27th Week of Common Time, Year C

Job 19:23-27a

‘O that my words were written down!

O that they were inscribed in a book!
24 O that with an iron pen and with lead
they were engraved on a rock for ever!
25 For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and that at the last he will stand upon the earth;
26 and after my skin has been thus destroyed,
then in my flesh I shall see God,
27 whom I shall see on my side,
and my eyes shall behold, and not another.
My heart faints within me!

With many thanks to Nicole Mullen’s “Redeemer,” i’ll try to say a few words about what this passage is saying to me at the moment.  Job is one of those great teachable moments in scripture, where lessons abound.  There is the silent vigil as well as the eponymous comforts that his friends afford him.  There is the questioning, and the open ended rebuke.  For the textual critic, there are additions and emendations to pour over.  Working with the received text, there is a great deal of layer and back and forth to deal with.

What i’m finding fascinating today, however, is the way that words preface this great declaration.  Pens of iron, letters set in lead on stone…these are fantastic things to be thinking about.  what does the certainty of knowledge have to do with redemption?

plenty, of course.  it seems obvious to us, especially those in the church dedicated to apologetics.  we talk about luther’s anxiety over salvation, wesley’s method, and the carefully chosen rhetoric of the revivalist.  whatever your particular approach to salvation is…you had better know where you stand.  entering the second millenia of the church, we’ve lost any sense that salvation in christ is surprising.  it is a fact.  the means are debated endlessly, the borders of grace are fought over, and the interpretations split the church.  each one holds their truth to be written in iron.

perhaps the missing piece here is that salvation, is of course the ultimate surprise. the person being saved does not have expectations.  they are brought out of the shock of their peril and into the shock of the rescue.  they sputter for breath, they act as though they were still in danger, they still hold the same fear.  some time later,they come to their senses.  but if we are being saved by grace, we should scarcely claim we’re taking it better than a drowning man does being dragged back to shore.

job’s certainty doesn’t come from abstraction.  his knowledge comes out of trauma.  it comes out of dramatic reversals and unimaginable pain.  it foreshadows a resolution that hardly seems to answer the questions of good and evil that are raised.  much to himself as anyone, he cries for certainty to cover over the wrenching loss he’s gone through.

feel the certainty of grace.  but feel it as the surprise that it is, the gift of salvation come into a world that cannot ever preserve that moment.  not in iron.