Sermon for February 21st, 2016
1Then Job answered: 2“How long will you torment me, and break me in pieces with words? 3These ten times you have cast reproach upon me; are you not ashamed to wrong me? 4And even if it is true that I have erred, my error remains with me. 5If indeed you magnify yourselves against me, and make my humiliation an argument against me, 6know then that God has put me in the wrong, and closed his net around me. 7Even when I cry out, ‘Violence!’ I am not answered; I call aloud, but there is no justice.
8He has walled up my way so that I cannot pass, and he has set darkness upon my paths. 9He has stripped my glory from me, and taken the crown from my head. 10He breaks me down on every side, and I am gone, he has uprooted my hope like a tree. 11He has kindled his wrath against me, and counts me as his adversary. 12His troops come on together; they have thrown up siegeworks against me, and encamp around my tent. 13“He has put my family far from me, and my acquaintances are wholly estranged from me. 14My relatives and my close friends have failed me; 15the guests in my house have forgotten me; my serving girls count me as a stranger; I have become an alien in their eyes.
16I call to my servant, but he gives me no answer; I must myself plead with him. 17My breath is repulsive to my wife; I am loathsome to my own family. 18Even young children despise me; when I rise, they talk against me. 19All my intimate friends abhor me, and those whom I loved have turned against me. 20My bones cling to my skin and to my flesh, and I have escaped by the skin of my teeth. 21Have pity on me, have pity on me, O you my friends, for the hand of God has touched me! 22Why do you, like God, pursue me, never satisfied with my flesh?
23“O that my words were written down! O that they were inscribed in a book! 24O that with an iron pen and with lead they were engraved on a rock forever! 25For I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth; 26and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God, 27whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!
28If you say, ‘How we will persecute him!’ and, ‘The root of the matter is found in him’; 29be afraid of the sword, for wrath brings the punishment of the sword, so that you may know there is a judgment.”
Beauty in the Book of Job
The ancient philosopher Plato said that "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder."
English poet Thomas Overbury coined the expression that "Beauty is only skin deep."
And Albert Einstein famously explained his theory of relativity by saying that an hour sitting in the company of a beautiful woman seems like a minute, but a minute sitting on a hot stove seems like an hour.
However, my favorite commentator on the subject of beauty is, by far, Miss Piggy, who has said the following:
- Never purchase beauty products in a hardware store.
- Never let your frog outdress you.
- Beauty is in the eye of the eye of the beholder, so it may be necessary from time to time to give a stupid, misinformed beholder a black eye.
In many ancient texts, there is an idea--sometimes stated, sometimes implied--that outward appearance is somehow connected to inward condition. If you are a good person and do good things, your outward appearance will reflect that. If you are an evil person and do evil things (or have evil thoughts) that, too, will manifest itself outwardly. Fairy tales reflect this too. Whenever Pinocchio tells a lie, his nose grows longer. When the arrogant prince mistreats a witch in disguise, she turns him into an ugly beast or frog. In fact, witches, and evil monsters of all sorts, are by nature...ugly. Heroes and heroines, whether its poor Cinderella or powerful Hercules are, by nature...attractive. There is something simple and appealing in this. In fact, with few exceptions, you'll find the same thing in modern films and television shows, too. Our stories reflect the deep truth of what we really believe, even if we loudly deny it outwardly. Psychologists and marketers have demonstrated in countless studies that all of us instinctively trust more those we perceive to be attractive, and trust less those who are aesthetically...less fortunate.
The Bible is not immune to this kind of thinking. The Book of Proverbs in particular implies that good and evil manifest themselves externally. Those who are rich, healthy, and happy are that way because they are righteous, hard-working, and wise. Those who are impoverished, sick, and unhappy are that way because they are lazy, wicked, and foolish.
The book of Job, however, argues against that kind of thinking. The entire premise of Job is: There's this guy named Job, who is described by the narrator AND by God to be righteous, blameless, and good...and yet he becomes poor, destitute, and unhappy. And in chapter two, we read that with God's blessing, Satan inflicts "loathsome sores on Job from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head." In other words, he makes Job's outward appearance revolting, loathsome. It's so bad that when Job's three friends arrive to comfort him, they don't even recognize him. In today's scripture passage, Job describes his appearance this way:
"I call to my servant, but he gives me no answer; I must myself plead with him. My breath is repulsive to my wife; I am loathsome to my own family. Even young children despise me; when I rise, they talk against me. All my intimate friends abhor me, and those whom I loved have turned against me. My bones cling to my skin and to my flesh, and I have escaped by the skin of my teeth."
Incidentally, that expression, "by the skin of my teeth" originally comes from the book of Job. We use it to mean "barely" but I think Job means that he has, in fact, NOT escaped. After all, teeth don't have skin.
Job goes on to say, "Have pity on me, have pity on me, O you my friends, for the hand of God has touched me! Why do you, like God, pursue me, never satisfied with my flesh?"
Never satisfied with my flesh, my outward appearance. In other words, Job knows he is ugly. Loathsome. But his friends, since they are excellent theologians who have read the book of Proverbs, try to convince Job that he looks that way because he must have done something wrong! "The root of the matter," they say, "is found IN him."
All this is what finally prompts Job to cry out with some of the most beautiful and profound words in the entire book: “O that my words were written down! O that they were inscribed in a book! O that with an iron pen and with lead they were engraved on a rock forever! For I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another."
He's saying "If only what's inside of me (my thoughts my words) were written down visibly, outwardly, in a book, or in stone for all to see! Because I know that somewhere, someday, someone with the power to make things right will stand here on this earth. And when that happens, long after this ugly flesh has been destroyed, I will see God, and God will finally be on my side."
Christians have long taken these words to apply to Jesus Christ, making Job a sort of prophet of the messiah to come. But I don't think that's entirely necessary, because by the end of the story, God actually does come down to earth in the form of a whirlwind, and God does take Job's side.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I want us to take notice of something important here. Job doesn't say "I hope that my redeemer comes and sees through this ugly diseased skin, and sees me for who I really am inside, because on the inside I'm beautiful." Job doesn't say that, even though it sounds like something we might expect him to say. It's the Hollywood script, the Ugly Duckling script, the script from Cinderella or My Fair Lady, or any number of stories where eventually, with the help of the redeemer/prince the heroine's outer beauty finally comes out, lining up with the inner beauty that's been there all along. That's just a modified, time-delayed version of Proverbs, which says if you're beautiful inside, eventually you'll be beautiful outside. If you're ugly outside, you must be ugly inside. Or waiting for the Prince to kiss you.
No. Job says, "Look, my outward appearance is toast. It's gone forever. I'm never gonna be beautiful again." Job doesn't want God or his Redeemer to see him...he doesn't care about that. He says, "then in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another."
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And Job says, "I want to behold something beautiful. I want to see God."
Job gets his wish. In chapter 38, God shows up. Up to this point, Job has been questioning God, but now God asks a series of questions to Job. Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? When the morning stars sang together, and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy? Have you entered into the springs of the sea, or walked in the recesses of the deep? Have the gates of death been revealed to you? Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth? Can you lift up your voice to the clouds, so that a flood of waters may cover you? Can you send forth lightnings, so that they may go and say to you, ‘Here we are’? Who has put wisdom in the inward parts, or given understanding to the mind? Can you hunt on behalf of the lioness, as the ox plows the earth? Can you run beyond the horses? Can you soar above the birds?
Many people interpret these questions as God putting Job in his place: "Who are you to question me? Sit down and shut up, you puny mortal!" I find this interpretation a bit harsh. Job's loss and his suffering are real, and his questioning of God flow from that experience. God knows this. God knows Job. God loves Job. And Job has said, "I want to behold something beautiful. After all this pain, I NEED to see something beautiful. I want to see you, God."
So God calls his attention to some pretty beautiful things, some cosmic things, some simple things, nature and life and the things the world is made of. Job wants to see God on his side, and God, in essence says, "Not only am I on your side, I'm all around you, all the time. Isn't it...beautiful?"
Most of us spend a lot of time, effort, and money trying to make ourselves beautiful. Sometimes we try to make ourselves beautiful on the outside to hide the pain and the brokenness that's inside. Sometimes we try to make ourselves beautiful on the inside in the hopes that someday, our prince will come, see us for who we really are, and love us the way we want to be loved. Inside, outside, I'm not sure it really matters as much as we think it does.
Christian doctrine teaches us that we are made in God's image, so in that sense, we're all beautiful, inside and outside. But that same Christian doctrine also teaches us that we are all broken sinners who mess up sometimes, who fall short. In that sense, we're all ugly, inside and outside.
I think Job gets it right here in today's scripture passage. In exasperation, he finally just checks out of the whole inside outside beauty game. And when he stops worrying about how others see him--good, bad, beautiful, ugly, right, wrong--that's when his eyes are opened to the beauty all around him. That's when he sees God. That's when his life is truly transformed.
Incidentally, at the end of the story, God restores Job's fortunes. He gets his land back, his animals, his wealth, his children. Interestingly enough, we don't read anything about his appearance being restored. If it were so, you'd think it would be mentioned. I wonder...but, in the end, I suppose it doesn't really matter, does it? It doesn't seem to have mattered to Job in the end. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. May each of you behold something beautiful today.