Job’s Story: Restored But Scarred

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I am convinced that the unknown author of the Biblical book of Job simply got the name wrong; surely it’s the Book of Joe. The similarities are to striking to be coincidental, the lessons taught touching nerves that cause us to wince.  Perhaps you can relate. Maybe you believe it should be the Book of Steve or the Book of Cathy because you know too well the pain of living from one calamity to another, waiting on answers that never come, believing for miracles that never come to fruition.

The recording of Job is one of the great mysteries of the faith and one that most of us if honest really struggle with.  It’s tantamount to asking your dad “why” only to hear him respond, “because I said so”.  We in our selfish nature want to attach to this story our understanding of justice and fairness.  Our finite comprehension of God wants to ask the same questions Job’s friends did.  We who read carefully want to inquire of God why it is the He pointed out Job to satan and why He removed His hand of protection from a man that the Bible describes as the most righteous man in all the earth at the time. Surely if Job was not spared what chance do we stand who would hardly be labeled as righteous?  Why must rain fall on both the just and the unjust? Aren’t we supposed to be blessed as believers-to be highly favored and to prosper in all we do?  Isn’t the Word of God unchanging and His promises unbreakable? Or is the hedge of protection around us only so high?  Why must believers suffer great losses here on earth if we are attempting to walk upright before God?  Age-old and still unanswered questions that have always been and will always be.

The story of Job is one that most of us have heard or read so many times that we feel we could tell it ourselves.  It is always preached the same as if the sermon is simply a boilerplate template from Sermons Du Jour that any seminary grad student has access to. But there are aspects to this story when digging deeper that you never hear taught from the pulpit.  One is simply an oversight, that of Job’s wife.  Those who mention her do so with contempt as the devil’s advocate without considering her plight.  For instance, the ten children Job lost, she bore, and a mother’s grief is unbearable. She shared in Job’s wealth so she too suffered in his losses. And when she had lost all her children and her financial stability she alone was left to take care of a husband who was sick and helpless.  Yes she spoke out in anger at a low point in her life, and so have I-many times.  But she remained and endured and is seldom credited for her faithfulness to her husband “in sickness and health, good times and bad”. Much more could be written in her defense.

But while reading the story again, as I often find myself doing during those times when I can relate, I saw something I missed the first hundred times I read the story, something obvious but not noticed before. When Job’s life is preached we usually hear the same outline, Job good, satan bad, Job loses everything, Job repents, God restores Job double for his losses.  The implication is that faithfulness in God always pays off in the end and that everything lost will be restored many times over.  It makes for a feel good Osteen-esque sermon, even though we still can’t get past the human response to question God’s purpose in picking on such a godly man. But this is what I missed and what I want to share in case you missed it as well. Job did not emerge from this fierce Heavenly tug of war without serious permanent scars and painful reminders of his season of loss and torment. First there is the consideration of his physical affliction.  Scripture says that upon satan’s appeal God allowed him to attack Job’s body.  It is recorded that Job was suffering from painful boils from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head.  It also says that Job tried to escape the agony by scraping these boils.  I would never interject what the Bible leaves out, but we do have knowledge of boils through modern medicine and from this we can deduce that these boils, just as they do now, left permanent scars, especially given the fact that Job scraped these, a definite no-no in any modern medical journal because doing so increases scarring. In reading of God’s restoration of Job in chapter 42, no mention is made of Job’s physical healing.  We can assume in time his health was restored but the Bible is silent so we can only apply what we know of these boils now-painful with permanent scarring.  If so, every time Job looked in a mirror he would have been reminded of his epic battle with satan. And if like me many of the same feelings and questions would have surfaced and Job would have to remind himself each and every time of God’s faithfulness.

While Job’s physical state is left somewhat to speculation, there is something else I noticed that is right there as plain as day-something else that would have served as a painful memorial to Job’s battle.  Scripture records that everything Job lost was restored two fold, and that he was even blessed with ten more children, the daughters being described as beautiful beyond belief. But Job is recorded as living another one hundred and forty years after his season of testing.  Here is what I missed.

Everyday for one hundred and forty years Job had to walk past the graves of his first ten children.

We are given a glimpse as to how dearly Job loved his kids.  We know they were adults so Job was a part of their lives for many years and they were a big part of his. We know Job considered their welfare so much that he offered up sacrifices for their sins so God would have mercy upon them in case they stepped out of line with Him. As we read how the story unfolds each messenger comes and relays to Job how his oxen and donkeys were stolen and his servants killed, how his sheep were wiped out by a fire from heaven, how his camels were stolen and those servants also killed, all with  no response from Job. It is only after the last messenger tells Job that his children all perished when their house caved in on them that we read Job became distraught, tore his robe, shaved his head and fell to the ground in grief. It is apparent that Job’s greatest and most unbearable loss was the death of his sons and daughters.

Decorating the graves of our loved ones is a tradition.  Even knowing our loved one is with the Lord we are compelled to visit the place where we laid the shell to rest and to remember the life and reflect on the earthly absence in somber remembrance. Most likely Job’s children were all buried on his property with stone markers that would be evident from a long distance and I would imagine Job would have been compelled to visit, decorate and remember, just as we do today.  Yes Job was restored and his faithful wife was blessed to give birth to ten more children (blessed? that would make 20 natural births). But those who have lost children or spouses are painfully aware that no number of children or any blessing of a new mate will ever erase the memory of those you loved and lost. Through photos, memories and grave stones they exist forever.

Job’s earthly restoration was miraculous and generous, but not complete. He was left with scars, battle wounds and constant reminders of his testing and lived with them for another one hundred and forty years. To be honest I have never liked the story of Job, primarily because I have a hard time getting past my selfish arrogance in questioning God’s fairness and purpose with my finite comprehension. I don’t like or relish the thought of being the battleground God uses to prove a point to satan.  I want to grow in the knowledge of Christ but without the pain that accompanies the testing and refining process. I don’t want my friends looking upon me with pity.  I want to be the one who raises other’s spirits, the life of the party, the happy-go-lucky person with the Teflon persona that nothing sticks to. My desire is to be that person who is blessed on earth by a wealthy God who spoils me with goodness that the preacher describes in his false teaching of prosperity by works. But that is not my life and it’s probably not yours either.

Scripture is clear that we will each be rewarded in a heavenly kingdom.  We are told to lay up for ourselves treasure in Heaven.  We are told that our good deeds are credited to a heavenly account. All indications are that we must live life and endure trials, hardships and losses here on earth without any guarantee of a Job like restoration. We will go through periods, seasons and for some lifetimes of silence from a God we have to trust in the darkest of times and the fiercest of storms. We sometimes have to navigate life when we can’t see our hand in front of our face and can only take one step forward at a time when the winds are blowing directly against us. We have to pray when there are no words, study when there is little desire and believe when all indicators suggest not to. If there was a magic potion or spell to make this process we all face easier, I’d own the world. God knows our doubts, sees our struggles with faith, hears our non-verbal prayers and feels our distress. I wish I couldn’t write these words from personal trials and seasons of my own doubt, but I can and I do. When tears no longer come, when the pain is so intense it causes numbness, when all hope and light seems to have vanquished from your world, God remains.

Just one more observation from this story, one which supports the notion of a heavenly reward and eternal afterlife. Job received back double for all his losses, except his children.  He lost ten but was only blessed with ten, not twenty.  Did God oops?  No. Job realized that portion of his restoration when he was reunited with them in paradise.  God didn’t forget or short change Job, and He won’t forget us even when we are tempted to give in to our own disbelief. We have no other recourse. It has to be so.

 

 

 

 

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Blessed Art Thou Among….Men?

Guido_Reni_-_Saint_Joseph_and_the_Christ_Child_-_Google_Art_Project

Even if you were not raised Catholic you are most likely aware of the Hail Mary prayer, “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.  Blessed art thou among women…” The Christmas story centers largely around Mary, the Theotokos, the Mother of Jesus, as it should. The virgin birth of our savior is a key element of our faith and belief. But little attention is given to Joseph the man charged with being the earthly father and protector of young Jesus.  The New Testament doesn’t mention Joseph again after Jesus debuts in the temple as a young boy.  The Western church gives him little attention while the Catholic and Orthodox churches venerated him as a Saint. Joseph holds a very unique place in the story of the Incarnate birth, one that is rarely mentioned or considered, a privilege that is hard to fathom.

The Gospels record that Joseph was commissioned by an angel to take charge of young Mary.  The two of them make their journey to Bethlehem while Mary is in her last stages of pregnancy.  On that night in the holding area for livestock Mary gives birth to Jesus. There is no recording of anyone being present with her except Joseph.  So what special privilege does Joseph hold that no other human can boast?  Having witnessed the birth of all my sons and my granddaughter and understanding the birthing process, there can only be one conclusion.  As he is the only one present to assist Mary with her birth, it is Joseph who is the first to behold baby Jesus as He enters into our globe, and it is Joseph who is the first to touch and hold our incarnate savior before he presents Him to Mary. Wow! Scripture records that the angel told Mary she was highly favored, but that same favor must have surely rested upon Joseph as well as his was the first human encounter with the eternal lamb.

Each Christmas I try to imagine the story from the perspective of some of the other characters mentioned in scripture.  However, I’m not sure how one could adequately capture the emotions of the realization through the Holy Spirit that you are holding in your hands your own creator and creator of the universe.  Did Joseph swell up with joy, did he cringe at the thought of being God’s earthy protector? Did he have a clue to the mission and divine plan set into place by this birth?  One can only speculate.

Little else is recorded about Joseph in scripture.  We know that he is not present at the wedding in Canaan. Nor is he present at the crucifixion.  Had he been alive it would have been his responsibility to take custody of the body of Christ and arrange the burial, but that wasn’t the case.  The fifth century apocryphal biography of Joseph gives us some interesting clues as to the life of Joseph that answers questions the story poses. The biography lists the birth of Joseph as being 90 B.C. and his death about 18 A.D. These dates throw a curve into our western perception of a young couple in Bethlehem as often depicted in our nativities, but largely supports what the absence of scripture may suggest. These dates would make Joseph ninety years old when betrothed to Mary, and he would have died at the age of well over one hundred years, before Jesus enters into His ministry. The biography records Joseph as being a widow with children, which would account for the step siblings of Jesus. It is not recorded that Joseph and Mary had any children. This too is important in the theology that Mary was a perpetual virgin. Tradition has it that Joseph died near or in the arms of Jesus and Mary, and in the ministry of heaven’s angels.

Whatever conclusion your personal research may lead you to, one can’t deny the unique privilege Joseph holds in the  Christmas story. To find favor in the sight of God, to be charged with the earthly paternity of God’s Son, to be the first human eyes to behold Jesus, the first rough but blessed hands to touch and hold Him-who among us can attain such favor! There is every good reason for Joseph to be venerated as a Saint for his role in this blessed tradition we call Christmas.

A Response to the Papal Visit

Pope Francis greets a child after celebrating Mass on the feast of Pentecost in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican May 19. (CNS photo/Alessia Giuliani, Catholic Press Photo) (May 20, 2013) See POPE-PENTECOST May 20, 2013.

This week Pope Francis, the recognized leader of the Catholic church made his first visit to the U.S. Pope Francis is extremely popular, not only among the Catholic church but with many non-Catholics as well.  His outward demeanor, his refusal to hide behind the peaceful sanitary confines of the Vatican in favor of mingling with his flock and dirtying his hand in service have not gone unnoticed.  He is truly a peoples’ Pope.

The overwhelming crowds and cheers along his parade route and the pomp of his arrival yesterday is not too surprising.  What is surprising, however are those who not only oppose his visit and his views, but who do so with disdain and a classless disrespect for the position.  Just today on popular social media sites he has been called a moron, a dope, a tree-hugger and other unmentionable labels by those who have no fear or reverence for the Church or its leaders. The protestors and hate mongers have already made their presence known and this is only the first full day of the Pope’s visit.

I am not a Catholic but I attended a Catholic High School and I appreciate the history of the Catholic Church and understand somewhat its long held Christian views on many of the social issues that have polarized the Church. I don’t have to be in agreement with every stance held by the Catholic Church any more than I agree with all the various Protestant beliefs of my current practice. That said, the Catholic church, perhaps more so than the Protestant counterpart, has held firm and in line with the Biblical views on the sanctity of marriage, the protection of the unborn and the benevolence of the under privileged that society chooses to overlook. Pope Francis favors responsible and reasonable capitalism as a means to further provide for the “least of these”. To many he seems to be saying and doing all the right things.  This fact alone has brought out the end-timers in great numbers.

Throughout modern history there have been those who are sure who the anti-Christ will be, where he will come from and how we will recognize him.  Various apocalyptic movies have portrayed the anti-Christ coming from the Vatican.  You don’t have to search past the first google page to find articles claiming the possibility of this Pope being the anti-Christ.  While I am not ashamed to admit I don’t know everything, I find it both laughable and sad that a man who is doing everything according to scripture, both Catholic and Protestant scripture, and consequently being hailed by the hundreds of millions he represents as the genuine article, is being labeled an anti-Christ because of his resulting popularity. Katy Perry, Justin Bieber, Barack Obama and Taylor Swift EACH have over 60 MILLION followers on Twitter.  Should we be looking at them as possible anti-Christs because of their popularity? Is there any credibility in the criteria being used to prop up the Pope as being Anti-Christian? I would argue that not only is that answer a resounding No but Pope Francis seems to be the embodiment of what a Christ follower should look like.  If you read scripture closely, you will see that everywhere Jesus went crowds followed.

Another argument touted by many non-Catholics is that no one man should be given so much attention or held in such a high esteem.  This would be true if one were propping himself up as a god to be worshipped and followed.  We are to have no gods but God.  However, there is a story in the book of Acts that gets little attention.  It involves the Apostle Peter, viewed by most as the first head of the Church.

“More and more people believed and were brought to the Lord-crowds of both men and women. As a result of the apostles work, sick people were brought into the streets on beds and mats so that Peter’s shadow might fall across some of them as he went by. Crowds came from the villages around Jerusalem bringing their sick and those possessed by evil spirits, and they were all healed.” …Acts Chapter 5

There is a lot of misunderstanding between the Catholic, the Orthodox and the Protestant churches, and sadly a lot of exclusivity. We don’t accept iconology so it must be wrong.  We don’t get incense or confession so it must be inaccurate.  We don’t accept free worship and non-liturgical approaches so they too must not be correct. I wish it weren’t so. I’ve looked and looked for geographical, denominational and liturgical parameters in scripture but to date, I have found none. What I have found is that God so loved all the world, He gave up His Son.  All who accept, believe, emulate and worship Him are called children of God.  I find that true religion consists of taking care of orphans, widows, homeless and the less fortunate without boundaries or qualifications. Any man that shows me how to do this has my respect as a religious leader, be they a Pope, an Orthodox priest, a monk, a nameless face working skid row, a missionary to a third world country or even (choke) a political leader. When we stand before the throne of Christ there will be no titles, no rankings, no vestments and no exclusive recognition.  We will be on our faces before the one true and forever leader of the Church. Until that day comes we have been given the Pope Francis’s and the Billy Grahams to emulate as leaders.  If we are called through Holy Scripture to uphold, pray for and respect those in public office, how much more should we show the same respect for our religious and spiritual leaders, even if outside of our faith approach or practice.  God bless Pope Francis and all like him who carry the banner of Christ.