Monday, September 10, 2012

A Certain Bad Answer

Monday, September 10, 2012 -- Week of Proper 18
Alexander Crummell, 1898

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

Today's Readings for the Daily Office

     (Book of Common Prayer, p. 983)
Psalm 41, 52 (morning)     //     44 (evening)
Job 32:1-10, 19 - 33:1, 19-28
Acts 13:44-52
John 10:19-30

In our reading from Job today we have a little comic relief that seems to serve some dramatic purpose to postpone the cosmic encounter with God.  Elihu plays the part of the fool.  He claims to know more than the others (that's always a mark of a fool in ancient literature).  He describes his heart as "like wine that has no vent; like new wineskins, it is ready to burst."  He's something of a blowhard.  Yet, he is certain.  And he is certain of his certainties.  He speaks with confident boldness.  But he doesn't make much sense.  He's a Stephen Colbert version of the wrong side of the argument.

In the portion we read today, Elihu's speech is the kind of talk that makes you want to pull somebody's hair out, preferably his.  He is so sure that if you are a good person and you pray to God, God will heal you, even from the edge of death.  I've known people like that.  People who speak to one who is ill, and speak with such confidence.  "If you just believe enough...  If you'll just pray to God; if you just pray hard enough..." 

I've known remarkable healings.  I've seen healing miracles.  I've seen people restored from the brink of death.  But, it is a mystery.  It's not about us believing enough.  I've known those who believed truly and prayed earnestly, and did not get well.  Visitors like Elihu can make a sufferer feel doubly cursed -- not only for the suffering of their illness, but also for the implied responsibility that it was their fault that they didn't get well.  It can be confusing and hurtful.  "I believed with all my heart, didn't I?  I prayed so hard.  Why didn't I get well?  Is it my fault?"

Elihu with his certainties is a bad answer to that profound question.  Elihu claims to know way too much.  God's mysterious epiphany to Job is a better answer to that question. 


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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 10:50 AM, Blogger Judi Neal said...

This is an extremely important point. There is a book by Ken Wilber, Grace and Grit, that describes how he and his wife found out that she had breast cancer two weeks after they got married, and the spiritual way they dealt with her illness and eventual death. I think he coined the term "New Age Guilt" in this book. It is the same idea that you describe in your blog, only in New Age terms. If you aren't getting better its because you haven't dealt with your karma, or seen the right healer, or eaten the right pure foods, or meditated enough, or whatever. Although we want to be loving and supportive to our friends or family members who may be seriously ill, intimating to someone that they are doing something wrong if they don't get better is just cruel. As we learn to accept the mystery of life, we also need to accept the mystery of death and dying.

At 2:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It occurs to me that there may be a lesson in here for the Razorback fans. I don't think that all the prayer in the world will get Bobby Petrino back.

At 10:30 PM, Blogger Lowell said...

Thanks for the comment Judi,

It seems we want so badly to be in charge of the things that matter -- and what matters more than our health and existence -- that we will claim the forbidden fruit -- the knowledge of good and evil.

And to our football fan -- I know by painful experience that praying doesn't help and God doesn't care about football.


At 8:46 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Really? I always thought she was a Cowboys fan.


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