I’m indebted to a post on the web site of the Archdiocese of Washington that spoke to what it means to ‘fear’ God. The post pointed out that our word ‘fear’ carries so much negative baggage we really need a better word. The writer goes back to Thomas Aquinas to find where he makes a distinction between the fear of punishment and a ‘fear’ that is a gift of the Holy Spirit. …And he went on say: The Fear of the Lord is rooted in our relationship to God as adopted children. The Fear of the Lord is rooted in our love for God. The Fear of the Lord is rooted in our admiration for God. The Fear of God is rooted in our desire for unity with God. The Fear of God is rooted in our appreciation for God’s Holiness.
That helps me understand Job’s theology.
“While he was still speaking”
In the land of Uz there was once a man, a great and well known man. His name was Job. He was even famous in heaven. When God gazed down on this most noble of all servants God beamed with pride.
1 In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil
6 One day the angels] came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with them. 7 The Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the Lord, “From roaming throughout the earth, going back and forth on it.”8 Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.”
9 “Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied. 10 “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. 11 But now stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.”12 The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your power, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.” Then Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.
13 One day when Job’s sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother’s house, 14 a messenger came to Job and said, “The oxen were plowing and the donkeys were grazing nearby, 15 and the Sabeans attacked and made off with them. They put the servants to the sword, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”16 While he was still speaking, another messenger came and said, “The fire of God fell from the heavens and burned up the sheep and the servants, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”17 While he was still speaking, another messenger came and said, “The Chaldeans formed three raiding parties and swept down on your camels and made off with them. They put the servants to the sword, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”18 While he was still speaking, yet another messenger came and said, “Your sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother’s house, 19 when suddenly a mighty wind swept in from the desert and struck the four corners of the house. It collapsed on them and they are dead, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”
20 At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship 21 and said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart.[c The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” 22 In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.
What was Satan’s question: Does Job fear God for nothing? It’s an awfully good question — not just about Job, but about you and me. I’m indebted to a post on the web site of the Archdiocese of Washington that spoke to what it means to ‘fear’ God. The post pointed out that our word ‘fear’ carries so much negative baggage we really need a better word. The writer goes back to Thomas Aquinas to find where he makes a distinction between the fear of punishment and a ‘fear’ that is a gift of the Holy Spirit. He draws on two New Testament verses. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. (1 Jn 4:18) and For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father (Rom 8:15).
And he went on say: The Fear of the Lord is rooted in our relationship to God as adopted children. The Fear of the Lord is rooted in our love for God. The Fear of the Lord is rooted in our admiration for God. The Fear of God is rooted in our desire for unity with God. The Fear of God is rooted in our appreciation for God’s Holiness.
That helps me understand Job’s theology. Job’s life is lived understanding himself to be a child who is in awe of, who loves, who admires and appreciates the holiness of this parent who has adopted him. That’s what it means that Job fears God. It also sharpens Satan’s inquiry: “Does Job fear God for nothing?”
I’m sure you’ve heard sermons based on the three different Greek words translated as ‘love’. From the Latin Augustine distinguished two kinds of love “uti” and “frui”. Uti love is the love of use. I love money — not because I particularly enjoy looking at it or feeling it. I love money because I can use it to get something else I want. That’s Uti. “Frui” love is a bit more complex. I love chocolate, not because of what I use it for, which really isn’t all that good for me. It puts weight me and drives up my cholesterol. It doesn’t matter. I love chocolate. Frui.
Augustine said we have this bad habit of loving God with uti love. That is we love God because we hope to get God to help us get whatever we want: success, status, a lucky break… We pray “Lord, I’m after the good life, so, bless me! But God prefers not to be used. God wants us to love God with frui love. That is we just love God, not because of what we get out of it, but just because God is God, and we would do anything for God.
That was the question wasn’t it. Does Job serve God for nothing? As Job learned there are times it’s hard to enjoy God. Longfellow said “Into every life some rain must fall.” A little shower we can deal with. It’s the hurricane Katerinas that sweep us away. Maybe God’s job isn’t to make us rich. But shouldn’t God as a minimum shield us from the harsher winds. When we pray the prayer Jesus taught us to pray don’t we pray that God should deliver us from evil, shelter us from disaster?
Why do bad thing happen to good people? And doesn’t faith have some obligation to give neat, tidy answers — always transparently false: “God needed her in heaven” — but what kind of God has such selfish needs? “He’s in a better place.” If heaven is so much better, why are people lining up, rushing to get out of here? Then there are cruelly pious folks who portray God as vindictive, who proclaim that the AIDS epidemic is God’s punishment on homosexuals. I suppose then that heart attacks are God’s punishment for indulging in a high cholesterol diet, or the common cold God’s vengeance on those who fail to wear a hat. Job’s friends offered this kind of nonsense, and he rightly waved off their counsel.
Suffering has no discernable educational value, at least not in this life. Nothing is more obscene than to suggest that God kills in order to get somebody’s attention. God is not sadistic. God is love. A God who childishly gets even, lashes out, strikes back is no God. Such a god we should refuse to believe or serve. But neither is God a perfectionist. God is love. God could have created a perfect world, with perfect people, no illness, no evil, no flaws. But God is more interested in love than in perfection.
Plenty of bad things happen simply because at times we aren’t as smart as we think we are. We are smart enough to design airplanes that defy gravity — but human as we are we need not be surprised when an occasional plane crashes. We are smart enough to use the heat off nuclear reaction to generate electricity but shouldn’t be all that surprised that we placed such a facility within range of a sunami. We hurtle automobiles at one another, inches apart; little wonder that now and then someone hits the accelerator instead of the brake and ends up in the river. Many disasters and the spread of disease can be traced to this mingling of human ingenuity and human fallibility. You can’t take it personally, or blame God, when a there is a crash, a fire, or accident strikes. God’s will isn’t done all the time.
In suffering there is always an unexplainable element. Elie Wiesel imagined Job, surviving his catastrophe, hurling a barb at God; “Very well, I forgive you, but what about my dead children? Do they forgive you?” The Bible doesn’t explain suffering. But in the Bible, people frequently cry out in agony, storming heaven with their protests. Maybe we need more of this defiant spirit in order to be truly faithful. Never stop being outraged at what is evil! Shame on us for reducing suffering to an intellectual exercise. And never stop resisting evil. Jesus didn’t explain evil, he resisted it!
And God refuses to leave us alone in our pain. Somehow God embraces us in our suffering. We are not alone. Jesus didn’t just endure the cross, he succumbed to it. And after his being sealed in the tomb God overcame death and raised Jesus to life. Here is the beauty, the power of the Christian faith. Jesus is there when we hurt.
Does Job fear God for nothing? Do we serve God for nothing? We serve God, not because we decided to be good as payment for a megaball ticket with a promised huge payout when we get to the end of the line. We serve God because God is God, and because God is love, because God is with us through whatever. Beyond the pain, redeeming the hurt, never letting us go Christ is there to accompany us. I can’t wrap my little human mind around it all but I have to accept that the future is God’s.
How do we live until then? Near the end of “Farewell to Arms,” Hemingway wrote, “The world breaks everyone, and then some become strong in the broken places.” We hang on. We bank our faith on this God who knows reality. We become strong. And we look for others who are broken, and we love them,
The doctor breaks the news: I’m sorry, it’s malignant, there’s nothing we can do. But there’s something you and I can do. We can be there. C. S. Lewis, when he stopped lecturing about suffering and faced the real-life suffering of his own wife, wrote these words: “No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid . There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. It is so uninteresting. Yet I want others to be about me. I dread the moments when the house is empty. If only they would talk to one another and not to me.”
What can we do? We can show up. Not like Job’s friends with nonsense about Job’s character or God’s. And I believe that when we are there, together, we’ll discover that God is there, in our midst, in our suffering. That’s about the best we can do.