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A Certain Bad Answer

A Certain Bad Answer

Monday, September 10, 2012 –– Week of Proper 18

Alexander Crummell, 1898

[Go to http://www.missionstclare.com/english/index.html for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office

(Book of Common Prayer, p. 983)

Psalm 41, 52 (morning) // 44 (evening)

Job 32:1-10, 19 – 33:1, 19-28

Acts 13:44-52

John 10:19-30

In our reading from Job today we have a little comic relief that seems to serve some dramatic purpose to postpone the cosmic encounter with God. Elihu plays the part of the fool. He claims to know more than the others (that’s always a mark of a fool in ancient literature). He describes his heart as “like wine that has no vent; like new wineskins, it is ready to burst.” He’s something of a blowhard. Yet, he is certain. And he is certain of his certainties. He speaks with confident boldness. But he doesn’t make much sense. He’s a Stephen Colbert version of the wrong side of the argument.

In the portion we read today, Elihu’s speech is the kind of talk that makes you want to pull somebody’s hair out, preferably his. He is so sure that if you are a good person and you pray to God, God will heal you, even from the edge of death. I’ve known people like that. People who speak to one who is ill, and speak with such confidence. “If you just believe enough… If you’ll just pray to God; if you just pray hard enough…”

I’ve known remarkable healings. I’ve seen healing miracles. I’ve seen people restored from the brink of death. But, it is a mystery. It’s not about us believing enough. I’ve known those who believed truly and prayed earnestly, and did not get well. Visitors like Elihu can make a sufferer feel doubly cursed — not only for the suffering of their illness, but also for the implied responsibility that it was their fault that they didn’t get well. It can be confusing and hurtful. “I believed with all my heart, didn’t I? I prayed so hard. Why didn’t I get well? Is it my fault?”

Elihu with his certainties is a bad answer to that profound question. Elihu claims to know way too much. God’s mysterious epiphany to Job is a better answer to that question.

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