With the recent attention given to the refugee crisis, it seems timely that the revised common lectionary readings for October journey through the book of Job, a book written for a suffering people in exile, a people weary with loss.
In the Old Testament readings for the first two weeks we encounter Job resolute in faith and searching for God in the midst of his suffering.
Job's experience is the complete opposite of that of the Psalmist, who cannot escape God's presence (Psalm 139:7-10) and is a lot less used on inspirational posters on church notice boards:
'If I go forward, he is not there; or backward, I cannot perceive him; on the left he hides, and I cannot behold him; I turn to the right, but I cannot see him.' (Job 23:8-9)
Such expressions of honesty and wrestling with God can be found throughout the Old Testament. They provide reassurance that it is OK to plead, question and even get angry with God.
For those enduring so much suffering, escaping so much violence and journeying with so much heartache today these words may serve as a morsel of comfort that they are not alone, that the story of exile and seeking refuge is not just of this time, and that it is OK not to be OK with God about that.
In the last two Old Testament readings for the month Job finally gets a response from God.
God speaks from the whirlwind, from the very thing that killed Job's children. (Job 1:19)
God shows up in the most uncomfortable place. Job has to face the very thing that brought him so much suffering and pain. But it is also in that very place that he finds what he has been looking for – the presence of God.
- ‘God is in control, even if everything looks to the contrary.'
Far from providing an explanation God bombards Job with questions, and it is Job who then answers to the Lord.
The questions of God serve as something of an answer: sometimes there are no answers, some things are beyond our understanding. God is in control, even if everything looks to the contrary.
There is little likelihood that the restored fortunes of Job serve as comfort to those who are seeking refuge today.
The comfort in this story for today's refugees, as for those early readers and listeners, is to be found in the assurance that they are not to blame for their suffering.
The book of Job challenged the view of Job's friends, shattering the perspective that suffering was a result of personal sin.
May that provide comfort for us all in times of suffering, and may those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy. (Psalm 126:5)
Find out more about Christian Aid's response to the refugee crisis.