Job in Newtown

Job in Newtown December 17, 2012

That’s not “job” as in employment in the title of this post, but “Job” as in “the Book of…”

Someone asked me on Facebook recently what I thought the message of Job is and how it relates to the tragedy in Connecticut. I said that the Book of Job has a number of points that it conveys. But in light of the recent comments by right-wing Christians (which I’ve already commented on more than once), I want to highlight one particular aspect of the book’s message:

If you interpret someone else’s suffering, you do so at your peril.

The Book of Job starts with a discussion in heaven that results in Job suffering, even though he is righteous. The large central section depicts in poetic verse discussions between Job and his friends, in which the friends interpret Job’s suffering in terms of their traditional wisdom and theology, and Job protests that their answers don’t fit his actual life and experience. In the end, God appears and expresses his displeasure with the friends for not having spoken rightly about him.

I can’t help but wonder whether James Dobson has ever read the book. He’s jumped on the “this shooting happened because…” bandwagon along with others I’ve mentioned recently, like Mike Huckabee, Eric Hovind, and Bryan Fischer – and now one Sam Morris can be added to the list. Whether they blame it specifically on the removal of teacher-led formal prayer from schools, or something else, they are all siding with Job’s friends against Job. And in the process, just like Job’s friends, they make God look like a monster even while they think they are defending him.

Just think about it. I’m quite sure that anyone who was in Sandy Hook Elementary School when the shooter was on the rampage prayed. These pseudochristians are actually saying that regular formal ritual matters more than heartfelt prayer in a moment of genuine need.

These politicians and preachers who make such statements claim to represent God. We do well to remember that so did Job’s friends. But it didn’t mean that they were actually God’s spokespeople.

In the Book of Job, the person who “spoke rightly” about God was the one who was suffering. And what he did right was not to defend God but to be honest with his questioning in the midst of heartbreaking sorrow.

Elsewhere around the blogosphere, many others have touched on this and related topics:

Some have discussed or simply quoted the president’s homily.

Rachel Held Evans calls it what it is, emphasizing that God cannot be kept out.

Joel Watts gives thanks that he is a mainline Christian. He also tackles the lie that “old time religion” keeps or in the past kept violence out of schools.

Tony Jones discusses the limits that are rightfully placed on our freedoms.

Jeri Massi suggests that many Christians would do better to remain silent.

Morgan Guyton discusses a disturbingly American image.

See also posts by Bob Cargill, Eric ReitanFrankie Schaeffer, Bob Cornwall, Caryn Riswold, Matt Reed, John Shore, Stacey Samuel, Carson T. Clark, Matthew Paul Turner, and of course many others.

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  • Craig Wright

    It is interesting that I have been teaching through Job in my Monday morning men’s Bible study at 6am, and have already used some of the same thoughts you have expressed here. When will Christians ever learn? By the way, I don’t think the author of James in the NT read the book of Job either, in light of his pointing out to be patient like Job, unless he meant that it is OK to argue with God and accuse him of injustice while enduring hardship.

    • Rebecca Trotter

      Oh – I think that might be exactly what James is saying it’s OK to do. It’s worked for me so far. Sometimes I would be so angry and despondent that I decided that either God didn’t exist or was a real a-hole. And that I was going to take to my little blog to tell everyone else the same. But every time the thought that Jesus said he would go back for the one would come to me. No matter how upset or nasty I got with God, he would always come back for me. So what was the point of making my name as the religion blogger gone God’s greatest critic? I’d be going back. Maybe it’s all absurd (we don’t always make sense when we’re upset). But what I do know is that God would rather have us come to him just as we are – angry and itching and moaning and saying nasty things. He’d rather that we come to him just like that than put on our nice faces and treat him like old Aunt Myrtle.

      • Craig Wright

        I agree with you. The way James writes it, though, lends the example of Job to be misinterpreted, as I have heard numerous time from fellow church goers, such as, “Well, Job didn’t complain. He just took it and kept faithful to God, so god rewarded him in the end.”

  • “Look, my eye has seen all this, my ear has heard and understood it. What you know, I also know; I am not inferior to you. But I would speak to the Almighty, and I desire to argue my case with God. As for you, you whitewash with lies; all of you are worthless physicians. If you would only keep silent, that would be your wisdom! Hear now my reasoning, and listen to the pleadings of my lips. Will you speak falsely for God, and speak deceitfully for him? Will you show partiality toward him, will you plead the case for God? Will it be well with you when he searches you out? Or can you deceive him, as one person deceives another? He will surely rebuke you if in secret you show partiality. Will not his majesty terrify you, and the dread of him fall upon you? Your maxims are proverbs of ashes, your defenses are defenses of clay.” (Job 13:1-12)