by the Rev’d Jim Craven
As the curtain goes up on the book of Job, we encounter an unusual group, maybe not so unusual when this ancient folktale began being told around the communal campfires 4000 years ago, or when it was written down in Hebrew about the time of David and Solomon close to 3000 years ago. We encounter God sitting down and discussing things way down there on earth with “the sons of God”, among whom was Satan. Say what? Satan, or the Satan, was a different fellow back then in this mythological story of the depths of faith in the face of suffering. This is not historical reporting for sure.
Satan walks in and God asks where he has been. Oh, just wandering around earth, checking up on things. God asks Satan if by chance he encountered one of his favorites, Job, “there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil.” Satan will have none of it, telling God he has completely protected Job, his family, and all that he has. Reach out and touch Job now though, and he will curse you to your face. So Satan, with God’s OK, caused all manner of calamities to fall upon Job, taking his children, his farm animals, and all he owned. Job’s famous reaction to all this was:
Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
and naked shall I return.
The Lord gives and the Lord has taken away.
Blessed be the name of God.
Well God was favorably impressed with Job’s steadfast faith, but Satan wasn’t done. He told God that if any of this sort of misfortune were to hit Job personally, in his own body, I guarantee he will curse you to your face. So God dispatched Satan to earth again, only insisting that he was to spare Job’s life. Next Job was covered head to toe with leprous sores, but again he said “Shall we receive good at the hand of God, but not evil as well?”
In the poetic language of the book we see God at work, bringing rain when needed. God cares for Job so much that God, alone here in Hebrew Scripture, reveals himself personally to Job and shares his cosmic vision with Job. God’s concern with the destiny of mankind is apparent, and profound. The link between morality and faith is nowhere so real as in Job. Science has come a long way in 3000 – 4000 years, but our understanding of humankind, doubt, and faith is no fuller now than it was then.
Now, we need to fast forward. Job’s three meddlesome friends, possessed of no doubt about anything, are positive that all of Job’s misfortunes have come about because of Job’s sinning against God. Job would have readily admitted as much, but he just didn’t see it that way, and as we learn later, neither did God.
Job, though, was depressed. Who wouldn’t have been? He understood his powerlessness by himself to dispel the dark night of the soul. Unfortunately Job’s three friends, though they may have meant well, were of no help. They were not good listeners. I remember a lovely woman who had a huge impact on my young life. My parents went through a messy, to me at least, separation and divorce when I was 8. I have been asked how long it takes to get over that. I have no idea, but I’ll let you know. The wonderful woman I spoke of lived across the street from our church in Morganton. I would ride my bicycle over to her house and vent, letting it all out. I was but a child and she knew it, but she took me very seriously. Most of all, she listened to me, and clearly loved me and I will always love her for that. She and her husband, an equally caring doctor, came to the train station when my grandmother put me on the train to the Naval Academy on July 3, 1960, and I remember my grandmother saying “Find your star son, and follow it.” In contrast, Job’s 3 friends didn’t really listen to him, nor did they give any indication whatever that they cared about him. No handholding for that crowd. No, they heard the bare bones or headlines of Job’s remarkable ordeal and torment, and essentially said “Well, here’s what you do: 1,2,3 and 4. And, by the way, have you considered that all this may your own fault?” They sure would have flunked pastoral listening with that approach. They all might have benefited from a modern parable of one struggling with PTSD:
This guy’s walking down the street when he falls down a hole.
A doctor passes by, and the guy shouts up,“Hey you! Can you help me out?”
The doctor writes a prescription and throws it down in the hole and moves on.
Then a priest comes along, and the guy shouts,
“Father, I am down in this hole. Can you help me out?”
The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole, and moves on.
Then a friend walks by.
“Hey, Joe, it’s me! Can you help me out?”
And the friend jumps in the hole.
Our guys says “Are you crazy? Now we’re both down here.”
The friend says, “Yeah, but I’ve been down here before, and I know the way out.”
Would not this modern approach from the TV show The West Wing have been a better approach to Job’s difficulty?
Satan lost his bet, because Job never cursed God. Things got so bad for Job and his family though, worse than he ever could have imagined, that he did begin to question God’s benevolence and to wonder why God let all this go on. Did Job ever get a response out of God!
Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind:
Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
Gird up your loins like a man,
I will question you, and you shall declare to me.
Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements – surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone
when the morning stars sang together
and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?
Or who shut in the sea with doors
when it burst out from the womb –
when I made the clouds its garment,
and thick darkness its swaddling band,
and prescribed bounds for it,
and set bars and doors,
and said, “Thus far shall you come, and no farther,
and here shall your proud waves be stopped”?
It is surely not coincidental that Psalm 107 follows this letter from Job in our lecturing. Often called the Navy Psalm, I have read it and heard it read at many Navy and Marine funerals:
Some went down to the sea in ships
And plied their trade in deep waters;
They beheld the works of the Lord
and his wonders in the deep.
Then he spoke, and a stormy wind arose,
which tossed high the waves of the sea.
They mounted up to the heavens and fell back to the depths;
their hearts melted because of their peril.
They reeled and staggered like drunkards
and were at their wits’ end.
Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.
He stilled the storm to a whisper
and quieted the waves of the sea.
Then they were glad because of the calm,
and he brought them to the harbor they were bound for.
We forget how dangerous the sea is. Our Navy lost more ships to the typhoon off Okinawa in 1945 than to the Japanese. The ocean is as untamable as it is beautiful. We see this in the Gospel account today, from Mark, and the same story about Christ is told in Matthew and Luke.
Jesus and his closest followers are in a small fishing boat, to get away from the crowds, and maybe to beat the heat too. A storm arose very suddenly, and that happens. The boat was being swamped and in danger of sinking, while Jesus slept through it all. So the disciples woke him up. He then rebuked the wind and said to the sea “Peace! Be Still!” And the wind ceased and there was a dead calm.
We remember this when we sing the hymn, Eternal Father, and note:
Whose arm hath bound the ruthless wave
whose voice the waters heard and hushed their
raging at thy word.
Who walkest on the foaming deep and
calm amid its rage didst sleep.
And bid its angry tumult cease and give,
for wild confusion, peace.
My stepfather, a submarine skipper had a little metal plaque above his bunk, “God, thy sea is so great and my boat is so small.” There is a reason we pray daily for those in peril on the sea.
Now, may I shift gears for a moment? Hearing no objection, I will. Verna Dozier at The College of Preachers years ago taught us that us that a sermon must be prepared with the Bible and the New York Times open in front of the preacher. Well, I read both faithfully and thoroughly, and am simply astonished at the rising levels of anti-Semitism, worldwide and in this country. Those who remember the Holocaust are fewer and fewer, while more and more deny it ever happened, or think it didn’t go far enough. It is hard for me to fathom that the Holocaust happened in my lifetime. It is also hard for me to fathom what happened at the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville in August 2017. There were Nazi flags all over, shouts of “Jews are Satan’s Children,” “they will not replace us,” and “blood and iron.” The only thing like it was Kristallnacht in Berlin in 1938, when Jews were tortured and killed, books were burned, and windows were broken in Jewish stores and homes. And then the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh was attacked in October 2018, with 11 killed and 6 injured. Swastikas are spray painted on synagogue walls so often that it barely makes the news. And almost without exception, the perpetrators of these religious offenses are self-proclaimed Christians, who are apparently oblivious to the fact that Jesus, Paul, Peter, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, were Jews. I don’t know how the new-Nazi anti-Semites deal with that. They probably don’t. Nor do I have an answer to the problem of anti-Semitism.
I never knew him, because he was killed in action in Holland during the war, but I knew all his family in Morganton. Morton Katz was my mother’s first serious boyfriend and until her death at almost 99 this year, she paid for flowers to be placed on his grave in Arnhem. Morton Katz gave his life for this country, for the rights of those nuts in Charlottesville to wave their Nazi flags.
This story predates the Holocaust, but not anti-semitism. It dates from 1907 in New Orleans, and Max Karnafsky was a horse cart peddler from Lithuania. The family barely had enough to eat. Nor was Louisiana in 1907 all that welcoming to Jews, although Judah Benjamin of New Orleans had been in the Confederate cabinet of Jefferson Davis.
A hungry six year old orphaned boy appeared at the Karnafsky home looking for work. They of course invited him in, and for the first time in his life he experienced true kindness and tenderness. Elsie Karnafsky sang him to sleep with Russian lullabies, which the little boy learned and loved. They let him ride on the horse drawn cart and gave him a tin horn to play to announce that the peddler was coming. They helped him buy an old beat-up cornet from a pawn shop and he learned to work Jewish melodies into songs like St. James Hospital and Go Down Moses. The boy learned Yiddish and spoke it fluently the rest of his life. He wrote of his adopted Jewish family that from them he learned love, and life, and determination. Until the end of his life because of the love shown him by the Karnafsky family, Satchmo, Louis Armstrong, wore a necklace with the Star of David around his neck. Shalom.