Bible in a Year – Job – Tunnel

When you look at this photo, to where are you drawn?  Is it to the bright, green, lush area at the end?  Is it the musty looking walls and the uneven ceiling?  Are you drawn to the cracks where the walls meet the pavement?  Is it somewhere else?  

This was a photo from a walk I took last Saturday morning.  I am pretty sure I have shared a similar one before.  But that’s ok.  I thought of this photo, however, as I finished reading the book of Job this morning.  Job is a long book and one that is hard to break down into segments because, for me, it is about the whole of the experience of Job. – from the odd story of God and the Accuser at the beginning, to the arrival and dialogue with the friends, Elihu showing up, and then the final section where God shows up.  I have my own thoughts about the literalness of this story but that’s not central to the experience of it.  This ancient (possibly the most ancient in the Bible) book wrestles with the same question we are wrestling with today.  


More specifically, why do bad things happen?  And even more specifically, why do bad things happen to good people?  This last one implies we live in a transactional world where good actions always equal good results and bad results in bad.  Unfortunately, we have all seen plenty of evidence to know that plenty of bad happens to good and good happens to bad.  So we’ll skip that last question and go back to the first two… Why?   Why do bad things happen?  

I’d love to answer those for you but I cannot and neither can anyone else.  The story of Job doesn’t answer it either.  His friends do their best to offer their explanations (they blame Job in the same way that many people still today blame people for the random bad things that happen in life…) after they initially started off well as they just sit with Job in silence and grief for 7 days.  

Job doesn’t try to explain what happened either but instead he laments throughout the book – God, why have these things happened?  His laments echo the same laments of the writers of the Psalms, of Jesus on the cross, and of countless others who have faced trials and pain in life.  Laments are often simply a way to get out the words and the anger and the fear and the pain and so much else that are dwelling deep inside and if they are not expressed they are going to come out some other way.  Job also pushes back at the accusations of his friends as he is painfully honest with them about how unhelpful they have become as they continue to verbally spar back and forth.  I remember a time when I said something really stupid to a person in a particular difficult situation and can still go right back to how it felt when that person fired back with words that I’ll choose not to print here.  And you know what?  They were right to do so and I am glad they did!  I needed that rebuke at that moment.  

Kate Bowler, in her book Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies I’ve Loved, has a wonderful appendix at the end of her book entitled “Absolutely Never Say This to People Experiencing Terrible Times: A Short List.”  It a short list of just eight things but I am pretty sure all of us have said some (all?) of them, have heard someone else say them, or have had them said to us.  And none of them are good in any difficult situation.  

Anyway, back to Job.  And as the book concludes, God has a chance to speak and you know what?  God doesn’t answer the question either!  God doesn’t say, “well, Job it was a bet between me and Satan” or “I just wanted to see how you’d react” or even “Job, do you remember that thing you did when you were 19?  That’s what all this is about.”  God instead simply says, “I’m God.”  It feels like an extended version of God’s answer to Moses.  Basically, God tells Job, “I am that I am.”  And then the book ends on a happy note as Job’s life is restored and there’s even a crazy line in there about Job giving an inheritance to his daughters and not just his sons!  (This is in great contrast to what would have been the normal practice of the day – Job was a radical I guess!!!!)

Ok – that’s a lot and I want to go back to where I started.  To where are you drawn in this photo?  Your answer might be to where you might find yourself in the story of Job.  Are you in the middle of a terrible situation?  Are you lamenting and asking over and over in the middle of the night or the heat of the day, “WHY???!!!”   Are you somewhere in the tunnel and you know that there’s an ending ahead and maybe you can even see a shape of it but it feels so very far away?  Are you at the end able to look back at the struggles where you’ve been and have come out the other side?  Or maybe you’re somehow all of them together.   I guess what I heard this time reading Job was to have lots of grace.  Lots of grace for people wherever they might be in this tunnel.  Grace and presence for those who are in the middle of it and the end seems impossibly far away.  Celebrating with those who feel they have come out the other side.  Grieving with those who feel suck somewhere in it.  And in being present to one another, we can be like Job’s friends were before they started talking – simply there, being community, and being the presence of the holy in the midst.  

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