Cowboys and Cowboy Singers
When I was growing up, my family listened to a lot of different kinds of music. From Gershwin to Guns n’ Roses, from Willie Nelson to John Williams, if you heard it on eight track, cassette, album, or radio we probably listened to a little of everything at one time or another. But no matter what we listened to, we always listened Waylon Jennings. Ol’ Waylon was part of the background music to my childhood whether we were visiting family or driving down the highway or just sitting around the house. At one time, I believe my father had every Waylon Jennings album released and most of them he made homemade cassettes of for the car.
I remember a television special that Waylon made some time back during the eighties called, My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys, where the native Texan decided to do on a musical documentary on being a cowboy. He joined a group of people – some experienced cowpokes, others, who were greenhorns like himself – for the annual spring roundup. As they gathered in West Texas, Waylon had the chance to go out on the range, riding a horse, rounding up strays, branding cattle, and being as close to a real cowboy as you could in this day and age.
That’s when reality hit.
Waylon spent the better part of the two weeks in the mountains suffering along with all the other greenhorns and came to an rather important conclusion that he summed up like this,
I am a cowboy singer, not a cowboy…you have to love this to do this.
It was living out a childhood dream that helped him to separate dreams from reality. Sometimes the reality bites and bites hard. What you thought you were and were capable of ends up being tested and you find out what you are really made of and who you are.
The story of Job is a story of a godly man tested in ways that would make most of us cringe. It’s a story about loving God no matter what. A story that we will dive into and swim around in and hopefully come out the other side having learned more about our relationship with God and more about ourselves.
The book of Job is considered by many to be the most ancient of all the biblical texts. It isn’t set in a particular time or place – though it was probably written during the Babylonian exile – and doesn’t reference history in any meaningful way. The story is just that – a story. It is a tale told to make point about the nature of good and evil, God and humanity, and how we answer some of the great questions of life. Over the next six weeks, we’ll look at this tale and through it, hopefully see whether or not we love God for how he treats us, how we react to suffering and pain, how to have hope in difficult times, and other aspects of the human experience as we try to walk with God.
As the story begins, we are introduced to a man who seems to be above reproach in every way. He and his wife have seven sons and three daughters, seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, a thousand oxen, five hundred female donkeys, and vast number of servants. He was by far the most blessed, most financially stable, most respected and revered man of his day. Not only that, but Job was a man of honesty and absolute integrity. So much so that God asks the Adversary – one of the divine beings – “Have you thought about my servant Job; surely there is no one like him on earth, a man who is honest, who is of absolute integrity, who reveres God and avoids evil?”(Job 1:8) When he thought that perhaps his children had sinned and cursed God in their hearts, he brought offerings before the Lord just in case they didn’t. And for this obedience and piety, Job was apparently blessed of God and favored divinely.
The blessing that he has experienced at the hand of God is tested and replaced by the harsh hand of the Adversary, who seeks to prove that Job’s love and reverence of God is only a matter of Job being blessed. “Does Job revere God for nothing? Haven’t you fenced him in—his house and all he has—and blessed the work of his hands so that his possessions extend throughout the earth? But stretch out your hand and strike all he has. He will certainly curse you to your face,” says the Adversary. And suddenly, Job loses it all. Not a minor setback or stock market hiccup but all of it, gone. Raiders and invaders stealing oxen, donkeys, and camels; fire falling from the sky to burn up the flock of sheep; and worst of all, a terrible wind storm that torn the house from around his children and dropped it on them as they ate. Finally, Job himself is afflicted with sores from head to toe at the hand of Adversary. Crawling into an ash heap he laments the life he lives and yet, does not curse God.
“Do you revere the Lord for nothing?”
Even with this understanding, Job’s story is uncomfortable. From our western cultural perspective the Book of Job might seem to some like a cruel cosmic joke played out by infinite beings. Why kill a man’s family, take away his livelihood, and leave him in an ash heap covered in sores?
For me, a better question is found in verse nine of chapter one when the Adversary asks this question, “Does Job revere God for nothing?” In other words, “Does Job have reverence and honor for God even when he isn’t being blessed?” As we look deeper into the Book of Job, another question that pops up in looking at the overall idea of the book is – Why? Why does Job have to suffer? Yet that may not be the right way to ask the question. A better way may be to recognize that “…the focal point of the book is not God’s justice…, but rather the problem of human pain: how Job endures it, cries out of it, wrestles furiously with God in the midst of it, and ultimately transcends his pain— or better, is transformed through it.” (Ellen F.Davis. Getting Involved with God: Rediscovering the Old Testament (p. 122).
What we are getting at in this first chapter of Job speaks to the heart of why a person would be pious and upright. Is it because they are blessed or because they love God? What happens if they are not blessed? It forces us to admit that, “…the core issue of covenant faith, [is] namely, the love that obtains between God and humanity.” (Ellen F. Davis. Getting Involved with God: Rediscovering the Old Testament (p. 124). What we are getting at is how we respond to the experience of what we perceive as needless, pointless suffering while asking the question, why are we pious? As one man put it, “Genuine obedience must include right action as well as right motivation.” (Walter Brueggemann, Theology of the Old Testament, p. 387) So it’s a matter of Job truly believing, trusting and showing his faith and devotion to God in everything he lives and does whether he is being blessed or not.
And so we begin our journey into the Book of Job by asking ourselves these two major questions about love with or without motivation and the problem of suffering. They are tied together throughout the book and form the basis for study over the next few weeks. But we are not without guidance on the topic.
Jesus and Covenant Faith
In Luke 17, we find Jesus offering a difficult teaching to the apostles on the subject of not causing others to stumble into sin. He says, “Things that cause people to trip and fall into sin must happen, but how terrible it is for the person through whom they happen. It would be better for them to be thrown into a lake with a large stone hung around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to trip and fall into sin.” The response from the frightened apostles is a unanimous, “Increase our faith!” In other words, “Jesus this is hard stuff. We’re not in a place to do this kind of ministry and be this kind of followers. We need to more faith because none of us want to go swimming with weights.”
You might wonder, “What does this have to do with Job?” Well, Jesus answer is the key to that. When confronted with these questions from the disciples, Jesus answers,
“If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.
You see it is faith, deeply rooted belief in God beyond yourself that is at the core of why we follow Jesus. It’s a faith that says, “I know it’s hard stuff, I know I’m in over my head, but I know you called me here, brought me here and so I trust you have a reason.”
And that brings back to Job; Job, who is a man of character and integrity; Job who is a man suffering and in pain in ways most of us, thankfully, will never know; Job, whose wife watches and suffers along with him and finally in pity says, “Just curse God and die. Put an end to this misery. The God we believe in has abandoned us. Stop the suffering.” This Job refuses to deny the God he serves, deny the one who blessed him.
. Instead he says simply, “Will we receive good from God but not also receive bad?” When his friends arrive at the end of chapter two, they hardly recognize the broken, tortured man before them. They tear their clothes in an act of repentance and solidarity with their friend and join Job on the ground in the dust.
Yet Job persists and continues to have the same faith he has always had in the same God he has always served.
Just the Beginning
Like our cowboy singer in the beginning, we find there is a difference between what it looks like and what it really is. This is one of the main ideas that we find here in Job and a question that we have to asks ourselves, most likely on a daily basis: “Do we love God because of who God is or because of the benefits that we get from the relationship? Is God still our God when the bad times come and we have to live through the hard things?”
The question isn’t an easy one and the truth is we will wrestle with it everyday for the rest of our lives. But when you get down to it, Jesus said, “All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross, and follow me. All who want to save their lives will lose them. But all who lose their lives because of me and because of the good news will save them.” (Mark 8:34-25) Seeking after God, following Jesus, means that we say no to ourselves and yes to God. We recognize as Job did that the Lord gives and Lord takes away and no matter what happens, Blessed be the name of the Lord. Amen.