Today's Lectionary Text
Job 13:1-19"Look, my eye has seen all this,
my ear has heard and understood it.
What you know, I also know;
I am not inferior to you.
But I would speak to the Almighty,
and I desire to argue my case with God.
As for you, you whitewash with lies;
all of you are worthless physicians.
If you would only keep silent,
that would be your wisdom!
Hear now my reasoning,
and listen to the pleadings of my lips.
Will you speak falsely for God,
and speak deceitfully for him?
Will you show partiality towards him,
will you plead the case for God?
Will it be well with you when he searches you out?
Or can you deceive him, as one person deceives another?
He will surely rebuke you
if in secret you show partiality.
Will not his majesty terrify you,
and the dread of him fall upon you?
Your maxims are proverbs of ashes,
your defenses are defenses of clay.
"Let me have silence, and I will speak,
and let come on me what may.
I will take my flesh in my teeth,
and put my life in my hand.
See, he will kill me; I have no hope;
but I will defend my ways to his face.
This will be my salvation,
that the godless shall not come before him.
Listen carefully to my words,
and let my declaration be in your ears.
I have indeed prepared my case;
I know that I shall be vindicated.
Who is there that will contend with me?
For then I would be silent and die."
The book of Job is one of my favorites in the Bible. It has a lot to say about how we respond when things in life go wrong.
In this passage, Job has had visits from his well-meaning friends who do a great job at first of simply sitting with him in his grief and pain. The problem comes when they start to justify what is happening and essentially fall under the assumption that Job must have done something and God is punishing Job for it. They try to defend God, as if God needs defending!
And so here in this passage, Job responds and says, “hey, you don’t know any more than I do, you’re not superior.” He is scathing in his rebuke of his friends as he says things like “you whitewash with lies,” which I interpret as this sense of toxic positivity or this need to defend God, rather than doing what they had done at first. Job says “if you would only keep silent, that would be your wisdom!” And that to me has become the key to so much of my work as a pastor and chaplain.
It’s so easy to fall into this trap of trying to find the “right” words to say to someone who is hurting. It’s easy to fall into the trap and want to try to make sense when bad things happen, and we have a large repertoire of phrases that have been handed down like “It’s all part of God’s plan” (not necessarily untrue but not helpful in this situation and like “really? So it was God’s plan for this person to die or this horrible thing to happen?”) or that something is a person’s own fault, which again may have some truth but is not helpful in that moment.
Instead, sometimes the best thing we can do to be with someone who is hurting, is to simply sit down with them in the muck, and listen. Sometimes there are no words to comfort in painful situations. And rather than worrying about saying the wrong thing, all that is needed to be said is, “I am here with you. I see you hurting. I will sit with you so you’re not alone in the pain.” And our silence is not about God’s silence, although sometimes when God is silent it is because God is listening in the midst of our pain too. Sometimes there are no words.
I started by saying that I love Job, and I think one of the greatest gifts it gave me in my own life was the permission to be angry with God, to rage about the difficult situations I was experiencing, and to know that God is so much bigger than any of our “proverbs of ashes” or “defenses of clay.” God listens when we speak. God hurts when we hurt. And while difficult things happen because that is part of our human condition, God promises that we will never be alone.
Rev. Michelle Byerly
Shelton UMC, Shelton NE
Prayer for Reflection
(Please take a few moments to simply be silent and listen for God.)
God, thank you for your presence with us when we are hurting. Help us to find the wisdom of being a silent, loving presence to others who are hurting. Be with all who suffer this day, and help us to listen more fully to them. Amen.
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