Job suffers greatly. From chapter three of his biblical tale, his patience erodes and he rants against God. Three friends watch in horror as he appoints himself to his own defense, railing against God. In turn, each of them try to dissuade him from what they see as a crazy and disrespectful campaign.
The story of Job is very ancient, but in it we see the struggle of the core question for religious people: why do the just suffer and the sinful go free? Job sees himself fading into non-existence after the death he demands of God. But he doesn’t want to be forgotten. He asks for some memorial. Will it spur the Almighty to a guilty response, seeing his complaint as an everlasting memorial after he has faded into the dust and mists of history?
For a brave person nearing the end of life, this may well be one of the most profound readings for this time of loss, grief, and hopefully, acceptance:
Oh, would that my words were written down!
Would that they were inscribed in a record:
That with an iron chisel and with lead
they were cut in the rock forever!
As for me, I know that my vindicator lives,
and that he will at last stand forth upon the dust.
This will happen when my skin has been stripped off,
and from my flesh I will see God:
I will see for myself,
my own eyes, not another’s, will behold him:
my inmost being is consumed with longing.
When we looked at this reading nine years ago for funerals, we zeroed in on the role of God as vindicator. Perhaps our modern culture would see this role as a godfather, a patron, a wealthy relation who will stand up for a cousin in need.
Job has lost his family, but for his wife. In his view, friends have turned on him. Who will speak for him, and defend him before God? The impulse in the modern funeral is to reserve time for some sharing of memories. Call it a eulogy–but it is often criticized for switching the focus away from the worship of God to some call for sainthood. I don’t see it that way.
Children, best friends, a spouse: these people want to speak up for the deceased. In a way, they shoulder the role of vindicator. Please accept her soul, O God. Look to whatever faithfulness he has lived in his life.
I think people want to remember. Even in an age where we have nearly unlimited abilities to capture photos, sound recordings, and document so much on social media and our electronic devices, we still want some connection. We want to remember the shared friendships and love. The good times. Certainly Job remembered with anguish his lost ten children.
As a believer feels the nearness of death, it is a time for remembering, for reconciliation, for final words. We don’t chisel them into stone today. We have various media to capture and store them. But we shouldn’t neglect the importance of conversation, and placing last tender encounters deep into our human memories. Our flesh may be stripped away, and our breath cease. But we hope for the connections of love to remain. We long for it, don’t we? Why wouldn’t any of us desire a vindicator to speak on our behalf before the throne of God?
For an in-depth treatment of the Pastoral Care rites, check this page that outlines our examination from a decade ago.