Thought for the Day : Monday 28 June

Thought for the Day by Robin Fishwick

Readings: Job 33 and Romans 14:13-23

“God speaks in one way and in two, though people may not perceive it”

I have to admit that the book of Job is one of my favourite books of the Bible. I am told that the book is a retelling of an earlier and more straight forward story; one where Job is a righteous man, tested by God with all kinds of afflictions, but remains faithful and uncomplaining throughout his ordeal. The retelling of the story that ends up in scripture deals much more closely with life as we really experience it. In this version, Job doesn’t take his affliction meekly (he does at first, but not later) and holds God to account to the injustices of life.

The major part of the book is a series of dialectics with Job’s “comforters” in which Job debunks a series of arguments which try to prove to Job that his suffering is his fault. Those of us who are involved in pastoral work (I think most of those reading this) will do well to avoid following the practices of Job’s comforters.

Many years ago, when I was a young Catholic, I was in the Legion of Mary, a Catholic lay organisation assisting in the pastoral work of the church. I remember on one occasion visiting an old man in hospital who had had both feet amputated. The old man was bemoaning his misfortune, almost in tears, grieving the loss of his mobility. Peter Butterley, an Irishman in his fifties, was a senior member of the Legion who had taken me on the visit and sympathised with the old man with the words “Oh Jesus! That’s wicked!” As a zealous young Catholic I was horrified at these words. Not only was Brother Butterley blaspheming, but he was also calling God’s Purpose into question, describing it as “wicked” (I might need to point out that this was long before the term “wicked” had any positive connotations!). However, as the years went by, I came to realise that Peter Butterley was right in the very  ay in which Job’s Comforters were wrong.

I’m sure the reason why (spoiler alert) God gets so angry with Job’s comforters near the end of the book is that they are more concerned with proving themselves right than with offering Job any emotional support. Although they do, in all credit to them, go to visit Job and sit with him, they fail to be with him in any real sense. Quite the opposite, the longer they argue with him, the more they want to distance themselves from him, even if that means pushing him further into isolation and despair. They do not want their faith contaminated with the inconvenience of Job’s truth but ironically don’t realise that this very fear of contamination arises not from faith, but from a lack of it.

Elihu names one, nay, two ways in which God speaks to us – through dreams and visions and through the infliction of suffering. He reminds me of the 17 year old Robin Fishwick, full of certainty and empty of emotional intelligence. No, Elihu, God speaks to us in many other ways than that. Brother Butterley really was  “an angel, a mediator, one in a thousand”. It took me a while to realise this but he was the way in which God spoke to the old man; in kindness, connectedness and solidarity.

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