"But stretch out your hand now, and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.'1The Lord said to Satan, 'Very well, all that he has is in your power; only do not stretch out your hand against him!' So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord" Job 1:11-12."For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known" 1 Corinthians 13:12.
Can one solve the problems in the world in one hour as we see on television "Law and Order" programs? Samuel Balentine says, "No." Balentine has written a substantial (750 page) volume on the book of Job. Job, who is innocent of any wrongdoing, has been attacked by Satan. This tempter and God have this contest brewing as to whether Job is a righteous man because he is rewarded for his good works, or do the integrity of the good works in and of themselves merit Job's actions? Job is tormented in terms of loss of health, family, property, and livestock. So his friends sit at a fire with him in silence. Once they start speaking, they defend their own sense of religious "Orthodoxy" in categories of "retribution." That is God punishes the wicked and rewards the righteous. Job protests his innocence and even wishes to take God to court, but knows one cannot argue against the Judge in this same court.
Job's friends assure him that evil certainly does get punished. One sees kings, thieves and corrupt people get their retribution all of the time. Their logic assumes if this be the case, then good people will eventually be rewarded. The "problem" with this logic is presently embodied in a wounded, devastated man of God named "Job." Balentine argues in his book that the numerous "Law and Order" television shows suggest that since the authorities do meticulous investigation and prosecution in order to punish the culprits of the show, then it is a logical leap to conclude that those who are "good" will be rewarded. But will they? There is gray ambiguity here that suggests good people suffer all of the time without cause. Job's friends prefer the "black and white" categories of the populist religion of their times. Job's presence contests this neatly laid out religion of which they are beneficiaries! Repeatedly, they attack Job's claims of righteousness. They are petrified to concede that maybe there are no answers and God has a larger plan in mind than even the popular religion of the day cannot imagine. However, Job's friends are like television viewers who want the crime to be solved and prosecuted within the hour on "Law and Order." Maybe people's problems, community problems and organization problems are full of ambiguities and gray areas. Where is God now?
Many in the Judaism of that time were and are willing to allow the ambiguity and stand or sit with Ecclesiastes and declare all is "vanity." This is a viable option and is in the Hebrew Bible. Christians stand with St. Paul in 1 Corinthians to suggest "Now I know only in part." That is God reveals only fragments of his plans to creation at any given time. Meanwhile, God suffers alongside us, and identifies with Job people in the community. This was not the final word, as there was new life after death. Finally, sometimes, we simply do not have the simple "Law and Order" solution to people and community problems. I ponder this as I see small congregations such as mine struggle with attendance and finances. Our problems are not solved in one hour, but by us being present with one another without "judging" is one direction I believe all small town and rural folks can carry on as a daily ministry. Amen.