Monday, October 09, 2006

Canadian Thanksgiving

Today is Canadian Thanksgiving. Last Sunday was the church's Harvest Thanksgiving. As we gather round the table, or attend the Sunday Thanksgiving services, we give thanks for the harvest, for the sun the Lord provided, and the rain; for the blue skies and the hard workers; for the distribution system that brought the food to our favourite grocery stores; and for the stores for ordering what we need and what we want to serve. We thank the cook for the talent to make the turkey succulent, the vegetables crunchy but not hard, the dessert delightful. And then we nap.

Grace though doesn't just comprise thanks for the food and the harvest. Sometimes people give thanks for their work, their successes (usually work-related), perhaps for their children, their health. But what do you do when those things do not exist? Work is lost, children aren't born or grow up and stay away, finances turn to stress and a rising tide of pink-coloured bills, people look upon you with pity or scorn. How do you give thanks for crappy fortune?
"Then his wife said to him, "Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die." But he said to her, "You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?" In all this Job did not sin with his lips." Job 2:9-10
We only ever talk about God bringing us good, and when evil happens it is because of human weakness or that Satan stirring things up. But Job says, "Shall we not receive evil [from God]?" Reading the first part of this chapter, as well as chapter one, we read how God crows about His "servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?" (Job 2:3) and then immediately succumbs to Satan's provocative tongue, to prove it. God doesn't need to prove it, does He? Is God not supposed to be all knowing, all seeing? Does He not know that Job is blameless and upright, has integrity, and will remain steadfast? Why does He need to prove it to Satan, of all angels?

Job accepts God's evil -- if God stepping aside in order to allow Satan to wreak havoc on a blameless man and his family is considered evil -- just as he accepts God's good.

Chapters one and two show how evil came to take everything away from Job but his life. Chapters three on show how Job responds (as well as his friends). Yes, Job accepts what God has allowed to happen to him: the loss of his livelihood, the loss of his animals, the loss of his children (but not his wife, interesting), and finally the loss of his health. God let Satan take everything from him but his life. Yet, in spite of his acceptance, the very first thing Job does is curse the day of his birth.

So what are we to do when bad things happen for no good reason? Lament. We cannot pick ourselves up -- as Job eventually did -- until we start with lamentations. We cannot see the beauty of the sky, nor the warmth of the sun, nor the hope in spring flowers and late fall blooms, nor the goodness of new dreams, if we do not pour out our sorrow for what God has allowed to happen to us. Friends who do not understand this need to read Job over and over and over until they do. Although God answered Job's challenge with "how dare you"-type questions, it wasn't Job God was angry with.
"the LORD said to Eliphaz the Temanite: "My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. Now therefore take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and offer up a burnt offering for yourselves. And my servant Job shall pray for you, for I will accept his prayer not to deal with you according to your folly. For you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has." (Job 42:7-8)
Only when Job asks God to forgive his three friends, will He forgive them. And only when Job has prayed for his friends, does God restore Job's fortunes.

God ensures the four reconcile after the affliction He brought upon Job wrenched them apart. Without God's intervention, they would not have reconciled. You can argue that without God stepping out of Satan's way, they would not have fallen apart. Yet Job is a guidebook for when bad things happen to good people, and a testament about how God never stopped loving Job even though his friends had no trouble lambasting him for losing everything and even though Job cursed the day of his birth and challenged God to answer.

In the end, it isn't the transient things of our lives -- income, health, children, parents -- that we ultimately give thanks for, it is being able to stay faithful to God, no matter what He brings upon us, and it is the fact that God loves us continually no matter what others say and do.

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