish woman. Will we receive good from God but not also receive bad?” In all this, Job didn’t sin with his lips.
Consider these questions:
- What is your vision of the “good life?” How was Job living the “good life?”
- How would you have reacted to Job’s experiences?
- What does this story suggest about God’s power with the narrative that “the adversary” can only take action after gaining God’s permission?
Post-Sermon Update on 11/7
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Exploring the opening of the book of Job, we first acknowledged that this story found here is challenging. How could a God who is understood to be the ultimate good allow such atrocities to happen – and beyond allowance, how could such a God give permission for these atrocities? To even begin to understand the book of Job, we must consider its context and structure. Primarily, this book is a book of poetry, and scholars suggest that the opening prose (and perhaps the conclusion as well) were added after the initial poetry was written. With that in mind, could it be possible that the book of Job was originally intended as a faithful and literary (note both-and, not either-or) exploration on difficult conversations with the Divine? And could it be possible that Job’s insistence on his faith in God is not blind faith but rather a rebuking of the notion of a transactional relationship with God? I suggest that this rebuking is exactly why there is room for hope in the book of Job.
Consider these questions:
- What is at stake for God in this challenge with “the adversary?”
- What is at stake for us in God’s challenge with “the adversary?”
- What do you think about this differing way of reading the book of Job?
- What does Job’s rejection of a transactional relationship with God mean for your faith and for your understanding of God?