Saturday, June 19, 2021

With friends like these...

There are plenty of impediments to faith within the community of believers, the church. Chief among these is toxic theology. Shame-based theology usually begins with our unworthiness of God's love and acceptance, instead of the first biblical witness  that all humankind is: (1) created in God's own image and likeness, (2) crowned us with glory and honor, (3) wondrously made (Genesis 1:26-27, Psalm 8:5, Psalm 139: 14).

One of the most ancient stories from the Bible is about Job. Remember the frequent references to "the patience of Job" in our popular speech. To see the story through contemporary Jewish eyes, A Serious Man is a film worth your time, for both its comic relief and catharsis.

The book by his name is as much about Job's friends and Job's God as it is about Job himself. Job's infamous friends speak outrageous and blasphemous words about God. Elaine Heath's retelling of Job's story in her book, The Healing Practice of Celebration, calls this practice of Job's friends theological malfeasance:
Job's friends had to repent. They were guilty of theological malfeasance. In their haste to explain away Job's suffering, they had presented a damning vision of God. So then they had to bring costly sacrifices and ask Job to preside over the ritual... Job, who like his friends, had many ignorant words about God, now knew God, now had seen the mystery of God that is too deep for words. He offered the sacrifice for his friends. He prayed for their forgiveness. It is at this point that his life was restored. (p. 77)

We are quick to jump to Job's restoration of material prosperity and new family, etc. Job's soul-- his community with both friends and the Holy One- was restored first, through repentance and forgiveness. The work of restoration is, in large part, rethinking what kind of God, God is. It's understandable that words spoken by unthinking Christians are not erased easily- especially because they are spoken in the name of Jesus. 

For me, repentance and restoration is choosing to begin and end each day with the One who created me and everyone out- of love- not out of need, with no hidden agendas. This One gives all living things breath and creates humankind in God's own image and likeness. 

There will always be voices that insist that the God of all the creative processes of the universe also has a hair trigger temper, a vengeful, violent, and abusive figure whose rage is justified. The petulant child who can never be pleased. 

Job's story challenges us to reflect on our own malfeasance in the name of God, to repent of the harm our words have caused, and to pray for forgiveness and restoration.


Oldies but Goodies