Once upon a time, there was a young woman who lay dying and a lonely hospital bed. She was bereft of hope and paralyzed by fear. The medical staff tried and to explain to young woman nothing more they could do. They pleaded with her to sign a do-not-resuscitate order. They warned her and again that refusing to sign this directive would leave her open to a prolonged period of suffering as doctors worked to revive her again and again as her heart failed as she began to die. They even called the chaplain to talk with her in hope of easing her suffering and isolation.
But the young woman was terrified of death. She belonged to a kind of church that worshiped a judgmental God, one who noted every fault and failure before inflicting great punishment on sinners. She believed her illness was a judgment. She felt her pain was a punishment. Worst of all, she believed that as soon as she died, she would be judged and condemned by an Angry Father God, one who would then cast her into hell to suffer in agony for all eternity.
When we talked, she was too terrified speak of her sin, the grievous fault she believed to be beyond forgiveness, the one which would, in her belief, lead to her eternal damnation and torment. No matter how the chaplain tried, the young woman was too terrified to even momentarily consider a God who offered forgiveness and redemption; the same God whose son died to save us.
Based on her fears, she did not sign that do-not-resuscitate order. Instead, she approved an advanced care directive that named one of her friends to make medical decisions once she could not. And her directions to this friend was to ensure that doctors did everything they could to prolong the young woman’s life for as long as was possible. Avoiding hellfire and damnation, even for a few minutes, was worth the cost.
And so it came to pass that as the young woman’s body shut down, her heart began to fail. Each time her heart stopped the medical team would revive her by applying an electric shock to restart her heart. It happened again, and again, and again. It is not an easy thing to do without any hope for recovery. Nor is it an easy thing to watch. I hope and pray that the young woman was beyond feeling any pain as she was revived again and again and again. I do know that the experience of reviving a dead body over and over again caused great distress to the medical team. And it was a horrific experience for her best friend, a woman who felt obligated to watch this treatment.
So the cycle of heart failure, revival by high voltage pulses, and a slow return to a heartbeat continued for much of the day. Finally, the young woman died while being transported to the Intensive Care Unit.
Here is why I tell this story today: to remind us all that this is what happens if people believe in a patriarchal God of judgment and damnation, of a God who does not offer forgiveness and redemption. Rather this kind of patriarch is solely concerned with obedience.
In this, the second of our discussions of Job’s story, we consider whether a Patriarchal God of judgment and punishment is represented in the Book of Job. Let’s start with a quick refresher about our hero.
As you undoubtedly recall, Job is presented as an outstanding example of the righteous, Godly man. In the eyes of his peers – and the eyes of Satan and God – Job is said to be without fault. Perhaps that’s why Satan convinces God to allow Satan to test the depth of Job’s faith. For Satan argues that if Job’s ideal life is disrupted, then this paragon of virtue will abandon and actually curse God.
To achieve his goal, Satan destroys everything good in Job’s life. Job is left sitting in the dust covered with sores and suffering in pain. His wife and then his three best friends spend time an inordinate amount of time arguing with Job: they say he must have sinned to have provoked this punishment. They say God only punishes those who deserve punishment.
But Job holds his ground, he rejects their arguments – and he refuses to curse God. Eventually, he does ask God to explain what’s going on. And I think he does that in a way that seems to imply that he is speaking as God’s equal. And that’s when God appears and answers Job from inside a whirlwind.
With that prologue, we can now consider whether or not the God who speaks from within that whirlwind acts like a patriarchal God.
Too many supposedly Christian theologians argue for a Patriarchal God that judges and punishes the unjust. They seem to agree with Job’s wife and his friends who claim that if something bad happens to you it is a judgment against you by God Almighty. To them, if you lose your job, it’s a judgment. If you have a car accident, it’s a judgment. If you contract cancer, it’s a judgment. This judgment based view of God is often wrapped up in patriarchy. And there’s a good reason for that.
Patriarchs have long used a judgmental God as the reason why people should obey patriarchs. And patriarchs know, as do modern politicians, that fear is a powerful motivator. So a patriarchal religion that commands it’s followers be afraid of their God’s anger and judgment is well suited for a patriarchy that wants to control the most intimate elements of everyday life. And there are more than a few politicians out there who act like patriarchs, demeaning woman and cruelly treating those without power.
Some suggest Job’s story and its conclusion with God speaking out of Whirlwind supports their view of a Patriarchal God of judgment and Damnation. That’s really ironic, because Job’s story tends to undercut that very line of argument. Remember, Job is presented the ultimate example of a righteous, God-fearing human being. His story lacks any reason to exist if Job is not a stereotype for the ideal follower of God. But if Job is blameless why does he suffer? Why doesn’t God step in and save Job? Because Job’s suffering proves beyond doubt that bad things which happen to good people are not a punishment from God.
Some claim the Book of Job does not directly refute the belief that sometimes sin leads to suffering. That’s true: but Job’s story – Job’s subversive story – shows that since bad things happen to good people, then every bad thing that happens is not a judgment or punishment from God.
The God who speaks in the Whirlwind doesn’t sound like an angry patriarch. The God who speaks in the Whirlwind does not judge Job for his questions. The God who speaks in the Whirlwind does not condemn Job to an eternity of suffering and Damnation. Instead, like a good rabbi, the God who speaks in the Whirlwind answers Job’s question with questions that began:
”Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?”
The God who speaks in the Whirlwind asks Job: “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?”
The God who speaks in the Whirlwind isn’t judging Job or condemning him to torment. Instead, our God is gently but firmly putting Job in his place. God is God, Job is not God. Neither am I God, or are you God, or are those preachers who speak of a patriarchal God.
Job is in part about having the wisdom to know our place in creation, to be able to realize our place in creation is not equal to God’s place. Perhaps most important, the Book of Job subverts the claim of a patriarchal God whose prime purpose is to judge and condemn us.
Job gets it. He says: “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” Job had only grasped God as a word, an abstraction at first; but at the end Job really felt the presence of God, and that humbled Job.
Too many preachers speak of the patriarchal God, a God of judgment and damnation. And some do this as a means of establishing their own place at the top of an earthly patriarchal power structure. The teach fear not as reverence but as an abject terror of hellfire and eternal damnation. And through fear, they try to control their followers, to control who they love and who they marry and even who they spend time with. Some of these preachers forbid their followers to believe in science. These preachers may also belittle the value of education. And all of this reflects the preacher’s fear of losing control of their followers.
But the God we follow is a God of forgiveness and redemption. The Jesus whose path we walk in today’s San Francisco bids us love another and forgive each other. Jesus calls us to, in the Prophet Micha’s words, do justice, show mercy, and walk humbly with our God. Job would agree with this. For he “had heard of [God] by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees [God]” – and that led Job to live with humility and grace. May we find a similar path through our lives here in the Bay Area.
Let us pray:
Eternal One, whose thoughts and ways are not ours,
you alone are God, awesome, holy, and most high.
School us in the ways of faith and wisdom,
that we, like Job,
may learn to truly see and hear,
and in humility find blessing.
May the church say: Amen.