This book is about telling the truth in religious faith.
We carry the assumption that real spiritual transformation occurs when people move from expecting God to take care of them, to a realization that peace is possible regardless of circumstances. Our observation is that people often use religion to try and control the uncontrollable, which, in turn, magnifies suffering. We believe that the mature journey of faith is a path to accepting reality as it presents itself.
We address several aspects of the mature spiritual journey by presenting thirty homilies on the biblical book of Job. Each homily is then followed by a fictional pastoral counseling session. These sessions aim to portray individuals grappling with the challenges of being honest about faith while retaining faith. This religious honesty is more challenging than people usually admit.
We assume that virtually all ministers both preach and counsel, and we further believe that preaching and counseling are two of the primary ways that ministers help congregations learn how to read and interpret the Bible. However, our observation is that many, if not most, regular church attendees still struggle deeply with what it means to live out faith in the midst of suffering. Our Bible study classes seldom raise the hardest questions about faith. In fact, and this will seem judgmental on our part, such classes are often only interested in a biblical book in a superficial way. We do not deny the importance of individual study, of course. But we have found that most who practice faith, especially faith in the midst of crises, rely heavily upon their ministers to set out for them the thrust of the biblical story in the context of worship and counseling.
The Book of Job and the Person in the Pew
We hope this book can be of help to ministers; however, our central aim is to address laypersons directly. Two reasons guide our thinking.
First, the book of Job is vitally important for addressing the challenge of holding on to faith while questioning faith. Given this, we find it puzzling that the book of Job is simply not that important in Christian (or Jewish) worship. Only rarely are readings from Job included in Christian lectionaries or prayer books. For Christians in the Free Church tradition (thus not relying upon lectionaries or the Book of Common Prayer), when was the last time you heard in worship a reading or a sermon from the book of Job? Ministers rarely draw from the book of Job in their preaching, teaching, and counseling. Thus Christian worshippers are very unlikely to learn the book in any detail. And yet, we believe this is one of the theologically most important books in the Christian canon, especially in light of the Christian story of Jesus.
The second reason we wish to address laypersons’ concerns what happens in Christian preaching. Or, we should say, what does not happen, at least not much. Worshippers rarely talk about sermons, at least not beyond the compulsory I liked it, or it was off today. It is rare to find worshippers reflecting thoughtfully upon the substance of the minister’s sermon. Oh, to be sure, congregants might comment upon an example or an application, especially if it gets too political. But seldom do worshippers talk with each other about sermons relating to the challenge of holding faith when nearly everything around congregants challenges it. What is more, it is increasingly difficult for worshippers to share with each other at any level of depth. Deepest struggles are reserved for ministers in counseling sessions, rather than other congregants. Such absence of conversation is related to a number of realities, we know, including the rather superficial level of trust that is maintained within communities of faith. But the simple lack of knowledge of the biblical story also contributes to this lack of deep sharing and conversation. And so, the fictional counseling sessions in this book model the exchange of ideas that grow from and are related to a collection of homilies on the book of Job.
Since there are thirty homilies, we go beyond the most well-known parts of Job’s story. We include texts that most readers of the book of Job probably never think about. For this reason, preaching becomes a means of offering an interpretation of the book of Job. And we invite our readers into a conversation about a theologically rich book. We also invite them to engage in the challenge of being honest about holding to religious faith.
What Is a Homily?
Some readers might be more comfortable with the word sermon instead of homily. Such a sentiment would be consistent with our (the authors’) backgrounds. As we learned Christian faith growing up, a homily simply meant a very short sermon. But the term homily has a much more interesting past.
In the New Testament, the verbal form of the word behind homily (something analogous to homilize) occurs in Luke 24:14. It denotes that the disciples were talking to each other as they were on their way to Emmaus. Thus, if the noun form is related, a homily simply denotes a conversation. One of the great challenges of preaching is making sermons conversational. Origen, one of Christianity’s early theologians from Alexandria (183–253 CE) insisted that a homily was to take place in a worship setting, to be derived from scripture, and to continue the idea of conversation about scripture.
The so-called homilies presented here are somewhat in-line with this tradition. Although they have never been used in worship, they are grounded in scripture and seek to be in conversation about the ideas in scripture. They seek to promote conversation in three ways: First, these homilies use everyday language and examples to communicate. Second, the fictional therapy sessions portray further one context in which conversation might continue. And third, we hope the information presented here will inspire conversation among readers of the book, especially about the ways that the homily and counseling sessions form deep connections.
We are aware that interpreting the book of Job presents challenges for modern Christian preachers. While the stories of Jesus’ life and that of Job have much in common, it may be difficult to understand those commonalities from a Christian point of view. In fact, the homilies presented here are not explicitly concerned with the Christian gospel per se. Their subject matter does not necessarily elevate the core Christian claims. They do make intersections with the Christian story at many points. They are probably much more broadly related, though, to Christian practice through their focus on personal moral behavior and emotional development.
The Counseling Sessions: Becoming an Authentic Self
Wes’s pastoral anthropology, that is, his view of human nature, is grounded in the Christian tradition. Wes assumes that human beings are created out of God’s love, but they must live in a creation that has been tragically corrupted. Therefore, all persons live with a fundamental unrest—or anxiety. All of the world’s great religious traditions agree on at least one core point: Human beings experience deep inner conflict. This dilemma is perhaps no more simply described in Christian scripture than by the Apostle Paul’s confession in the book of Romans, chapter 7, vs.15: I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.
Paul goes on to describe the battle between the spiritual nature and the carnal nature. Many writers have offered language to capture this experience. The terms True Self and False Self, for instance, have been popular among spiritual seekers for years. However, we will address these concepts using Burt Burleson’s Authentic Self and small self. We believe the term False Self suggests an inaccurately negative judgment. The term small self, however, reflects our belief that persons carry an anxious passenger that is not so much bad as confusing and immature. This is not to deny that some people behave in ways that seem completely evil and destructive, but only to say that the universal labeling of the small self as evil is unwarranted.
Furthermore, we have found that many religious circles hold the misguided belief that the small self must be virtually beaten into submission, if not destroyed. We argue that, while the small self is certainly a bearer of our wounds and anxieties, it also is a source of great joy and energy. The goal of spiritual formation is to strengthen the Authentic Self and to love the small self well.
We also know that selfhood in general is much more complex than we can set out here. Nevertheless, a common misunderstanding is that the human intellectual self is somehow separate from the human emotional self, and thus people frequently emphasize rationality over emotion. We want to stress that emotion, intuition, feeling, attitude, mood, etc. are fundamental to intellection. Spirituality and religious faith educate the emotions by transforming them from mere self-centered survival mechanisms to facilitators of personal wholeness and social cohesiveness.
How to Read This Book
The texts for each homily have been selected as readers might encounter them in reading through the book of Job from beginning to end. The aim is to create a “homiletic reading” of the entire book of Job. The homilies generally reflect the development of Job’s story. Some homilies offer special focus on particular themes, however, and seem more to stand on their own without connecting to the flow of the narrative.
The homilies never exceed seven hundred words and can be read in a few minutes (or preached in under ten minutes). We are not suggesting they be read that quickly, though. The homilies themselves require careful reflection. The clinical scenarios are comparable but are necessarily a bit longer in order to develop crucial applications of ideas that might emerge in real conversation. The aim of reading the two together is to evoke conversation about both the book of Job and the role of religious faith in becoming healthy individuals.
The homilies include focal biblical texts that provoke the main ideas treated in the body. Unless otherwise indicated, we use the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible in quotations from scripture. You may find it beneficial to use your own Bible to examine the larger contexts in which each focal text functions. Each unit contains both an initial Connections section and a Reflections section. While these two sections are intended to assist and guide readers’ reflections, they are not intended to be exhaustive or prescriptive.
Creating counseling narratives from actual counseling relationships can be tricky. An experienced counselor—or any highly intuitive person, for that matter—will no doubt find the narratives a bit too clean to reflect reality. There’s no question that Wes has, at times, compressed insights that often occur over a few sessions into a single conversation. All of the narratives are, though, very true to real relationships with real people.
 J. Kevin Coyle, “From Homily to Sermon to Homily: The Content of Christian Liturgical Preaching in Historical Perspective.” Liturgical Ministry (Winter 2000): 1–9.
 Paraphrasing the work of Loyal Rue, Religion Is Not about God: How Spiritual Traditions Nurture Our Biological Nature and What to Expect When They Fail (New Brunswick, NJ and London: Rutgers University Press, 2005), 78–124.