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Wasted Effort

Lectionary Reading: Job 9:1-15; Job 9:32-35

Redacted verses:

16 If I summoned him, and he answered me,
I still can’t believe he would listen to my plea.
17 He could break me with a storm;
he could multiply my wounds for no reason,
18 to the point where I couldn’t even breathe —
with such bitterness he could fill me!
19 If it’s a matter of force, look how mighty he is;
if justice, who can summon him to court?
20 Even if I’m right, my own mouth will condemn me;
if I’m innocent, it would pronounce me guilty.
21 “I am innocent. Don’t I know myself?
But I’ve had enough of this life of mine!
22 So I say it’s all the same —
he destroys innocent and wicked alike.
23 When disaster brings sudden death,
he laughs at the plight of the innocent.
24 The earth has been given to the power of the wicked;
he covers the faces of its judges —
if it isn’t he, then who is it?
25 My days pass on more swiftly than a runner;
they flee without seeing anything good.
26 They skim by like skiffs built of reeds,
like an eagle swooping down on its prey.

27 “If I say, ‘I’ll forget my complaining,
I’ll put off my sad face and be cheerful,’
28 then I’m still afraid of all my pain,
and I know you will not hold me innocent.
29 I will be condemned,
so why waste my efforts?
30 Even if I washed myself in melted snow
and cleansed my hands with lye,
31 you would plunge me into the muddy pit,
till my own clothes would detest me.

I’m still struggling with the redacted verses; I’m extremely skeptical about the criteria used to decide which verses to censor. And, here is another thing…it’s occurred to me that the indignation I’m feeling is the same kind of reaction that prompts whistleblowers to speak out at the cost of their careers, and sometimes risk prosecution, because they see something wrong being buried, and they can’t stand it.

I have recently undergone a very unpleasant personal crisis, which left me with a mild case of PTSD, and an existential bewilderment that seems to have stripped away many of my comfortable assumptions. My skepticism has led me to some very painful suspicions. Foremost among my doubts is the possibility that the motivation behind such censoring is most likely to be a deceitful one, intended to conceal any deviation from the status quo; implemented to try to control a populace through outright eradication of any texts that deny the authority or validity of the ‘powers that be.’

I am not proposing any kind of conspiracy theory here, I am just pointing out that the current state of affairs is one which relies on naivete and misinformation. I can’t help but notice that many people who put their faith in our institutions of religion are being actively discouraged from reading the actual text of the Bible, and are instead being fed edited texts in a manner intended to prevent them from noticing that the editing is taking place; and worse, the editing appears to be designed to undermine the message and alter the meaning. Much of the evil in the world arises from this kind of manipulation of religious beliefs, and it often contributes to wars, inquisitions, religious terrorism, and genocide. Even if this censorship is done ‘in good faith’, I can’t help but think how dangerous it is.

So, back to the plain meaning of the redacted verses of Job:

Job is saying that he doesn’t believe that God hears him. He’s saying that it doesn’t matter what he believes, God’s going to do what God does in spite of whatever Job thinks, and nobody can call God to account. He’s saying that God could torture him until he can’t even breathe and fill him with bitterness, and there’s nothing that could be done about it. He’s saying that it’s all the same, it doesn’t matter if you’re innocent or guilty, and when calamity visits the blameless, God is just going to laugh at our misfortune. He says the world is in the hands of wicked people, and God is covering up the eyes of the judges who might improve things, so they just can’t see the awfulness. Job says, ‘if it’s not God keeping the honest, upright person from doing the right thing, then who is it?’ Job is indignant and furious.

Job is not an easy book to read. It’s not a book that you can take a single quote from, and make a cozy FB meme out of it.

The whole point of the book is that God doesn’t like the patronizing sermonizing that’s going on. God doesn’t approve of Job’s smarmy friends trying to convince Job that he shouldn’t be saying those bitter, terrible things about God. God isn’t saying Job is right about God not caring; God is saying that he loves Job’s forthright honesty in saying so. God is saying that acting like those condescending, superior, self-righteous friends is wrong! God is saying that Job’s attitude is reasonable and understandable.

So, I have to ask— when we censor Job for the purpose of saving the “flock” from hearing God being criticized; or even if our purpose is more benign and based on the idea that the congregation “just wouldn’t understand,” aren’t we doing exactly the same thing as those insufferable friends of Job’s? Yes, EXACTLY the same thing!

This is a hard nut. In the end though, I think that our best course would be to include the whole text in the readings. If there are hard sayings in the lessons, then it’s the preacher’s responsibility to help clarify them, and hopefully bring some useful truths to light. It’s not as if our lives aren’t difficult. It’s not as if we’re not allowed to accuse God of negligence. It’s not as if we never have really good reasons to be angry at God. It’s not as if we don’t feel like all our efforts are wasted, and that there’s no help for us.

Don’t you think God can handle anything we dish out without getting all bent out of shape?  
Job did.

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