Friday, July 19, 2013

The Challenge Continues, Day 194: Job 40-42; Psalm 9; Galatians 5

"And That's the....End...of the Story"
Some of you may remember a radio personality named Paul Harvey. He had a syndicated show years ago called, "The Rest of the Story." Recounting every day tales of people, he would relate some deep crisis or challenge they faced, challenges that would seem to indicate a sad and tragic end to the story. That was the whole point: he would get us to that precipice of despair and then the narrative would turn around. A helpful person would walk out of the wings at just the right time and offer just the right support. The weather, wind or what-have-you circumstances our protagonist was facing would shift, sometimes even by apparent Divine Providence, and tragedy would resolve into triumph. The rest of the story gave heart, hope and inspired faith in the human condition. I loved listening to those stories. Paul had a way of inviting us into a deep and caring concern for the well-being of people going through hard times. He was an optimist who could tell a tale of woe and find grace at the end of the day. He was a master story-teller.

William Blake's imagining of
"Behemoth" and "Leviathan"
That need for the "rest of the story" lies here at the end of the book of Job. We need things to work out for that poor sod. Here he was beloved and blessed, then beset and bereft and finally confronted and confounded by God. God, in showing up to confront Job's complaints and his friends' harangues, doesn't offer consolation. Far from it. In these last lines, we hear about how big God is and how small we are. We hear about God playing for sport with "behemoth" and "leviathan." With those toys, how could God even possess the slightest interest in our insect-like existence? The point of this tale seems concise: "Hey, humans, you are NOT all that...even LESS than much at all. Get over yourselves and don't expect anything. Life is what it is, and God is in charge-and seemingly more concerned with sport than with your well-being. What a desperate end for Job, and for us. We need a little more meaning before we depart.

So did the ancient redactor who added on the little coda to this tale. Job's friends get dressed down, appropriately. Job's health is restored. His family and heritage are renewed. His fortune is made again and to a greater degree than before. His children are bright, beautiful and faithful. All is well, and Job dies at the age of 140 in good health and humor.

Can that be the end of the story, much less the "rest" of it?

I struggle with that, not because I don't want things to work out in the end; but because that quick, happy ending doesn't really do much to answer the existential dilemmas posed by the earlier chapters in the book. What do we do with suffering? How do we deal with loss? What happens when our faith, even when it is strong and as steadfast as it can be, is taken to the breaking point? Where is God in all that, and is God even mindful of us in our daily lives as we search for meaning and purpose?

The "rest of the story" hope, I have come to believe, is not found in happy endings. We don't struggle and travail so that at the end of the rainbow we find a pot of gold. What does get us through hard times, I am increasingly certain of, is the fact that God is no longer as far off from us as God was in Job's story. God has drawn near to us by God's own will. God's entry into human life in the person of Jesus demonstrates that not only is God desirous of our company, God is also intentionally a part of our struggle. There is no longer an exterior measure of faith (or success in faith, for that matter) when Jesus makes our struggles God's own in kind. Paul's letter to the Galatians points us continually toward the person of Christ and takes us beyond the Promise, and beyond the Law. The measure of a human life is reckoned in faith, justified by grace and forged by the love of Christ both for us and through us to the world....

And THAT is the "rest of the story....."

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