THANKSGIVING AND JOB

A few years ago, a Baptist from Texas confided he’d once been short on his rent. So he prayed for money someone owed him. A check arrived the next day. This proved that God—or more accurately, Jesus—responds to people’s prayers. After all, Matthew 21:22 states, “Whatever you ask for in prayer with faith, you will receive.”

I think checks arrive for other reasons. And I look at praying for things—and thanking God for them—differently. So this Thanksgiving weekend, let’s consider this in light of the Book of Job, about which I write in God’s Others.

HaSatan—the Adversary rather than the Devil of Christian and Muslim theology—makes a bet with God about Job, an Uzzite (not a Hebrew). Job is “wealthier than anyone in the East” and also “tam v’yashar,” blameless and upright. God calls him “my servant.”

Fuhgedaboudit, says HaSatan to God. Should Job lose what he has, You’ll see what he really thinks of You. The wager is on. God permits HaSatan to do anything but kill Job. So HaSatan takes away Job’s wealth, ten children and health (but not Mrs. Job).

Job is angry. He’s innocent! He wonders, as does the prophet Jeremiah, why good people often suffer while the wicked prosper. This dilemma helped produce the concept of heaven—good people suffering in this life but receiving their reward in the next. However, Job focuses on obtaining justice in this world. He challenges God to defend Himself knowing he can never bring God into court. Yet Job never turns away from God.

Ultimately, Job acknowledges that God’s ways are beyond human understanding. I agree, since God can’t be defined. (See my last post, “God Was in This Place,” 11-12-10.) Thus Job’s experience questions the orthodox assumption that checks arrive in the mail to reward the prayers of the faithful and the corollary that people who experience terrible losses are faithless and defiant of God.

So now you know why I never thanked God for letting me hit the home run that gave my class the fourth-grade punchball championship of P.S. 174. I’ve never believed I was rewarded with good hand-eye coordination and reasonable strength—or punished by not being another Mickey Mantle, my childhood baseball favorite.

That’s why I think of my favorite secular holiday not as Thanksgiving but “Thankfulgiving.” I’m thankful—appreciative—for what skills and intelligence I have and the people who’ve helped me along the way. (For an interesting discussion of skill enhanced by luck, read Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers.)

The Mishnah advises that while prayer cannot fix a broken bridge, it can mend a broken heart. Prayer as worship—thankfulness and appreciation rather than petition—enables us to connect with what is outside ourselves and with our inner strength, as well.

But I must give thanks to my youngest son, Aaron, for a great Thanksgiving dinner.

2 Comments


  1. Lenny Mann
    Nov 26, 2010

    That’s funny I thought my class won the fourth-grade championship because of my home run. I guess I am confused.
    Nice to find you Dave. I look forward to reading “God’s Others”.

    Regards,
    Lenny


  2. Aaron Perlstein
    Nov 27, 2010

    I believe we all make our own luck. If we know what we want and are prepared to get it, when the opportunity arrives, we’ll seize it.

    If there was a god, and he tested me the way he tested Job, I would not stand by him. I don’t appreciate when people in my life play games with me, and I would appreciate it even less if a ‘God’ played that sort of game. It’s childish!

    I am thankful for many things. One of them is having a wonderful family to cook thanksgiving dinner for. Did God give me a great family? I don’t think so, I think we all worked at it.

    Aaron: In this we are probably closer in agreement than you realize. The question here is, “What is God?” God in the Bible need not be taken literally. And yet the Bible raises critical questions and attempts to delve into human nature and our relationship with existence. I would posit that one can believe in God but not the God in Job—this constitutes “post-critical” thinking—while holding the Book of Job to be an important and revealing work.

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