From the Book of Job:
One day the heavenly beings came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them to present himself before the Lord. The Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the Lord, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” The Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil. He still persists in his integrity, although you incited me against him, to destroy him for no reason.” Then Satan answered the Lord, “Skin for skin! All that people have they will give to save their lives. But stretch out your hand now and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face.” The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, he is in your power; only spare his life.”
(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Job 2:1-6 – August 24, 2012)
Wow! Does this look familiar? The second chapter of Job begins with a scene nearly identical to that which we considered yesterday. Satan (with other heavenly beings) presents himself in the heavenly throne room and, once again, God and Satan have a conversation about Job and, once again, the bet is made. In fact, it’s sort of “double down” time! Yesterday, I argued that although the Book of Job is fiction it (like the other forms of literature found in Holy Scripture) embodies truth.
So what is the truth behind this scene? It’s a legitimate question. This picture of God wagering with Satan is important enough to the story that it is repeated. It must be telling us something. As I ponder it, I am struck by a “What if . . . . ?” A big “What if . . . . ?” What if God really does gamble with our lives? What if God really is a . . . jerk? Now, understand please, I don’t think that that is the truth behind this fictional scene, but what if . . . . ?
When I was reading theology in preparation for ordination, one of the modern theologians I most related to was the French Reformed theologian Jacques Ellul. My favorite of his works was L’Esperance Oubliee (“Hope Forgotten”) which was published in English under the title Hope in a Time of Abandonment. Writing from a conviction that “we have entered upon the age of abandonment, that God has turned away from us,” Ellul nonetheless asserts, “Hope is a protest before this God, who is leaving us without miracles and without conversions, that he is not keeping his Word … It is Job’s great declaration, ‘my eye pours out tears to God, that he would maintain the right of a man with God’ (Job 16:20-21).” Prayer, says Ellul, is how we give voice to this hopeful protest; prayer is how we, empowered by hope, insist that God fulfill God’s promise. Hope and prayer is how we demand that
It is God who needs to change. It is God who must return to enlighten his Church and to make our hearts shout for joy . . . It is God who has to change, and hope is the resolute will to make God change . . . It is to bring about once again the implementation of that wonderful statement of the Old Testament, “and God repented”.
If God (to return to my “What if . . . . ?”) is being a jerk, we have the hopeful protesting power to say, “God! You need to change!”
Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.