Archibald MacLeish re-imagines the story of Job in the play titled “J.B.” In this scene, the Job character is recounting the blessings of his life, before things start to go horribly wrong:
“It isn’t luck when God is good to you. It’s something more. It’s like those dizzy daft old lads who dowse for water. They feel the alder twig twist down and know they’ve got it and they have; they’ve got it. Blast the ledge and water gushes at you. And they knew. It wasn’t luck. They knew. They felt the gush go shuddering through their shoulders, huge as some mysterious certainty of opulence. They couldn’t hold it. I can’t hold it. I’ve always know that God was with me. I’ve tried to show I knew it – not only in words…
“But I believe in it…I trust in it. I trust my luck – my life – our life – God’s goodness to me.” (J.B. Boston, 1956. p. 37-8)
Job tells the story of a righteous man, a man who does everything right. He takes care of his family. He worships God. He cares for his community.
But meanwhile, unbeknownst to him, his fate is being discussed on a heavenly plane. God invites a conversation with Satan about Job and how strong his faith really is. Now, let me give a quick clarification about Satan. The Hebrew word is actually Hassatan. This is not the Satan in the Far Side cartoons, or Milton’s Paradise Lost, or even the Satan of the New Testament. The ancient Hebrews did not have the same view of a prince of darkness. Instead, Hassastan is the accuser. The adversary. He is like the prosecuting attorney in the trial of Job. God and Hassatan are having this conversation, or debate, about how righteous Job actually is.
And so in the midst of this conversation is the first question that we explore in the series, “Have you considered my servant Job?”
“Check out my boy,” God says. “You accuse and criticize and debase, but not my boy. He’s as righteous as they get.”
Hassatan replies, “Really? Watch what happens when he loses all his stuff. His family. His health. Then we’ll see how faithful he is.”
And lose he does. His money. His home. His children. His health.
He is a man once pristeen and perfect – an example of godliness for all to see…now broken.
But by the end of the second chapter, he is scraping his oozing sores with broken pieces of a pot.
The story of Job never ceases to engage. Generation after generation, it has been a story that grabs people and pulls them in:
- It is a complex story – filled with emotional ambiguity and complexity, even causing us to wonder who the good guy really is.
- It is an honest story – it pulls no punches as it deals with deep places within our souls.
- It is a dark story – very few other places can we hear the story of anguish and pain and apparent injustice quite like the story of Job. Maybe the Psalms. Definitely on the cross.
Which is why we enter into this season of Lent listening to the voice of Job. For Lent takes us on a journey parallel to Job.
- It is a complex season – we struggle with whether we are supposed to feel happy for Easter coming, or complicit guilt for Good Friday, or both.
- It is an honest season – Lent invites us to face the truth of our own finitude, the reality of our own needs and wants as we sacrifice and take up our own cross, many of us “giving something up” for Lent.
- It is a dark season – on Ash Wednesday, we wear ashes upon our foreheads, we take the word “Halleluiah” out of the liturgy, we remove the flowers from our worship space. For forty days of prayer and preparation, we connect to a sense of the starkness and darkness of the season.
And so, we carry these two – this story and this season – together. And we ask of each questions of the soul. I have found that Job is really more a book about questions than it is one of answers. This is why the sermon series this Lent is titled “Questions from Job.” We have to hold the book with a sense of curiosity and not rigidity or clarity. As soon as we think we have it figured out, stomping down on the truth, we find it is like one of those lily pads at the pool, that slips out from under us and leaves us less surefooted than before.
And so this morning, we face two questions back to back. One spoken, one unspoken.
First, God asks, “Have you considered my servant Job?” My boy. My righteous one.
And in response, Hassatan responds, “Perhaps he is righteous today, because you have blessed him beyond measure. Sure he loves you when he is given everything. But would he love you if he didn’t get anything out of it?”
And the question just kind of hangs there. For 40 chapters, it hangs there. For 4,000 years, it hangs there. Because the question speaks to every generation and every person of faith and echoes in our own hearts and our own minds, today. And this Lenten season, the question faces each of us, “Would I love God if I didn’t get anything out of it?”
Bernard of Clairvaux, a French monk who lived and taught almost 1000 years ago, struggled with that question as well. He wrote a work titled, “On the Love of God,” in which he names separate degrees of love.
The first degree is the love of self for self’s sake. That one is easy to point out. I must meet my own needs. I must take care of myself. My happiness is paramount. It is an immature love, one associated with children or young people. Some of us never grow out of it.
The second degree of love is the love of God…for self’s sake. Eventually, we are able to get out of our own world and realize that we do indeed love God! But deep down, that love is really because of what we get out of the deal. God gives me blessings in this life. God takes care of me when life gets hard. God will one day reward me with the joy of heaven. I love God, but really for what I am getting out of it. Again, this is a love that many of us never really grow out of.
But Bernard says that there is a third degree of love – the love of God, for God’s sake. This is when we stop loving God only for the things that we are given in return, but simply because. It’s not that hard to understand – we can translate it into familial relationships well, can’t we?
- I only love my husband if…he buys me things? No. I love him just because.
- I only love my mother because…she raised me? No. I love her just because.
- I only love my children if…they get good grades? No. I love them just because.
- Bernard asks if we can say the same thing about our love for God? I only love God if my life is healthy and happy or I am blessed in this world or I get to go to heaven when I die? Or do I love God just because?
At some level, this is the basic question of the book of Job. At least according to authors Wes Eades and Milton Horne. Eades is a licensed counselor and ordained pastor and Horne is an Old Testament professor and Job scholar. Together, they write with clarity in their book Whirlwind about the book of Job, which is one part Hebrew parable and one part emotional case study.
They suggest that this question is the core question of the book: will Job love God just because? Or only because he is blessed? They believe that Job is a book about disinterested faith. When they say disinterested, they don’t mean in terms of apathetic or bored. They aren’t talking about your average middle school teenager at a bingo parlor with his grandmother on Friday night. They aren’t talking about me during the Olympics when they aired hours and hours of figure skating. Those aren’t really disinterested as much as uninterested.
But Eades and Horne, and really Bernard said it first, that disinterested love is love of God for God’s sake, not for our own interests. It is not dependent on what we get out of the relationship. It is faith without an agenda. It is faith that is not a means to an end, but an end to itself. Faith that is unhinged from our expectations for God, our qualifications for God.
Hassatan asks God, “What if Job did not get anything out of this relationship? No money? No children? No blessings? Would he still have faith? Or would he curse you and die?”
What would happen if God and Hassatan had that discussion about us? Could we say that our faith is disinterested? Our conviction is without agenda? Our trust is without ultimatums? Our love is without qualifications?
Eades and Horne suggest a test for whether or not faith in God is disinterested or not. They ask us to fill in the blank of this sentence: “My life is only okay if ___________________.” … my stock portfolio is safe……. my job is secure and I can afford to live in my house…my spouse and kids are healthy.
More often than not, they suggest, the way that you would fill in the blank at the end of that statement (“my life is only okay if _________”) is probably the definition of idolatry in your life.
For Jesus said, “leave everything, even your mother and father and follow me.”
And Hassatan said, “if you take all his good stuff, he’ll whine like a kid up past bedtime.”
What about us? How do we get there? How do we cultivate disinterested love? Love of God for God’s sake, and not our own? Bernard has an answer to that question: “if we begin to worship and come to God again and again by meditating, by reading, by prayer, and by obedience, little by little God becomes known to us through experience. We enter into a sweet familiarity with God, and by tasting how sweet the Lord is we pass into the third degree of love so that now we love God, not for our own sake, but for himself.”
Worship. Meditating. Reading. Prayer. Obedience. Practices of a disinterested faith.
Scott Dannemiller adds one more practice for us to consider this Lent. He writes that Christians need to stop saying that we are “blessed.” But we do it all the time, don’t we?
- How are you today? I’m blessed.
- God has blessed me with such beautiful ___________.
- I’m blessed to be able to have this job or house or whatever.
And when we do it, we do it out of good intentions. We don’t want to say that we are just lucky…that by some level of chance, we get this stuff. We want to say that God is behind it. But Dannemiller, who is a former missionary, suggests that we think about what using that word communicates to the rest of the world. It suggests that the things in our life are what make us blessed. What does that communicate to someone who doesn’t have them? Who doesn’t have the job or the house or cannot have the children? That they are for some reason not blessed? Or, if like Job, what happens when we lose those things? Are we no longer blessed? Then what did we do to lose our blessing? Dannemiller reminds us instead that when Jesus used that word – blessed – it was to describe the poor, the meek, the peacemakers, the persecuted – those the world would call anything but blessed. So, Dannemiller suggests, that instead of claiming that we are “blessed,” it would be more thoughtful – and humble – to say simply that we are “Grateful.” In plenty. Or in want. So, with hearts of gratitude and hope for the season, let us challenge one another to a deeper, disinterested faith.