So Satan went out from the presence of God, and inflicted loathsome sores on Job from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. Job took a potsherd with which to scrape himself, and sat among the ashes. Then his wife said to him, "Do you still persist in your integrity? Curse God, and die." But he said to her, "You speak[foolishly]. Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?" In all this Job did not sin with his lips. - Job 2
Some Pharisees came, and to test him they asked, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?" He answered them, "What did Moses command you?" They said, "Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her." But Jesus said to them, "Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you... - Mark 10
A number of years ago, I spent some time receiving counseling from a trained psychologist. He was a good man, and very helpful. But I remember one session when I started talking about "my sins", as I put it, and the impact those transgressions have had on my life.
He actually scoffed. He said, "Stop right there. I don't think it does you any good to get wallowing around in 'your sins.'" He did the air quote thing when he spat out the word "sin."
At the time, I was comforted by his gentle scolding. "Great!" I thought. "I don't have to worry about my sins anymore? How cool is that?" In time, however, I came to be discomforted by his advice. The things I've screwed up in my life are real; some of them have hurt others - and me - profoundly.
It's always helpful for me, when meditating on the Bible's words, to remember what someone - can't remember who - has said: "Scripture is in conversation with itself." I take this to mean, among other things, that just when we think we have absorbed an unchanging lesson from Scripture's intricate stories and teachings, we open to another passage and find the Bible having an argument with its own conclusions as found elsewhere.
The Book of Job explores the bewildering truth that behaving ourselves - that is, following the Law - does not guarantee us smooth sailing on the seas of life. The assumption that righteous living, however defined, would result in good fortune has a long tradition in religious thought. Despite vast evidence to the contrary, this notion still holds sway in many traditions. Job, a truly righteous man, is inflicted with horrible misfortune; his "friends" insist that the ills that have befallen him are the result of some sin he hasn't told them about. Yet the story makes it pretty clear that this isn't so.
And maybe the most irritating thing about the truth that bad things happen to good people is its converse - that good things happen to bad people. What kind of God would arrange things thus?
Talking about sin - and, God forbid, Satan, as the Book of Job does - makes us really uncomfortable. Countless good souls have fled the church, nursing deep wounds inflicted religion's practice of hectoring them about how sinful they are. And Scripture is not without examples of teaching that seem to support the idea that we are horrible people in need of punishment and correction. Along comes the passage from Mark's Gospel, where the Pharisees query Jesus about divorce. He answers that Moses gave a law, only because of our hard-heartedness, allowing men to divorce their wives. Then Jesus puts the rotten cherry on top of our Sunday sundae by saying that anyone who divorces and remarries is guilty of adultery.
Um, which way to the exit? Sure, some people get divorced because they get bored. Others divorce because of abuse or other horrors. Surely Jesus should cut us a little slack here, right?
No wonder sin and Satan are hard to talk about. Good people suffer with no sin to account for the suffering. Evil people coast through lives of ease. Scripture imposes rules of behavior in one place, seems to rescind those rules elsewhere, then appears to re-impose the rules around the next corner. What are we to make of this?
I don't like to preach about sin, any more than I like to examine my own sins. My therapist was trying to get me to stop beating myself over the head about my failures. Thanks for that; but I still need to hold myself accountable for those times when I harm Creation - and my sisters and brothers - with my broken behavior.
What's the Good News in all of this? First, honesty is both holy and redeeming. And second, we get to gather around Christ's table of Communion, as we will on this World Communion Sunday, a place where God says to us, as Tom Hanks puts it, "There's no substitute for a great love who says, 'No matter what's wrong with you, you're welcome at this table.'"
Join with people all over this holy, broken world, at this table. We are all one in this place - holy, broken, beautiful, and in deep need of being welcomed.
Yeah; sin is real. But it is not the end of God's world. Yeah; Satan is real; just ask a wounded confessor. Satan probably isn't red with a pointy tail and a fork in his hand, but even he, deep in his heart, wants to come to the table and be transformed.