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Job's Gift

May 01, 2016 at 10:32 AM

By Mary Mortenson, Executive Director, Prison Congregations of America

You know how sometimes a day just comes together, like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, resulting in something surprising and beautiful? Today is just such a day, and it is barely half over! As I write this, it is late in the month of April. I started my day by beginning to again read the book of Job. First, I should confess that Job has been one of my least favorite books in the Bible, for I can’t relate to a God who would play games with Satan at the expense of a man whom God supposedly loves. After numerous readings and conversations with scholars and theologians, I have come to see the story of Job less literally and thus as a commentary on how we deal with our suffering and the suffering of others.

In his preface to Job in The Message, Eugene H. Peterson says this: “Instead of continuing to focus on preventing suffering…perhaps we should begin entering the suffering, participating insofar as we are able – entering the mystery and looking around for God. In other words, we need to quit feeling sorry for people who suffer and instead look up to them, learn from them, and – if they will let us – join them in protest and prayer. Pity can be nearsighted and condescending; shared suffering can be dignifying and life-changing.”

Barely two hours after reading this, I was sitting in a large room visiting with a man as he told me his story of substance abuse and mental illness. It is completely accurate to say that he is suffering, as he longs for health and stability, even as he cannot imagine it coming to him. As I listened, I was struck by how ill-prepared I felt to offer him any encouragement. And then I remembered Job, and was reminded that all I could do was assure this man that God loves him and then to simply sit with him in his suffering. I don’t know if he was blessed, but I surely was – blessed and privileged to be on such holy ground. People involved with prison congregations know this lesson well. Our work is not to “fix” anyone or even to “bring Jesus” to anyone, but rather to proclaim that God is there, in the midst of life with all its challenges and blessings. Thus, together in congregation and community, we stand together be it in rejoicing or in suffering.