Tuesday, September 29, 2015


The Evils of Job  William Blake
The aim of the ‘Continuous’ track on the Revised Common Lectionary readings is to take us through a significant portion of the Old Testament over a few Sundays. Accordingly, this is the first of four devoted to the Book of Job, usually classified as part of the Bible’s ‘wisdom literature’. It is one of the most ancient treatments of a recurring question – why does God let terrible things happen to good people? – though the book is almost as perplexing as the question it deals with. As a result, four short extracts are not really enough to enable us understand it, so this is one of those occasions when the Lectionary hopes to encourage us to read the whole book for ourselves over the course of the month.

Towards the end, God finally answers Job ‘out of the whirlwind’ -- with an unapologetic assertion of the inscrutability of His purposes, and a refusal to answer to human judgment!. There is a harshness about this that seems very far from the idea of a loving God. Yet, read alongside Job Chapter 28, one of the most beautiful passages in the whole Bible, it can powerfully bring home to us the immense and mysterious gap between humanity and divinity, and leave us pondering on the awesome majesty of God.

Adam and Eve - Francis Picabia
Adam and Eve (1931) Francis Picabia
It is the topic of marriage and family life that links the alternative ‘Thematic’ Old Testament reading with both the Epistle and the Gospel. A well known passage from Genesis, in which Eve is given to Adam because ‘it is not good for the man to be alone’, is matched with the Gospel passage in which Jesus both speaks against divorce, and stresses how much we have to learn from children. The Epistle tells us that God ‘did not subject the coming world . . . to angels’ but to ‘mortals’. Accordingly, it is human relationships --  parent, child, brother, sister – that provide us with the best concepts in which to think about our relationship to God.

At the center of these family relationships lies marriage – and with it, divorce. The church has long grappled with issues of  marriage and divorce, and over the last few decades with a new question - whether marriage is properly confined to a man and a woman. These are difficult questions that are also divisive. But they are not going away, and so, somehow, the Church must struggle to accommodate the conflicting points of view at which equally faithful Christians have arrived. This week’s readings point to the context that makes this struggle so significant and compelling. The Psalm marvels that out of the whole creation God is especially mindful of human beings, setting them ‘little lower than the angels’. The Epistle repeats the Psalmist’s words and underlines their astonishing nature. Part of the marvel lies in this: God has made the human relationships into which we are born central to our deepest insights into His Divine life – itself a communion of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Human relationships, in other words, are key to our hope of participating in the life of God. That is why the way we regard them matters so much..

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