Where were you?

Job thinks he’s been hard done by. After all, he was a righteous man, who did good, and followed God’s commandments. But since God’s deal with Satan, misfortune has overtaken him, and he doesn’t understand why. His friends are no help, suggesting maybe he really deserved it, if he’d done this or that differently he’d be fine. Now, in today’s reading, we hear the beginning of God’s response: “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?” (Job 38:4) The following verses proclaim God’s work in creating the world and watching over it. God reminds Job that Job’s not in control, God is. These words are echoed in Psalm 104, where the psalmist asserts, “You have set the earth on its foundations . . . O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all. (Psalm 104:5, 25)

We would mostly, like Job, want there to be a reason for suffering. “Why me?” is our frequent response to problems. Few of us want illness, suffering and pain, and if we can do something to prevent them, we will. People want to think that by virtuous living (whether it’s diet and exercise, or ethical decisions, or going to church every Sunday) they can escape illness, disaster, and loss. But it doesn’t work that way. Our response to such events is like Job’s: to lament, to cry out in grief and rage and ask why.

God’s response to Job is a reminder that we can’t control the outcome, which takes some responsibility off us. At the end, Job, who has now heard God’s voice again, proclaims not his virtue but his ignorance: “I have uttered what I did not understand, thing too wonderful for me, which I did not know.” (Job 42:3) I’m not happy with ignorance, and our own stories don’t always wrap up as neatly. Few of us have the reward of Job, who received “twice as much as he had before” (Job 42:10)! As we confront the losses we inevitably face, Job reminds us that this is not a new story; if we’re lucky, somewhere in the midst we will hear God’s voice.

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