There was once a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job. So begins the Book of Job. The Lord and Satan make a little bet: Satan believes that if he inflicts Job with unbearable sores that Job will curse the Lord. The Lord knows Job will remain faithful. Even Job’s wife is depicted as telling Job to curse God and die. Give up your integrity is what she actually says. Give it up and get it over with she seems to say.
It is a long standing assumption that the overriding question in this tale is, “Why do the righteous suffer?” This, in theological terms, is called Theodicy – the problem of suffering. It is also assumed that this is some sort of game on God’s part – toying around with Job, allowing Satan to have his way with him. The problem with these texts is that we get are all too easily convinced to accept the standard interpretations.
The Japanese Zen tradition has a word – Shoshin. It means “Beginner’s Mind.” In the beginner’s mind there are endless possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few. Shoshin. We are too quick to accept the interpretations and determinations of the experts – the professionals. When we allow ourselves to encounter these texts as if for the first time we might find that the experts may have missed things we need to hear.
For instance, Job reiterates an essential Biblical bottom line – the sun shines on the good and the bad, the rain falls on the good and the bad. God has faith in Job. Job has faith in God. And Job remains faithful to his wife despite her insistence that he be done with the Lord and die.
His friends try to get him to give up on God. Satan gives it his best shot. Job’s only fault is that he believes he knows all there is to know about God. Yet, God does not give up on Job. God speaks out of the whirlwind to set the record straight – there is more to God than we can ever know, explain or pin down. God gives Job a lesson in Shoshin.
Could it be that the story is about holding on to our integrity in spite of all that comes our way – the good and the bad, the sunshine and the rain? For it turns out that no matter what happens, God cares about us. We matter. God is not toying with Job – God believes in Job. God is not toying with us – God believes in us.
We are the most special thing God has created – not the only special thing, but the most special thing. If we are to maintain our integrity, this revelation ought to be humbling. Where things go wrong is when we believe being created in the image of God entitles us to do whatever we want, however we want, whenever we want.
The Greeks had a word for this – hubris. We are deep into the season of hubris – whether it is this particular political season, or whether it is this season of humankind. We spend lifetimes becoming experts, technicians, believing we can know it all. It has led to a growing culture of ego driven Narcissism. We isolate ourselves further and further from God, from each other and from ourselves because we feel we need to know it all. Such hubris prevents us from grasping any hint of what this story is about because all we can imagine is that is must be a story about us-or more specifically about me. That’s how the Bible is read these days – as some sort of self-help book about me and how I can be a better person, be more successful in business and have the best abs in town all at the same time.
Had we an ounce of Shoshin we might see. We might hear. We might get it. These stories, as helpful as they may be for me or for you are primarily about someone else. God.
At the end of the day this tale about a family man who is down on his luck is not about whether or not he has faith in God. That’s the mistake Satan makes.
The story of Job is the story of the Bible, is the story of Biblical faith – which says that no matter what, good or bad, rain or shine, the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jesus has faith in us.
God has faith in us. God has faith in human kind. God has faith that no matter what we all can be righteous people like Job, like Noah, like Paul, like…well yes, like Jesus. That can be the only reason way back in Genesis God created us in the image of God – male AND female he created us in the image of God’s own image.
God has faith in us. It is interesting to note that historically and anthropologically speaking, religion itself is not primarily about God. Religion is our attempt, often a lame one at that, to answer a few basic questions: Where are we? Why are we here? What, if anything, ought we be doing?
If there is a fatal flaw in religion and the religious life it may be summed up in these questions that mislead us into thinking it is all about us. God in Job, God in Jesus, God in Moses, God in Muhammad, says no. The only reason we might have faith at all is because God has faith in us.
That’s it. God has faith in us. And God has hope. God’s hope is that we might actually live our lives inspired, moved, motivated if you must, by the knowledge that God loves us AND has faith in us – faith that one day we might do the right thing in any given situation, rain or shine, good days and bad days.
And it is not about how we feel. It is about how God feels when we do – when we live up to God’s faith and hope and we become, despite our narcissistic selves, righteous people. God’s righteous people. What a beautiful world it will be. Shoshin!
The Reverend Kirk A Kubicek, Saint Timothy’s School for Girls, Stevenson, MD