Wednesday

24 April 2019

Job 14:1-14

But mortals die, and are laid low; humans expire, and where are they? (v. 10)

Psalm: Psalm 105:1-9

Background

From the beginning of the book of Job, we are offered not simply an account of one man’s personal experience, but a story that reflects the whole of humanity.

There are three sections to this text from Job. The first section, verses 1 to 6, narrates the challenges of human life. A sense of the hopelessness and vulnerability of human existence emerges. We need to be careful of verse 1 being interpreted in any way that suggests that women are as impure, unclean or frail; after all, every human is born of woman. There is nothing frail about a woman birthing a child. Job speaks about the brevity of life and mourns the loss of immortality. In echoes of the psalmist, humankind is referred to as fleeting like a flower that withers. The main anxiety for Job, however, is not that life is short but that it is filled with suffering. "Do you fix your eyes on such a one" (v. 3) seems to suggest God is simply watching Job’s suffering, as has been alluded to earlier in Job, where God watches only to try and catch him out and bring judgement upon him. A view of God we would wish to challenge.

In verses 7 to 12 the poet declares there is more chance of hope for a tree than for humanity! It seems an odd phrase for a tree cannot possess hope, but it is capable of regeneration unlike mortals. By contrast, humans die and life comes to an end. The poet compares Job’s life and death to a dried up lake and river.

Verses 13 to 14 offer a curious depiction of an altered reality. Job asks to be hidden in Sheol. But Job is not trying to hide from his enemies but from God. Job demonstrates his misunderstanding of God. God is not his enemy. Like Job, in times of suffering, we can struggle to see and recognise God’s presence. God can feel hidden or absent from our experience.

This text begins to feel a little strange as a reading for Easter week. Where is salvation found in the midst of Job’s despair? It is a question that many people around the world are asking. In the deep suffering of many people, in Yemen, Sudan, Nicaragua or Syria, these questions do not find easy responses. Ivonne Gebara in her work, Out of the Depths: Women’s Experience of Evil and Salvation (Fortress Press, 2002) offers a hope-filled image of salvation, which challenges the idea of suffering and unjust death having the final word. Instead we are invited to see that, "The cross is always a scandal, unhappiness, sickness, desertion, objective and subjective suffering and we fight against it. We fight in the presence of others, with the help of those who say ‘no’ to the cross." In other words, "the ‘no’ to the cross is a yes to salvation and justice and happiness, even as we know that it is only a fragile and temporary ‘yes’." What emerges is salvation experienced in the everyday, in the challenges of human existence, God is glimpsed. Seen in the tenderness between friends, the kind act of a stranger where love is nourished and life flourishes. As Gebara concludes, "A thread of salvation crosses all human history, even the history of great sufferings."

 

To Ponder:

  • How do you respond to the many unjust sufferings of our world?
  • Where or who do you turn to in moments of deep challenge and difficulty?
  • How might you be a glimpse of salvation to someone?

Bible notes author

Deacon Eunice Attwood

Eunice is a Methodist deacon. She is a tutor in Pastoral Theology at the Queen's Foundation in Birmingham, and a member of the Centre for Ministerial Formation since 2012.

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