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“An Important Question from the Book of Job”
The Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost
Then the Lord answered Job, saying, “Who is this, who keeps speaking words without knowledge?” Every three years, the lectionary places, in the path of the church throughout the world, those words from the book of Job; that long awaited, much anticipated, moment when, at long last, God answers Job’s questions.
By this point in the book of Job, by my count, Job has asked one hundred and fourteen questions; from “Why won’t God let me die?” to “Why has God made me God’s target?” to “Why do the wicked prosper, while the innocent suffer?” Question upon question, one after another, a hundred and fourteen in all; during all of which, God remains silent.
Until, at last, we get to today’s lesson from the book of Job, where, finally, God responds to Job’s questions with, much to Job’s dismay and ours, more questions; sixty of them in all, so many questions for Job, from God, that they consume three chapters of the book of Job; the book which bears Job’s name, like the life which bears Job’s pain, just one hard question after another.
One of the most important of which rarely receives much attention; a question Satan asks God all the way back at the beginning of the story, when God points out to Satan what a model citizen Job is, going so far as to say that there aren’t many souls in this world who love God as deeply, or serve God as faithfully, as Job, to which Satan replies, “Does Job love God for nothing?”
“Why wouldn’t Job love you?” asks Satan. “You’ve given him everything anyone could ever want. Let’s send Job some trouble, and, then, we’ll find out what your star student is really made of. Surely,” concluded Satan, “You don’t think Job loves you for nothing, do you?”; a question which is large enough, back there on the page, but which grows larger, still, when we cross the hermeneutical bridge from Job to Jackson, and pose the same question to our life with, and love for, God. Do we love God in exchange for some hoped for blessing or reward or protection? Or, to borrow the language of the book of Job, do we, “Love God for nothing”?
For many of us, the answer to that question changes, and evolves, as life goes by. I cannot speak for you, but, as for me, there once was a time when I would have said, “No, I don’t love God for nothing; I love God for something. I love and serve God in exchange for blessings, in this life, and rewards, in the next;” the idea being that, if I love God deeply enough, and serve God faithfully enough, then, in exchange for my loyalty and devotion, God will protect and bless me and mine.
But, it’s been a long time since motivations such as those incentivized my life with God. Somewhere along the way, how or when I cannot say, I actually learned to love God without any thought of a blessing, or a reward.
I think it happens that way for many of the children of God. At first, we see our life with God as a transaction; operating on the assumption that, if we love God deeply enough, and serve God faithfully enough, then, in exchange for our devotion, God will answer our prayers, protect our loved ones and guard our well-being; a transactional approach to our life with, and love for, God, where everything is a transaction: If we do this for God, God will do that for us.
Then, somewhere along the way, we come to see that life does not always work that way, and that we cannot do enough good, attend enough church or give enough money to obligate God to guard our happiness or protect our family. Rather, as Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, “The rain falls and the sun shines on the good and the bad.”
And, once we come to see that, once we come to see that we live in a world where wonderful things happen and terrible things happen, and if any of them can happen to anyone, all of them can happen to everyone, then we begin to know the freedom and the joy which come with what the book of Job calls, “Loving God for nothing”; what I call “Loving God as unconditionally as God loves us”; loving God, and serving God, with never a thought about reward or punishment or any other external motivation or incentive; loving God, exactly the same, in good times and bad, happy and sad; content to know that, no matter what, God is with us and God is for us; sometimes taking us around the worst, and sometimes seeing us through the worst, but always with us and always for us, no matter what; the same way we are always with God and for God, no matter what.
If we can stay on the path to depth with God long enough, prayerfully enough, that is the place at which we might eventually arrive. Stay on the path to depth long enough, prayerfully enough; walking in the Holy Spirit carefully enough, and, eventually, we might come out into that deep, wide, wonderful place where we are completely content to get up every day and love God the same way God loves us; unconditionally, no strings attached, no matter what.