Job Meets Pheidippides

In the book of Job God gave Satan permission to test a blameless and upright man.

Do you agree or disagree with the statement above? Does it poorly describe or adequately summarize Job? Is it helpful or confusing?

My summary could be shorter and seriously longer. There’s always an editorial path to brevity, to carving away another word. Conversely, the book of Job spans forty-two chapters and more information begs to be added about the upright man’s talkative friends, endless miseries, and divine questions. I’m sure others could easily improve my attempt.

And yet my first curiosity remains. Where does your pondering about Job, God, Satan, and testing lead you?

As your pondering continues, let me take you on a long-ago and faraway bicycle ride with me. Don’t worry, we’ll return to Uz’s zip code.

Once, cruising my then regular morning bike route, I spied a runner about a football field’s length ahead of me. No surprise. Whilst pedaling through my fair city I’d pass or be passed by other bicyclists, runners, parents with strollers, fast walkers, rollerbladers, and even the occasional fellow on wheeled skies. I waved to many of them. Many returned my wave. I flashed an encouraging thumbs-up whenever it was safe to do so. Fellow bikers would parallel me to engage in stimulating conversations like:

“How’re you?”

“Fine.”

“Nice day.”

“Yup.”

On we pedaled, conversation over, but with miles to go.

However, I recall there was that runner, with her pace slow and steady. From afar she wore a vibrant pink T-shirt with bold indecipherable lettering on the back. As I drew near, the words became readable. And quite simple:

That was it. Three huge black numbers on a moving pink backdrop. What did it mean? Inquiring minds wanted to know! I slowed.

Here’s what I guessed: I Corinthians 13:1-13. The “love chapter” of Paul’s first letter to Corinth, arguably one of the most famous of all Biblical passages. That must be it! Then and now, we live in Twitter times where spare statements summarize complex messages. Some text with U representing you and L8 indicating late. Squeeze it, compress it, abbreviate it . . . our lives are on afterburner.

13.1. Of course, it must be from the Bible!

I rode next to her and wished her a good morning. She smiled and kept her steady pace. Though middle-aged and a tad overweight, her sweat-streaked forehead and rhythmic arm movement indicated commitment to her exercise.

“What does thirteen point one mean?”

Unplugging her iPod, she never broke stride while replying, “It’s a half-marathon.”

Duh! Double the 13.1 to get 26.2. Those are the miles Pheidippides, the legendary Greek messenger, ran between Marathon and Athens.

She continued running. Steady, slow, wearing a pink declaration of a goal or an achievement or both.

I googled 13.1 the next day and the first hits included radio station nicknames, footnotes from legal documents, and—yes—references to half-marathons. I gulped more Google and never saw any Biblical verses.

Don’t I view the world through the lens of my background? Don’t you?

Meanwhile, back in Uz, how did you react to my summary from this musing’s opening sentence?

I recall an awkward discussion with a dinner companion about the Bible, including the book of Job. One way to convey our disagreement—oops, I mean discussion—boiled down to a singular, irksome adjective. I’ll repeat my summary and add that tricky word.

In the fictional book of Job God gave Satan permission to test a blameless and upright man.

My one-word addition created tension. My theological education and experience leads me to read Job as a powerful work of . . . fiction. I don’t believe God conspired to test people. I don’t believe Job was a real person from Uz or that Satan exists. But my table companion did. Indeed, many people do.

This always perplexes me. I think Job represents one of the most magnificent works ever written. It grappled with fundamental issues. Loss. Death. Suffering. Faith. Doubt. Questions. God’s glory. The Holy’s enigmatic ways. But I believe Job explored these issues just like Jesus’ parables did. Stories. Make believe. Let me tell you a tale . . .

I’m glad I slowed my bike to share a moment with the runner. After our briefer-than-brief chat, I’d never claim to know her. But by asking and listening I learned a little about her commitment and goals. Additionally, aware of my own quick (and wrong) assumptions about her T-shirt’s declaration, I was reminded that my view of the world can be skewed and selective.

Too many—I’m one of them—argue about whether or not books like Job are fact or fiction, a historical event or spiritual metaphor. All too often both sides are so enamored with being right that we can’t see how much everyone, like Job, is complex. We all suffer. Have questions. Experience the worst. Hope for the best.

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Image of Job courtesy: ©IlyaRepin via WikimediaCommons

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4 Comments

  1. Love this, always good to slow down and talk with those we pass by. I spoke with someone after a race on Sunday and thanked him for his words of encouragement as he passed me on the long climbs. I beat him in the end but I did learn that his name is David and he lives in DC, is much younger than me. Always good to talk with those around you.

    1. Steven: First, my cranky knees are jealous that you were in a race on Sunday! Second, aren’t those moments where we learn about another, where we find a little connection with the “stranger,” some of the best parts of a day?

      Take care. Keep racing forward!

  2. Can’t think much about Job today. Was paralyzed (literally) in front of the TV for 9 hours. Yesterday I slipped down a wet ramp and went flying, landing flat on my back. I never was so flat. Managing to get up with nothing broken, was still in a world of hurt. Eating a combination of aspirin and Tylenol I prepared a place to watch politics at its worst.
    Maybe it was the Job story only in the 21st century.
    As the day wore on I wished I was watching fiction. I wasn’t. I relived my own sexual assault and began thinking about the reasons I hadn’t told anyone for forty years.
    Politics sucks right now. Job sucks. I think I’ll go and take s hot shower and try to wash all the sucky stuff out of my head and the very real pain to my body!

    1. Pat:

      Whoa! Yeah, who cares about Job when you’re literally down, miserable and with a bad, bad back. Bonus . . . watching the Senate hearings!? I shudder! As someone who has struggled with a tricky back, I have a tiny, tiny understanding of your anguish. Hopefully, you will get the rest (and shower!) you need.

      Take care, my friend.

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