Job (of Old Testament fame) is probably the most famous ash heap sitter. Job’s wife, whose name we don’t even know, is undoubtedly the patron saint of ash heap sitters. But why do we even care about these two ash heapers?
Since we’re in the season of Lent, Women’s History Month and, recently Ash Wednesday, I thought we’d look at someone who knew a bit about self-denial and had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad life. That would be Job’s wife. There is only one verse pertaining to her in the entire book of Job, but that one verse has survived several millennia, and has inaccurately branded her as the bad wife who stood by her man’s side.
We all know about poor Job. In fact, he’s a lot like us. He’s living his good life, doing his good things when, through no fault of his own, his entire life is turned upside-down. He loses all of his property, all ten of his children, and then is afflicted with some nasty skin disease. Symbolizing his complete alienation from everything and everyone, and in a deep depression and horrible grief, he goes and sits among the ashes. Job’s wife was the only person (or property as it was in those days) that wasn’t taken from him.
Job’s wife finds him at the ash heap and we read her famous verse: Then his wife said to him, “Do you still persist in your integrity? Curse God, and die.” (Job 2:9)
She courageously gives voice to the inner turmoil of one who is suffering. It’s an honest statement from one who is trying to make sense of something so senseless. Job wasn’t the only one suffering. Job’s wife lost her children and everything else too.
The book of Job is a unique, rich story told to show how all of the intellectual, well-thought, logical theological treatises fall short in the crucible of real, ash heap experiences. The friends and even Job himself all try to make sense of something so senseless. The Accuser does all that’s possible to alienate Job from God. In the end, they all are left with nothing to say. That’s when God speaks.
Lent is a time of introspection. It’s a time when it’s perfectly alright to look at those nagging uncertainties. It’s a time of honesty and authenticity. Traditionally it was a time set aside to prepare for baptism. The forty days of Lent corresponds to the forty days Jesus spent in the wilderness preparing for his public ministry, set into motion after his baptism.
Whatever you do for Lent this year, make it a time that is meaningful for you. Consider it a seasonal gift to your spiritual self. We all know what Job’s wife said and she was not instantly incinerated. In fact, her words were a gift to Job because he was too afraid to go to that dark corners of his mind and heart. When you’re hanging on by a thread, you don’t want to sever the last thin tie. Job’s wife could say the words Job thought, giving him a brief breath of relief.
There is a lot we can learn from those on the ash heap.