The Stewardship of Job
The Rev. Rachel G. Hackenberg
The Rev. Rachel G. Hackenberg is an author, speaker, and ordained minister. Her new book, "Sacred Pause: A Creative Retreat for the Word-weary Christian," invites readers to savor familiar words of faith and thereby meet The Word afresh. Click here to read more about Rav. Hackenberg's writings.
I realize that you have a short bio of me in the announcements in front of you, and of course some of us have had longer conversations on Sunday mornings when I worship here, but for a little extra background let me say: I was a writer long before I became a minister, with my first story published at the age of thirteen – a fictional short story about a cat who was a king. In college, I studied the language of music, and in seminary, I focused on theology and preaching because I loved the impact of words. These days, I spend my time immersed in the dialect of denominational process for the United Church of Christ.
I say all of this so that you trust me and my entirely unscientific background as I tell you about a recent discovery in the field of quantum physics.
Quantum physics is the study of subatomic particles – those infinitely small bits and pieces that comprise the microscopically small bits and pieces of atoms that in turn comprise the bits and pieces of the world as we know it. Subatomic particles (protons, neutrons, electrons) are so unimaginably small that they can pass through objects that we would otherwise describe as solid. Just to keep things interesting: sometimes subatomic particles pass through objects by acting like particles, like tiny pieces that duck and dodge their way through objects by finding open spaces; but sometimes subatomic particles act like waves that have motion, that vibrate their way directly through objects.
In a recent experiment conducted at the Australian National University, scientists tried to understand when and why subatomic particles act like particles that go around or like waves that go through. For the experiment, they put obstacles in the path of those particles to see if the particles would go through the obstacles like waves or around them like particles. What the scientists discovered boggles the mind:
When there was only one obstacle in their path, the subatomic particles behaved like particles. When there were two obstacles, the subatomic particles behaved like waves. So when there were two obstacles, the particles changed how they interacted with the first obstacle based on the fact that there was a second obstacle still to come. In other words, a subatomic proton made a decision – if protons make decisions – a proton made a decision about its behavior at the first obstacle because of its future behavior at the second obstacle. What was coming impacted what had already occurred.
The future was found to influence the past.
And if it astounds our minds to think of it in terms of quantum physics, it should equally awe and marvel our spirits to understand it in terms of faith and scripture: In the Gospel of Mark this morning, the future of Bartimaeus’ healing is so miraculous, so life-changing, that even before the healing occurs, Bartimaeus throws off his cloak and springs up with joy. And even before Bartimaeus throws off his cloak and springs up with joy, that future of healing causes Bartimaeus to shout out to the man passing him by, “Jesus, have mercy on me!”
That future healing prompts joy and dancing even before it happens, prompts a crying out even before it comes to pass. The future is found to influence the past. And Jesus says to Bartimeaus, “Go. Your faith in a future healing – that prompted you to call my name, that prompted you to leap for joy – has made you well.” The future is found to influence the past.
And if it’s hard for us – because sometimes it is very hard – to rejoice in healing before healing ever comes; if it’s hard for us to sing for the fulfillment of justice before we ever see it come to pass; if it’s hard for us to take comfort in God’s voice before God’s voice speaks comfort; if Bartimeaus’ future joy is just a little too quick for us; if it’s hard in faith – not if, when it’s hard in faith to even imagine the future let alone to trust in the future; then we are blessed with a good friend in Job.
Job too found that his future shaped his past, but we have a whole book of the Bible to understand how much Job struggled to find that future perspective and to allow it to shape his past perspective. While it’s true that the book of Job has a happy ending – his friends and brothers and sisters return, he once again has thousands of sheep and camels and oxen and donkeys, he has children again (including three daughters who are listed by name) – nevertheless it’s not the restoration of fortune in chapter 42 that influences the preceding 41 chapters. It’s the future dawning of Job’s humility that influences his past endurance and struggle through trial after trial after trial.
Chapter 42 is the future of all Job’s struggles, and it’s in that future when Job finally confesses: “I have uttered what I did not understand. There are things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. I have heard of God but now I see God. Now I know that God can do all things. Now I repent, for I understand at last that God’s purposes cannot be confused with my goals and gratification.”
It’s not because he gets his stuff back in the future but because he finds humility in the future that Job can say in the past: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb and naked shall I return, yet still: blessed be the name of the LORD.” And it’s not because he gets his stuff back in the future but because he finds humility in the future that Job can lament and wail in the past, saying: “Why does God give light if I cannot see the way? Why does God pay attention to humans at all, since we are so fleeting and so sinful?”
It’s not because he gets his stuff back in the future but because he finds humility in the future that Job can yell and curse at God in the past yet still find the faith to listen for God’s response, which comes in chapter 38: “Have you commanded the morning or taught the dawn how to shake the shadows from the earth? Have you fathomed the depths of the oceans or measured the storehouses of snow and hail? Tell me, Job, if you are so wise.”
Job’s past interactions with God through seasons of struggle and crisis and doubt are influenced by his future humility before God.
And when he does get his stuff back, when God restores Job’s material wealth and family abundance – house and friends and family and land and camels and donkeys and sheep – even with the return of such comforts, Job does not forget his humility before God, his faith that God’s purposes will outlast his own dreams, his trust that God’s goodness will endure long after life’s goodness.
Even when he gets his stuff back, Job demonstrates that he is still humbled by and trusts in God’s future more than in his own abundance. In humility and faith, Job is radically generous with his renewed fortunes, giving not only to his sons as was the custom but also to his daughters Jemimah, Keziah, and Keren-happuch, who receive equal shares. The continuation of Job’s humility into the future beyond chapter 42 – his trust in God’s future over his trust in his own life causes him to act with bold economic stewardship in the division of his inheritance.
The future influences the past.
And I don’t know if it’s harder for you to believe in such a phenomenon through the lens of quantum physics or through the lens of faith. I confess that there are days when I find it easier to believe that a proton’s future can impact its past than to believe that God’s future can impact our past, because it’s a struggle of faith to recognize God’s dream of goodness interrupting our grief and doubt now, God’s eventual justice unfolding now, God’s ultimate redemption coming to fruition now.
Yet this is the witness of Job: that our faith today can be nurtured by God’s mystery tomorrow. More to the point, this is the stewardship of Job: not how he managed wealth when he had it but how he managed faith when he did not.
Job grounded his faith,
nurtured his faith,
interacted with God in seasons of struggle and doubt,
based on the slowly dawning understanding that
God’s purposes will never be within our grasp,
based on the trust that God’s mystery and goodness
will always be found in our future
just as they will always leave traces in our past;
based not on an abundance of wealth
but on an abundance of humility
with awe for who God is
with appreciation for all that he did not understand.
The mystery of God will outlast our seasons of uncertainty; in faith, we also trust God’s mystery to undergird our past. The magnitude of God will remain true in our future long after the entertainments of this world have ended; in humility, we confess the magnitude of God within every present moment.
The power of God to bring about justice and healing and a new day is the ground in which we plant our faith and our lives on this day, not because we are full of certainty but because we are full of doubt. We ground our faith and our lives in joy not because the world is perfect today but because God is good tomorrow.
Call it quantum physics.
Call it faith.
But whatever you call it, be bold and courageous in allowing God’s future to influence the ways you steward your past and present.
To God be the glory,
 Morgan, Stephen. 3 June 2015. Scientists Show Future Events Decide What Happens in the Past. Science.
 Job 1:21
 Job 3:23 and Job 7:17-21
 Job 38 excerpts