What a tricky business, this listing of offenses. In Job’s case a listing of the errors he did not make. How often have any of us made a fearless and searching inventory of all that we have done or failed to do? A long, hard look at what we bring to the table can be a healthy – if painful – exercise. We cannot change what we cannot look at.
At the same time, can we ever really know all that we have done and their consequences? Early in my ministry (very early, like weeks) I was faced with a behavior and its consequence and was truly shocked and saddened. As I met all the wonderful people in my brand new congregation, I greeted each warmly and enthusiastically. But a few weeks in my mentor pointed out that a beloved elderly member had come to him distressed. She was upset because I spoke with the elderly with the same tone and pace that I used to speak with the children. I had not met many elderly in my time and the few I had known were not only elderly, but were also cognitively compromised. It had never occurred to me that many, if not most, of the elderly in my congregation were not only quite sharp, but also sophisticated and highly educated. My patronizing tone was quite offensive to them. If the parishioner had not found the courage to speak up, and if my mentor had not pointed it out to me, I might never had known how my behavior affected those that I came to love. It makes me wonder how many other things I have done or have failed to do that I don’t know about. Truly, all can do is ask for forgiveness for the things I know about and the things I may never know about. And then forgive myself because I will never be perfect. But I’m enough anyway.
“I have made a covenant with my eyes; how then could I look upon a virgin? What would be my portion from God above, and my heritage from the Almighty on high? Does not calamity befall the unrighteous, and disaster the workers of iniquity? Does he not see my ways, and number all my steps?
“If I have walked with falsehood, and my foot has hurried to deceit— let me be weighed in a just balance, and let God know my integrity!— if my step has turned aside from the way, and my heart has followed my eyes, and if any spot has clung to my hands; then let me sow, and another eat; and let what grows for me be rooted out.
“If my heart has been enticed by a woman, and I have lain in wait at my neighbor’s door; then let my wife grind for another, and let other men kneel over her. For that would be a heinous crime; that would be a criminal offense; for that would be a fire consuming down to Abaddon, and it would burn to the root all my harvest.
“If I have rejected the cause of my male or female slaves, when they brought a complaint against me; what then shall I do when God rises up? When he makes inquiry, what shall I answer him? Did not he who made me in the womb make them? And did not one fashion us in the womb?
“If I have withheld anything that the poor desired, or have caused the eyes of the widow to fail, or have eaten my morsel alone, and the orphan has not eaten from it— for from my youth I reared the orphan like a father, and from my mother’s womb I guided the widow— if I have seen anyone perish for lack of clothing, or a poor person without covering, whose loins have not blessed me, and who was not warmed with the fleece of my sheep; if I have raised my hand against the orphan, because I saw I had supporters at the gate; then let my shoulder blade fall from my shoulder, and let my arm be broken from its socket. For I was in terror of calamity from God, and I could not have faced his majesty.
“If I have made gold my trust, or called fine gold my confidence; if I have rejoiced because my wealth was great, or because my hand had gotten much; if I have looked at the sun when it shone, or the moon moving in splendor, and my heart has been secretly enticed, and my mouth has kissed my hand; this also would be an iniquity to be punished by the judges, for I should have been false to God above.
“If I have rejoiced at the ruin of those who hated me, or exulted when evil overtook them— I have not let my mouth sin by asking for their lives with a curse— if those of my tent ever said, ‘O that we might be sated with his flesh!’ — the stranger has not lodged in the street; I have opened my doors to the traveler— if I have concealed my transgressions as others do, by hiding my iniquity in my bosom, because I stood in great fear of the multitude, and the contempt of families terrified me, so that I kept silence, and did not go out of doors— Oh, that I had one to hear me! (Here is my signature! let the Almighty answer me!) Oh, that I had the indictment written by my adversary! Surely I would carry it on my shoulder; I would bind it on me like a crown; I would give him an account of all my steps; like a prince I would approach him.
“If my land has cried out against me, and its furrows have wept together; if I have eaten its yield without payment, and caused the death of its owners; let thorns grow instead of wheat, and foul weeds instead of barley.” The words of Job are ended.