Rev. Rebecca Heilman-Campbell

Disney works hard to make its theme park the happiest place on earth, from the rides to the characters the food to the smells. Yes, the smells. The creators of Disney are intentional about what is in the air, making sure you smell fresh baked cookies, vanilla, slow burning wood – those cozy, homey smells that are nostalgic. Oh, how clever they are. Indeed, people flock to Disney World and are thrilled to be there. Saturday Night Live, a live, improve TV comedy show shared a sketch about the thrill of Disney in 2004…well sort of. The scene opens to a family of six sitting at a Disney World restaurant, waiting for breakfast, eager to enter the park.

You can feel the excitement. It consists of the hilarious Amy Poelher, Jimmy Fallon, Fred Armisen, and Lindsey Lohan. And then there was Rachel Dratch playing the character of Debbie Downer, a pessimist who often cuts into conversations with bad news and negative feelings, thus, bringing down the entire mood of the group. So they are all making small talk, when the waiter begins to list off the menu – omelets, muffins, steak and eggs, Mickey Mouse shaped waffles. The family is clapping with joy. Jimmy Fallon yells out “I love me some steak and eggs!” Debbie Downer, with a glum face, responds with, “Ever since they found Mad cow disease in the US, I’m not taking any chances, it could live in your body for years before it ravages your brain….” The camera moves in quick on Debbie Downer’s face with a classic – WOMP WOMP! Everyone’s sad at that point. Lindsey Lohan tries to lift the mood. She says, “This is my dream come true! Tigger, the tiger from Winnie the Pooh, hugged me at the door. I can’t wait for Disney today!” Debbie Downer pipes in,”I guess Roy isn’t doing as well as they thought.” Everyone at each other confused, “What? Who’s Roy?”Debbie Downer replies,” Roy, of Siegfried and Roy, the magicians. He was attacked by his own tiger and suffered devastating injuries.” WOMP WOMP. At this point in the sketch the comedians can barely hold it together. They are bursting to laugh. Lohan’s next line is to be frustrated at Debbie Downer. She stands and yells, “You know what Debbie! You are ruining my trip to Disney world! I didn’t say a word during It’s a Small World when you talked about low birth rate. Or during the fireworks when you went on and on about feline AIDS. Debbie Downer slips in at that point, “Well, you know, it’s the number one killer of domestic cats.” WOMP WOMP. Debbie Downer completely ruins the mood at the happiest place on earth.

While preparing for my sermon this week, the sound of WOMP WOMP was in my ear when reading Job. Job felt like the Debbie Downer of the Bible for me this week. He brought my entire mood down. I’m making light of Job right now, easing into his story with some jokes and humor, because in all honesty, after much reflection and readings, Job, in all his WOMP WOMP-ness is a real, authentic, and relatable character of the Bible. While maybe many of us have not read his story to its full, we know enough that Job lived a hard life, he struggled.
He faced misfortune after misfortune, suffering after suffering for no good reason at all. In one day, he lost his livestock, servants, and his 10 children. Within all of this and with friends at his side, giving good and really bad advice, Job ultimately struggled to find the truth about God and this world. About what it means to live in a world where order breaks down into chaos, where the most vulnerable suffer and the wicked flourish. Where there is an oppressive silence when cries for help ring loud from our voice.

Our Scripture today is 19 chapters into Job – long after the horrors of his sufferings, long after his friends have given advice, long after he had ended each emotional speech with the desire of his own death. The chapter starts out with Job crying out with a question we all know so well, “How long?” Job then rebukes his friends saying he is not the guilty one, but God is. Job lays out his case against God to his friends. Job would have his friends “know” that God’s behavior makes a mockery of justice, not his behavior. That God has harmed him, caused his friends and family to abandon him, Job, he has not done that. That God has abandoned him, but Job? He has not abandoned God. With passion and anger Job’s speech leads up to our few short verses. Job doesn’t turn to prayer like maybe he has done in the past, he instead says aloud a wish, a need. As Sam Balentine, a theologian, offers to us, “What Job needs now is a record of his claim on justice that will survive in spite of rejection and denial.” Job longs to have his testimony, his sufferings, his needs, written down, inscribed in a book, engraved on a rock, with as much permanency as hard metal can give. Each of these exclamations is a “means of preservation more permanent than the last,” with Job’s deep desire that his story not be erased from this world. Balentine continues with these poignant words, “It is to last ‘forever,’ beyond the friends’ rebuke and advice, beyond God’s silence, beyond his own unanswered cries for justice.” If Job is to suffer, if wants his story to live on forever, for all to read. Then, with confidence and maybe a sense of triumph, Job states, I know…”I know that my redeemer lives and that in the end he will stand upon the earth.” This is the most exegeted, studied, and controversial verse in the book of Job. And all over one word, “redeemer or vindicator.” So who is Job talking about? The Hebrew word for “redeemer or vindicator” is gō’ēl. And the word gō’ēl “comes primarily from the field of family law.” As Balentine writes, “It designates the nearest male relative – brother, paternal uncle, cousin – who acts to protect and preserve the family when his kinsman are unable to do so. There are many responsibilities of the gō’ēl, one is to buy back family land that has fallen into the hands of outsides. Another is to marry a widow to protect her (think Ruth here). In a sense a gō’ēl is providing “legal aid.” In Exodus, the Psalms, and Isaiah, God is described as the gō’ēl, providing “legal aid” to the vulnerable who cannot acquire justice for themselves. Is Job’s gō’ēl a family member? Probably not. We know his family has abandoned him. Is it God? Well, if there is anything Job has learned and knows about God and especially from God’s current silence is that God will not be any more help to him than Job’s family. The traditional, Christian understanding is that the gō’ēl is Christ. Christians, we assume Christ, but we must be careful of this for we know that Job was written hundreds of years before Christ’s birth. Yet, we also know that Judaism awaits a messiah.

The vast majority of Job scholars believe that Job thinks his gō’ēl is a “third party litigator who will stand between him and his accusers and argue his case.” (297) Twice before this verse, Job has mentioned a “witness” or “arbiter” who would take his side in God’s court and speak out the truth of Job’s experience. When we get down to it, all of these answers could be right or none of them at all. This is the controversy among scholars for hundreds of years and we won’t be solving this mystery this morning in worship. Regardless of who Job’s gō’ēl might be, what we do know is that Job is putting God on trial. That feels and sounds heretical, doesn’t it?

There’s another story of a group of suffering people putting God on trial. Elie Wiesel, the author of the memoir Night, wrote a play titled the Trial of God. He didn’t set it in Auschwitz, but rather in the 1600s in Europe, during the Jewish holiday of Purim. Many thought the story of putting God on Trial was just that, a story, a story to help people process the horrors of the holocaust and their faith in God. In 2008, Wiesel startled his audience at a dinner by declaring, “I was there when God was put on trial.” Elie Wiesel was only 14 years old when he was taken to a Nazi concentration camp. He saw and lived through horrors, nightmares beyond our imagination. In those conditions, with those experiences, how could one’s faith not be shaken to its core? One night, Elie witnessed three men holding a trial, a trial like no other. They had placed God was on the stand for abandoning the Jewish people. They wanted God to defend the murders, the separation of families, the abuse, the dehumanization, the beatings, the burned. After back and forth, rebuttals and confirmations, defenses and accusations, Wiesel says, “At the end of the trial, they used the word chayav (hah-yav).”

Rather than the word ‘guilty’ it means ‘God owes us something’. All falls quiet and the men didn’t walk away or go to sleep or get on with whatever it was that they were doing, these men, who had just found God guilty of abandoning them, they began to pray.

What is it about the ritual of prayer that brings comfort? Maybe it’s the habit of prayer? Maybe it’s the hope of prayer? Maybe it’s the thinking that if I say this out loud, it won’t sound as bad as I thought. When doubt rolls in, prayer is the last thing we want to do. But when all seems lost, prayer feels like the only thing we can do. Job and the three men in Auschwitz, could have given up on God. And that would make sense considering all they had witness and experienced. Instead, they didn’t give up on God, they put God on trial, asking questions and seeking answers. It’s only natural, as natural as praying when all seems lost. I’m sure it’s something we have all wanted to do.

Archibald MacLeish, in his play J.B., tells us that, “Job is everywhere we go.” Job is the person on those long nights in the hospital, alone and afraid, putting God up on the stand to ask why their body, that God made, is betraying them? Job is in the caregiver, on those drives to the treatment center, putting God up on the stand asking why that tumor is in their loved one’s organ? Job is sitting in the front pew of the church, memorializing their sweetheart and asking God why death had to come so soon? Job is walking through the days of the pandemic and the longer days of coming out of the pandemic, noticing one day that it doesn’t feel like God is with them. “Job is everywhere we go.” Job is sitting beside you, up the street from you. Job is in an AA group or in the bar on Tryon St. Job is at Roof Above and at Bank of America. Job is talking to physicians and morticians, teachers and preachers. Job is the parent who lost a child and the child battling depression. Job is our lonely grandparent and lost friend. Job is the family in war and the young woman faced with difficult decisions. “Job is everywhere we go.”

The book is a contemporary text. A daily diary of real fears and real losses, of real horrors and real judgements, of real pain and real questions for God. Putting God on trial, is a human reaction when we’re desperate for answers and it’s more of a faithful act than completely giving up on God. God would rather have questions thrown at God, than for apathy and neglect to settle in. I imagine that God would be up for the task, since we know God has been on trial before, all the way back to the Romans crucifying our Lord. God can manage and take whatever questions we throw at God. For while Job didn’t know who his redeemer would be, we certainly know who it is. The Jobs in our lives, I hope they hear this. So often, we live our life as if they are perfect. When we invite our Jobs to question, to break down, to be angry, to feel the loss and the pain, we’re inviting them into the challenge of faith – the mystery that one day it’s solid, the next day it’s in question. And on all those days, while we might not be able to hear God, God is there taking It all in and managing just fine the brunt of the questions and difficulty of the answers. That’s the hope, good news, challenging news we carry with the reality that Job is everywhere we go.

[1] Samuel E. Balentine, Job, (MaconL Smyth & Helwys Publishing, Inc., 2006), 296.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Job 19:24
[4] Job 19:24
[5] Balentine, 296.
[6] Balentine, 297
[7] Balentine, 20
[8] Ibid., 20
[9] Ibid., 20.