I heard an excellent paper yesterday on Job. Unfortunately I missed the beginning due to meetings and so I did not have the full context, but there were a number of perceptive observations along the way. One that I took note of was a distinction he was making between “Death and death.” He talked briefly about how Job (and elsewhere in the Bible) Sheol is often invoked as a kind of residence of the living. He cited a portion of Job’s speech in Job 17:13-16.
“If I look for Sheol as my house,
if I spread my couch in darkness,
if I say to the Pit, ‘You are my father,’
and to the worm, ‘My mother,’ or ‘My sister,’
where then is my hope?
Who will see my hope?
Will it go down to the bars of Sheol?
Shall we descend together into the dust?”
I will quickly admit that I need to look more deeply into the original context of this passage in Job. It is a book that I have studied a good bit, but I do not claim intimate knowledge of all passages. Here Job is responding in part to Eliphaz’ challenge: “You are doing away with the fear of God, and hindering meditation before God.”Job 15:4. Chapter 16 begins, “Then Job answered: ‘I have heard many such things; miserable comforters are you all.'” (I love the directness and dark humor.) Upon hearing this passage yesterday, however, it brought to mind my own reflections the other day that we are largely in control of what “it is.” That is to say, I cannot change the fact that our son has died or that there is tremendous corruption or injustice, for example, but I can help to shape what it will be in my life and in the lives of others.
I now understand Job differently. I hear him saying that “I could die now, even as I am still alive, but what good is it? Will it provide me with hope? Won’t my own embrace of death take you down with me?”
His friends are pushing Job to admit his guilt, to confess his sin. They want him to mourn and behave as they feel appropriate, as their theology dictates. But Job knows he is innocent and has done nothing to deserve this punishment and so pushes against God. He also knows that if he allows himself to die now, even as he continues to live, and make Sheol his home, then there is no longer any hope. Yet while we live we may choose, with the grace of God, to continue to live here and now even as we hold onto the hope and faith of the resurrection.