Thursday, August 23, 2012

Debating Good and Bad

Thursday, August 23, 2012 -- Week of Proper 15
Martin de Porres, Rosa de Lima, and Toribio de Mogrovejo, Witnesses to the Faith in South America, 1639, 1617, 1606

Today's Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 981)
Psalms 131, 132, 133 (morning)       134, 135 (evening)
Job 1:1-22      
Acts 8:26-40     
John 6:16-27

[Go to for an online version of the Daily Office including today's scripture readings.]

When bad things happen to good people.
When good things happen to "bad" people.

Today we begin reading Job, the scripture which is most often acclaimed by non-religious scholars for its literary and its philosophical quality.  It is a debate framed within a story.  The debate question:  "Why do bad things happen to good people?"  The underlying question is about God.  "Is God just?  Is God's governance of the world just?"  If justice is the activity to uphold the righteous and put down the wicked, where is God when bad things happen to good people?

Job will be visited by representatives of all of the conventional religious answers to that question.  They will reason with him, quote scripture, preach, argue, admonish, and so forth.  The friends will defend God -- God's justice and wisdom.  They will tell Job that he must have done some evil, perhaps unthinkingly.  They will tell him that God knows more than we do.  Ultimately, those answers are unsatisfactory to Job.  In the end, God commends Job, not his conventional, orthodox friends.  It is a tremendous story; it is a marvelous intellectual work.

And in Acts we have something good happening to one presumed to be "bad."  The Ethiopian eunuch is a definition of "the stranger."  A foreigner of a different race.  A court official of great power in an exotic queen's court.  And he is a eunuch.  Eunuchs were often used in harem and court settings as a safeguard for wives, concubines, princesses and other women of the court.  The word eunuch referred to a male who had been castrated, but in Greek it could also refer to one who could not or would not marry or procreate for various reasons, including, according to some scholars, sexual orientation.

The Scripture prohibited one whose sexual organs had been removed or damaged from being admitted to the assembly of the Lord (Deuteronomy 23:1-3; Leviticus 21:18-20).  But the prophet Isaiah, speaking in God's name, imagined a day when the eunuchs would be included "in my house and within my walls" and be given "a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off."  Isaiah continued in that same oracle with a vision of a day when foreigners also will be welcome, "for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples." (Isaiah 56:4-8)  That prophecy is enacted in today's New Testament story of Philip's baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch.

"Look, here is water!  What is to prevent me from being baptized?"  From a conventional perspective there was much to prevent his baptism.  There was the word of scripture from Deuteronomy and Leviticus.  There was centuries of traditional practice.  There was the strangeness of his sexuality and race and culture.  But Acts describes Philip as being filled with the Holy Spirit, and Philip welcomes the eunuch and incorporates him in the Christian community through baptism. 

We are reading a repeated and major theme of scripture:  Over and over God's Spirit guides us to see God's unexpected presence in the stranger and the outcast.  Those we thought were "bad" aren't, and God has good things in store for them and for us.  We still yearn for the fulfillment of Isaiah's vision.


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About Morning Reflections
"Morning Reflections" is a brief thought about the scripture readings from the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer according to the practice found in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.

Morning Prayer begins on p. 80 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Evening Prayer begins on p. 117
An online resource for praying the Daily Office is found at

Another form of the office from Phyllis Tickle's "Divine Hours" is available on our partner web site at this location

The Mission of St. Paul's Episcopal Church
is to explore and celebrate
God's infinite grace, acceptance, and love.

See our Web site at

Our Rule of Life: 
We aspire to...
    worship weekly
    pray daily
    learn constantly
    serve joyfully 
    live generously.

Lowell Grisham, Rector
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Fayetteville, Arkansas


At 8:38 AM, Blogger Elaine said...

I'm looking forward to a lively discussion about Job. Little does he know that God is using him as a pawn in a game with Satan. At least that's how I read the opening verses. And it's a game with high stakes. If anyone sees this reading differently, please comment.

At 9:22 AM, Anonymous Russell Winburn said...

No one is without Christianity, if we agree on what we mean by that word. It is every individual’s individual code of behavior by means of which he makes himself a better human being than his nature wants to be, if he followed his nature only. Whatever its symbol — cross or crescent or whatever — that symbol is man’s reminder of his duty inside the human race. Its various allegories are the charts against which he measures himself and learns to know what he is. It cannot teach a man to be good as the textbook teaches him mathematics. It shows him how to discover himself, evolve for himself a moral codes and standard within his capacities and aspirations, by giving him a matchless example of suffering and sacrifice and the promise of hope.

William Faulkner

At 10:26 AM, Anonymous mike wertz said...

For me the story of Job is a story of redemption. I have lost everything a couple of times now. Unlike Job, I can trace it back to my actions as the mover in the deal. What the mover in my actions was, God knows.

But Job suffered, did not deny God, registered a complaint or two, and that was okay. Sometimes stuff seems to come out of the blue. Slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. I have an advantage in that I had AA to help my understand my part – selfishness and self-centeredness – in the fiascos. Job did not have AA. All he had was some old testament and some fair weather friends.

I always appreciated it that I did not get boils. I think that would have been the insult to the injury. I am a fortunate man in many ways.

God tests us. That is part of the deal so you might as well get used to it. One good thing I have found to come out of the old testament is that somewhere somebody said that God will not give you more than you can bear. God will take you to the limit of that – to harden you to God’s service, but it will never be too much.

I bet Job was a better man second time around. Not better in the sense that the religionists wanted, but in his companionship with God.

Thank you again Lowell,


At 12:52 PM, Anonymous Betsy said...

Russell talked about individual discovery and evolving---The readings today strenthen my feeling that "religion" or our perception of it, grows and evolves as any living thing must.
There is great hope in that.

At 3:08 PM, Anonymous mike wertz said...

There is great hope in that Betsy.


At 5:53 PM, Blogger Lowell said...

Thanks for the good comments today. I too look forward to re-reading Job.

That guy Faulkner. Where is he from?

I would take some issue with him. Religion is much more than an individual thing and more than merely morals. It is that, at least. It is also about community and relationship. Thanks for the quote, Russell.

And I'm glad I haven't had the boils either.



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