Job 1:1; 2:1-10
The book of Job is probably the oldest writing in our Bible. It is a wisdom writing; a fable or parable that poses the oldest question among humans: why do bad things happen to good people? How can everything go terribly wrong when we have done nothing to deserve it? Some early cultures answered that question by telling stories of capricious gods who played with human lives for their amusement. The book of Job argues with that premise. Remember, this is a story, a parable, which holds a theological discourse. Let’s start with the character Satan. In Hebrew, the word is ha-satan, meaning the accuser. He is a member of God’s heavenly court or government. Satan is the chief prosecutor. When God brags a bit about good and righteous man, Job, Satan counters that Job is only righteous because everything is going his way. If he were to be miserable, he would curse God to God’s face.
So God gives Satan permission to test his theory and Job’s woes begin. The rest of the book describes Job asking the question “Why” and his friends trying to find the cause for the effect. Surely Job has done something to deserve his suffering. There is a contrived ending that was tacked onto the book many centuries later, in which God restores Job’s health and fortunes and gives him new children ostensibly to replace the children who died at the beginning of the book. We all know that nothing replaces children we have lost. The original writing does not include the beautiful and powerful soliloquy, “Where were you when I created the universe?” attributed to God. The original simply ends with the unanswered question, “Why?” The implied answer is, “Not because of anything you have done. It’s not your fault.” For most people, that is not a very satisfying answer. It is hard for human beings to accept ambiguity and randomness. We want to make meaning. We need to make meaning. We want a satisfying answer to why bad things happen to good people. The book of Job takes the blame away from God and places it on a heavenly accuser trying to make a theological point. God is not exactly guiltless here, but blame shifts to ha-satan.
Sometimes accidents happen. Sometimes other human beings are negligent or for reasons we don’t understand cause mayhem as the shooter at Umpqua Community College. Sometimes disease strikes. Sometimes the economy collapses. Some things happen to us that are beyond our control and everything goes wrong, everything falls apart. And there is no satisfactory answer to our “Why?”
And sometimes we have a hand in what goes wrong and we still can’t say why. Why do relationships that once were loving and tender fall apart? Who is to blame?
One of my pastors once told about a couple, after he had pronounced that they were one in the eyes of God, leaving the church arguing over which one they would be.
Happily-ever-after happens more in fairy tales than in real life. Sometimes things don’t work out the way we hope and pray that they will. In spite of our best intentions and our hard work we can’t make a marriage work. I want us to bring compassionate and educated eyes to today’s gospel text. Jesus had a way of hearing the motive behind the question. He was less interested in the letter of the law than on its real effects on human lives. A man could divorce his wife over not bearing children, or insulting her in-laws, or over-salting his food. Jesus always takes the letter of the law to the level of relationship. When two people marry, he says, they become one flesh. The dissolving of that relationship tears at real human hearts in a way that is as painful and traumatic as tearing flesh. I know that to be true from personal experience. Yes, Jesus says, the law provides for divorce, but it will hurt. And it does. And I think we abuse this teaching if we use it to shame abused and/or battered spouses in relationships that are life threatening or soul killing. The bottom line is that none of us gets to see into the heart of anyone else’s marriage. Divorce is no one’s first choice, or second, or third. It’s a last resort and it is terribly painful for everyone involved. Sometimes everything just goes wrong and we can’t seem to make it right again.
What then? Jesus doesn’t give an answer other than that we are hard to teach. What kind of answer is that?! Does my relationship fall apart because I haven’t learned life’s lessons? If I was smart enough, could I survive an abusive relationship? No! If I was smart enough could I change another person’s behavior? No! So what’s the answer?! There isn’t one. There is often no satisfactory answer to the question why.
What we can answer is how. How do I move forward? How do I live? And Jesus demonstrates by taking a child on his lap. This is how you are loved and cherished, no matter what has happened to you. This is how you begin to love again. Where is God when everything goes wrong? Whether you can feel it or not, God is holding you and loving you. There is no promise that everything will be made right. Only that you will be loved and held. It’s not an answer. But it is a promise.