In preparing my parish’s summer Bible study, I’ve gone deeper into the book of Job than ever. In the midst of the whining, lament, sarcasm, accusations, and preaching, I’ve found the occasional gem.
What do you make of this passage?
Oh, that you would hide me in Sheol,
shelter me till your wrath is past,
fix a time to remember me!
If a man were to die, and live again,
all the days of my drudgery I would wait
for my relief to come.
You would call, and I would answer you;
you would long for the work of your hands.
Surely then you would count my steps,
and not keep watch for sin in me.
My misdeeds would be sealed up in a pouch,
and you would cover over my guilt.
Scripture scholars place the creation of this book five to six centuries before Christ. There was not a sense of life after death for Judaism then. It was thought dead people would find themselves in the abode of spirits: Sheol.
Job has a remarkable thought here: what if we were to live again after dying? What if Sheol were a mere hiding place or holding pattern until God’s anger with our sin had abated? Consider verse 15 above, “You would call, and I would answer you; you would long for the work of your hands.” Rather a reversal of Adam and Eve hiding when God called in Genesis 3:8-9. And what a tender expression in the second phrase: God longing for long-lost souls.
As for our sins, the “sealing up in a pouch” suggests the offenses will be hidden away, not to be seen or spoken of. In this life, the Sacrament of Penance is envisioned to do this. I know I’m plagued by memories of past sins, even if my confessors have forgotten them. How do we manage to place ourselves in the best place? Not with the complainers like Job. Not with the “friends” who beset Job with insisting he has sinned and how badly. Not with one who might cower in fear. Not with the ones who hide in their shame and bury themselves in it. Rich material for a homily, and it makes me wonder why nobody thought to scour the Book of Job for Penance readings.