Job 42:1 Then Job replied to the Lord:
2 “I know that you can do all things;
no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
3 You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’
Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me to know.
4 “You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak;
I will question you,
and you shall answer me.’
5 My ears had heard of you
but now my eyes have seen you.
6 Therefore I despise myself
and repent in dust and ashes.”
7 After the Lord had said these things to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has. 8 So now take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and sacrifice a burnt offering for yourselves. My servant Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer and not deal with you according to your folly. You have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has.” 9 So Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite did what the Lord told them; and the Lord accepted Job’s prayer.
10 After Job had prayed for his friends, the Lord restored his fortunes and gave him twice as much as he had before.
A favorite Friday evening tradition of mine here in Louisville has always been the Market Street First Friday Trolley hop, and this weekend I once again found myself gallery hopping. Let me take you through the evening… To start, I search out on one of the few non-stained shirts that I have in my closet, then I give a quick spray of febreeze (the ocean scented kind as it doubles as cologne) to get the wrinkles out (I do actually own an iron but as many of you are finding out, I am slightly accident prone so it seemed safer to leave it in its box,) and finally I venture between the galleries to sip free wine while pretending to be sophisticated.
While pursuing around the studios, one particular painting caught my eye. “That’s beautiful,” I said and walked up to get a better look at a picture of a sailboat hanging in the corner of the gallery. It was pretty simple, but simple is good, and it had a really cool (rewind… “cool” isn’t a sophisticated art word, so lets try distinctive…) It had a really “distinctive” texture to it. One of the gallery people, I’m sure she had a more professional role than “gallery person” but that’s not important in this story, so… regardless of her official role she saw my intrigue and wandered up to humor me. “It is a pretty original piece is it not?”
“Yeah”… I started to respond… I mean “Yes, a really interesting piece.”
“Look closer, its actually painted on an old nautical chart from the 1800’s, in the right light you can see the lines and there is the compass in the corner,” she said while pointing to the faded background.
“That’s not all, the artist actually suffers from Cerebral Palsy and does much of the work holding the brush in his teeth.”
To think that painting was only going for a couple hundred dollars… a couple hundred dollars over my $5000 credit card limit that is, so I decided to pass on the piece and continue on with my free glass of wine.
The thing I really love about art is that very few people, if any, truly understand the truly wonderful composition they admire; the amount of work and insight, the dreams and imagination, and the talent, story, and struggles encapsulated inside each piece. Abstract art in particular points out my personal lack of appreciation or understanding; a paint-splattered canvas, quite possibly the result the artist’s dog getting loose in the studio, on sale for two months salary helps me to realize that I may not be the art connoisseur that I like to pretend I am.
“Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know” Job responded after several chapters of God’s providing metaphors to help Job grasp his creative power. Each of us has a slightly different relationship with God, understands the divine in slightly different ways (not each worshiping a different God, but each worshipping a God so magnificent our limited understanding cannot comprehend his fullness, thus we relate in different ways.) The danger in our limited understanding is that it can result in our failure to see the unique beauty, be aware of the distinct struggles, or appreciate the chosen median of other’s; fail to recognize the abstract art that is humanity, our colorful faith journeys. When we, like Job, start to understand or appreciate the picture that God’s hand paints in and through our lives, while knowing that we can never grasp the depth of the piece we start to see the wonder, whereas looking at God and at life through human eyes, mortal conceptualization, limits the true wonder and beauty of the omnipotent. Carrying on the theme of these past two weeks, we limit our growth when looking at our joys and suffering through human lenses, that magnify our sense of urgency, fear, and pain while blurring God’s message. If only we could experience the whole story, see the map under the painting and appreciate the struggles the artist overcame.
In this final chapter, Job was “blessed,” the author went the route of “happily ever after…” ten kids, a long life, and land a plenty. The final verse of our passage for today reads, “The Lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the former part,” and that blessing came when Job recognized that this life was a mere precursor to “things to wonderful for him to know.” That didn’t mean that Job truly understood God, but instead that he understood he was part of something far to beautiful to understand. This enlightened “understanding” was the true blessing,, not the land, kids, or years.
“My ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you,” Job exclaims in what seems to be a joyous awakening (and to think those are only two senses… what awesomeness awaits those who experience God through all five!) After Job “opened his eyes” though he makes the comment, “therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” This is where it gets dangerous. It would seem we go from a moment of extreme joy to one of utter despair within a verse, but that’s not the case. The Hebrew in this instance reads not, “I despise myself,” but “I reject myself.” The verb “amas” provides an important distinction and our focus for today.
What Job is saying here is that he is now able to look beyond himself and see the broader picture, the painting under the painting, “rejecting” the inclination to focus solely on his personal suffering or perceived needs and wants, and instead he has opened his eyes so that he is able to view himself as part of a much larger whole, his story as an opportunity to grow, and his call to, like ours, to transition from the self-pity to divine awe.
Lets try looking at it differently; how many of you as children, or last night as picky adults, threw a minor temper tantrum at the dinner table because you refused to eat your brussel sprouts or creamed corn? How many of you, because of your fit, found yourself at the end of the famous parental line, “There are kids starving in Africa that would do anything for that food.”
“Well ship it to them,” we may say, because we are unable to get past our own suffering and see the pain of others. Job’s “rejecting himself” moves him to humility, to “meekness,” and in a famous sermon titled the Beatitudes, Jesus makes the bold declaration, “Blessed are the meek.” Utilizing the extended metaphor, it’s as if Job returns to his plate to thank God for the spoonful of creamed corn that lingers awaiting his spoon, and not because he developed a taste for it.
This is the first blessing, Job stops letting his personal perspective on life, his limited viewpoint, cause him unnessesary suffering. Its not the vegetable that causes the real suffering, it’s the fear or disdain for it, and when we accept the cards we have been dealt God indeed blesses us with even greater things; after-all, eating your vegetables allows you to savor ice cream dessert to follow.
Now let me climb out of my rabbit hole and go back to the translation of the verb “amas”, that of “rejecting one’s self” in meekness, or “despising” one’s self in guilt. When I was first taught about the whole “Jesus thing,” something didn’t feel quite right. It was in that awkward time for me, right in the midst of that adolescent battle of low self-esteem; a time when I was already embarrassed and my esteem diminished by the pimples on my forehead and my cracking voice. So needless to say, hearing about how the greatest man to ever walk the earth, probably pimple free, was beaten, mocked, and killed for me; killed for my “sins” and imperfections, did not really help me to like myself. In fact, it weighed an already self-conscious teen down with guilt.
Guilt sucks. Growing up a spanking is always a better option than a “disappointed” parent. Physical suffering is always better than emotional suffering… and that is the danger of passages such as the one that the high-school young-life speaker hit me with, Paul’s letter to the “saints of Colossi” in Colossians 1:24 …
- Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.
This passage made sense to me, but in the wrong way. Paul often writes about, rejoices about, suffering. He was imprisoned and beaten, and each occurrence seemed to bring him closer to God; suffering is what God wants of us… Job was blessed because of his pain, loss, and illness, right? We honestly should feel guilty for not suffering…Wrong. It is essential that we read these types of texts with the understanding that Christ came into this world because God does not desire us to suffer. Paul rejoiced in his suffering because it allowed him to understand, even just a little, the unimaginable love of Jesus, but Paul never sought out suffering. Job was blessed at the end of this story, not because he suffered, but because of his experiences helped him to look at the world and beyond through a different lens (and recognize that he would never see the fullness and true wonder of God’s creation.)
Remember when the book DaVinci code came out? It highlighted a Catholic cult famous for their self-inflicted suffering as a means of spiritual awakening. In a conversation the other day I spoke with a man who could not stop getting tattooed because he loved the freedom he felt in the pain. Runners and endurance athletes feel most at piece during a race that causes them extreme physical discomfort. There is a rise in what is called “cutting” in our young people, an inclination to cut or harm one’s self to deal with anxiety or depression. GOD DOES NOT DESIRE THAT WE SUFFER!
I understand these people well… Like I said, as a child I sought a spanking over parental “disappointment.” Why? Because physical suffering masks emotional or spiritual suffering; because physical pain is much more bearable than emotional pain. GOD DOES NOT DESIRE THAT WE SUFFER!
When I first heard that text from Colossians, I understood Paul (or thought that I understood Paul,) but Christianity in no way, shape, or form should revolve around guilt in that Christ suffered for us, but incredible elation and joy that we are loved that much. I wanted to suffer like Paul, because instead of accepting the cross of Jesus, I yearned to bear it. I didn’t love myself enough to allow God to love me, and suffering physically was the simplest solution to take away that pain, but it was temporary.
That lack of self-love not only kept me from accepting God’s love, but it kept me from sharing it as well. You see, our living in or suffering with guilt, and not loving our selves is pure selfishness. Job’s “rejecting himself,” and Paul’s “rejoicing in suffering,” were not demonstrations of their feelings of worthlessness nor were they a call to suffer; they were symbols of their movement beyond their “self,” and acceptance of the larger love of God.
Job, because of this, found that he was not the only one to receive the blessing of God. His friends, to whom God directly states, “I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has,” were also blessed… because Job was able to overlook the pain they had caused him and “Pray for them.”
We started this series by asking the question that the Book of Job made famous, “Why do the righteous suffer,” but are any of us righteous? We are all imperfect with pimples, cracking voices, sins and shortcomings; but we are loved. Its important to recognize our brokenness but not let it break us. We will suffer in this world; accept it, but don’t suffer by allowing human our human brokenness block God’s blessing and love. We are loved and the truest form of suffering lies in our inability to accept that, but accepting that love is also our truest and most beautiful blessing.
How have you been blessed recently and what allowed for that blessing?