Who Are You? The Book of Job May Hold the Answer

The most essential parts of our identity anchor us when the tides of life inevitably shift.

By the Rev. Dr. Charlene Han Powell

Over three consecutive weeks, we will observe Father’s Day, Pride Sunday and Independence Day weekend—a mélange of celebrations that lift up various aspects of human identity.

But if the past few decades have shown us anything, it’s that identity is hardly limited to family roles, sexuality and nationality. Firmly positioned on the main stage of cultural discourse, the question of identity includes a neverending list of answers, including religion, sexuality, gender, race, culture, politics, nationality, dietary preference, and the list goes on and on.

How do you identify yourself? Are you a father, a mother or a guardian? Single, married, looking or satisfied? A husband, a wife, a spouse or a partner? Are you the professions, titles, degrees and certifications listed on your resume? Are you the possessions in your home, or the company you keep?  The actions you take? The words you say?

Who are you? I suppose it depends on whom you are asking.

William Blake, Illustration to Book of Job (detail)Consider, for instance, the online bios for the pastors of this church. The senior pastor, Scott Black Johnston, begins his bio with these words: "I am a husband." Associate Pastor Kate Dunn says, "I grew up in Clinton, New York." Our parish associate, J.C. Austin, opens with, "I am a lifelong Presbyterian." As for me, I wrote, "I am a second-generation Korean American."

It seems almost pointless to ask "Who am I?" anymore, because the answers are endless, and none are sufficient. We are more than our race, or our religion, or our gender, sexuality, nationalityand yet this question is still one worth asking. Because the most important, most essential parts of our identity are what ground and anchor us when the tides of life inevitably shift and tremble around us. Who we are is what enables us to get through what happens to us: the good, the bad and everything in between.

Why Job?

Now if anyone understands what I mean by that it’s Job. Good old Job. We know him as the guy whose life and wellness God wagered in a troubling game of divine poker. He is the guy who had it all, lost it all and then got it all back. But that’s not really who Job is. That is just what happened to him.

If you want the online bio version of Job, look no further than the first five verses of the book that bears his name. In the vernacular, it goes like this: "My name is Job. I live in Uz with my wife, 10 kids and 11,000 animals. I love a good dinner party, but at the end of the day, I’m just a guy who worships and fears the Lord."

Job is that guy who shows up at your 20-year high school reunion in a private jet… but then pays for everyone’s bar tab. You want to hate him but you can’t, because he’s just a really good guy with really good luck. 

And Job was set on keeping that luck going. It says it right there in verse 5: "And when the feast days had run their course, Job would send and sanctify them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all; for Job said, 'It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.' This is what Job always did."

That is, until his luck runs out.

In verse 6, the scene moves from the earthly realm to the heavenly one, in what can only be described as a meeting of divine beings. We learn that Ha'Satan, the Accuser, has just returned from a trip around the world in search of someone who is not only righteous but fears the Lord. When he comes back empty, God proposes our friend Job as a potential candidate.

But the Accuser pushes back, saying, "What does Job have to be afraid of? You have given him everything he could have ever wanted. But if you take that away, he will curse you to your face."

And the deal is struck: God allows the Accuser to test his theory and afflict Job with every form of suffering imaginable. Job loses his family, his wealth, and eventually even his health.

And that’s just the prologue. As the rest unfolds and we observe impassioned conversations between Job and his friends, and between Job and God, Job's identity crisis comes into sharp focus. The online bio is long gone. What remains is a man desperately trying to figure out who he is and how he got here.

What does Job have to teach us about ourselves in the living of our days? That's what we will try to find out in these next few weeks.


Charlene Han Powell is the executive pastor of Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church. Her three-week sermon series, "Identity Crisis," with texts from the Book of Job, continues through Sunday, July 2. This introduction is taken from the first sermon in the series, "Identity Crisis: Who Am I?" Follow along at fapc.org/sermons.


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