Lenten blog | April 3, 2020
From Job to Jesus
Throughout the year, the Southern New England Conference of the United Church of Christ produces the Daily Lectionary for use by churches. These are the suggested readings for Friday, April 3rd: Job 13:13-19; Psalm 31:9-16; and Philippians 1:21-30. I would encourage you to read these short selections as part of your Lenten practice.
Today is our penultimate Lenten Friday. Our Lenten journey is entering the final stretch. Hopefully, we have taken the time to meditate upon the mystery of our “crucified God” in the words of Jurgen Moltmann. As we continue forward, the church presents us with a passage from Job.
Job is a familiar story. It is an entire biblical book dedicated to theodicy, the contemplation of how to reconcile a good God with the prevalence of evil, accident, disease and death in the world. Job’s suffering is inexplicable, which is the final message of this Old Testament book.
As you read through the Bible, the original message is that God sends suffering and death as divine punishment for sins known and unknown. Continue reading and you can hear the people of God beginning to recognize the dissonance between their actions and their situation in life. When their nation and Temple are destroyed, when they are murdered in their streets by conquering armies, when they are deported as a homeless people, they realize that this is too extreme a punishment to blame on God. In exile they encounter other religions that play on the idea of good vs. evil. The Jewish people adopt this duality and begin to teach that it is not God behind such horrendous destruction, but that there are evil forces in the world counter-acting God’s reign.
Satan is found in the first two chapters of Job, in one chapter of the Prophet Zechariah, and a poignant, single revision in 1 Chronicles. Satan is nowhere else found in the Old Testament. Then Satan explodes on the scene in the New Testament. In the Old Testament, Satan is an accuser, like a prosecutor in a heavenly courtroom. In the New Testament, Satan has become the personified evil who deliberately and powerfully counteracts God and specifically God’s Messiah.
Jesus lived almost 600 years after the fall of Jerusalem, and the Jews still remained nationless. Their land had been passed from Babylonians, to Persians, to Greeks and to Romans. The Roman Empire must have seemed invincible at the time of Jesus. The general religious mood was that there had to be a powerful evil force to cause all of this for centuries on end. They turned to apocalyptic thought, that God would have to intervene powerfully and personally in order to defeat this supernatural evil, that God’s Messiah would be a conquering hero.
Then came the humble, peaceful Jesus. Then came His violent crucifixion and death. And Job’s theme of inexplicable suffering reached its absurd pinnacle. The conquering Messiah was tortured to death by Israel's enemies.
Absurd if suffering and death must be evaluated as the punishment or absence of God. What if God is with us regardless of the accidents, the human against human violence that plagues us, and even our mortality. What if we looked at our suffering Messiah, our “crucified God,” as does Paul: “The message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God. … Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified …” (1 Corinthians 1:18, 22-23a)
What if “Christ crucified” is the invincible power of God in Christ to be with us always, regardless of what the world may indiscriminately throw at us or that people may intentionally throw at us? What if Jesus’ cruel demise is the “power of God” to be at-one with us always no matter what? Maybe Jesus’ own suffering and death with us and as us is God’s answer to the problem of theodicy.
May our next to last Lenten Friday give us the time to think about the cross as God’s ineffable love as the explanation for inexplicable suffering.
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