I once walked around in the northern Scottish islands called the Orkney Islands. Sometimes I was alone. This story is about a man who lived on one of these islands.
The man’s name was J. Noah Gallagher. He was originally from Ireland, but he settled in the Orkneys after he met and married his wife Lucy. Lucy had lived on the island her whole life and he understood her attachment to her home. Lucy had many siblings and relatives and Noah was willing to start over in the Orkneys.
Noah purchased a building and transformed it into a pub and local eatery. He named it “Noah’s Ark.” Lucy and Noah lived on the floor above the pub. They were blessed with five children in the span of nine years, so the household was a busy one.
By the time of Noah and Lucy’s tenth anniversary, Noah was more than well settled into the close-knit community. His Irish accent gave away his origin, but since he listened more than he spoke, people sometimes forgot that he hadn’t grown up just around the bend. There was also the issue of his surname, which was noticeably Irish. Interestingly, his last name was said to mean “foreign helper,” or “foreign assistance,” and that was what he was.
You see, it wasn’t long before the locals realized that Noah was indeed ready to help. He was the steady and trustworthy sort, and he could be counted upon to get a job done. His observant mind was fast and he readily applied it to figuring out solutions for problems. It was typical to see him behind the bar leaning in close to another, to hear the details of yet another tale of woe. He became, to many, a confessor of sorts, ready to listen and quick to understand. His advice was solid and filled with fresh insights, but the main thing was that he was both empathetic and encouraging.
Sometimes the locals would joke about “going to see Father Noah.”
As for Noah, he liked the jokes and he liked the camaraderie. He was the social sort. He was, you could say, a fan of humanity, and he sprang to its defence, time and again. As a matter of fact, sometimes he defended those who seemed the least deserving of his mercy. His wife’s ne’er-do-well brother, for instance, was always given a welcome — Merton’s late-night arrivals at the Ark were regular but he was made to feel like the repentant prodigal son, as Noah dished him up a warm plate of stew with some bread made earlier that day. As for Auntie Iris, her ‘zany’ ways were always tolerated with a sigh and a knowing look, exchanged between Noah and Lucy.
Merton and Iris weren’t the only ones to enjoy the Gallagher family’s hospitality. Lucy had cousins and second cousins and more than a few uncles and aunts. They were more than happy to pop in for a bite and something refreshing to drink. It was “on the house,” because Noah didn’t want to charge family, especially good folks like these (he always saw the good in people).
Nobody would call Noah a businessman, because he was never about the dollars and cents. He was always a generous host and the truth is that he saw the Ark as more of an extension of his home than a business. Those who noticed how often he allowed his patrons to go without paying wondered how he managed to make ends meet, but the less observant folks assumed that the abundance of patrons meant an abundance of wealth.
When it came to money, Noah wasn’t shrewd. He wasn’t calculating and he wasn’t ruthless. He was, simply put, quite selfless. He didn’t keep a close eye on the money coming in and the money going out. He viewed his customers as friends, and he wanted the best for each and every one of them. What did it matter if Stuart paid him next week? Stuart had been unemployed for several months now. What did it matter if Brenda didn’t return the roasting pan in the end? Perhaps she had simply forgotten; he didn’t want to embarrass her by asking. Conversely, however, he never forgot a good turn, and he made every effort to show his gratitude to those who had shown him a kindness, even if they were merely carrying out their ordinary duties. He was the type to throw in ‘a little something’ extra for those who did a good job.
And so the story went.
But you know how the story goes.
The day finally came when Noah found out.
It was his son who started the ball rolling. It was Tommy who said that Auntie Iris was rather kind of scary. It was Tommy who said that Auntie Iris had grabbed his little sister’s face and hissed with anger.
Noah was aghast.
Noah gathered his family about him and asked question after question. He wanted to listen and he wanted to re-evaluate.
The stories came out, and Noah began to see everything anew. He began to see that all wasn’t well. Noah and Lucy considered the picture and they made a decision.
They decided that they had to choose their children. They decided that no longer would Auntie Iris make their home her playground, to do as she chose. A line had been crossed, but it would never be crossed again.
After God, family was first. Family was the priority. His family was his gift from God, and he needed to set things aright.
Noah surveyed the collection of glass mugs and the scraps of food clinging to the bowls from the previous evening. In times past, he would have tidied them up without a second thought, but this morning, things were different. He suddenly wondered, who were all these people who had been taking his time? He had always assumed that the affection was mutual; he had always assumed that they meant what they said and said what they felt.
He walked over to a corner of the bar, where he kept a pile of papers. These were the tabs. Although he hadn’t recorded everything, he had recorded some things. And besides, he had a memory, did he not?
He flipped through the names, and he looked at the amounts. For the first time in years, he calculated the totals.
He was astonished.
Things were not the way that he had thought them to be. The imbalance was staggering.
The heavy wooden door at the Ark creaked open and Noah looked up. It was Jenny. She settled into her regular spot at the bar. She did not notice that Noah didn’t give his usual cheerful greeting, but Noah noticed that she didn’t notice. She was ready for her drink and she was ready to tell of her latest adventures.
Noah poured her drink and told her the price.
Jenny almost dropped her drink, just from the shock.
The price was ordinary, but the words were not. She was appalled that he mentioned the price. He was acting as if he expected her to pay! He was acting as if she were nothing more than a mere customer!
She was incensed and offended and shocked. She finished her drink and placed the money on the bar with some disdain.
She was indignant and swore to herself that she would never return to the Ark. She looked forward to expressing her outrage to her friends. “Father Noah, indeed!”
Noah sat down at the bar. He looked up at Lucy, who had come downstairs, holding one of the little ones. She wondered at his demeanor, because he looked exhausted.
“What is it?”
“I asked Jenny to pay.”
As the day wore on, the scene was repeated. Customers were asked to pay for what they consumed and Noah asked his customers when they were planning to clear their tab.
Word got out quickly that Noah had
Lost His Mind.
But Noah was cool.
And Noah was sane.
He locked the door and went upstairs to see his family. They gave him joy and he smiled at his wife. Lucy was pretty and as witty as ever.
There was a sound at the door.
Standing in a group were Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar. They said they came in the name of the Lord. They said they came as friends.
Job didn’t answer the door.
So they sent him emails.
They said they wrote in the name of the Lord. They said that they wrote as friends.
Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar wrote many things. They spoke about God and about what God wanted and what God did and what God thought. They preached to Noah about mercy and meekness and accused him of pettiness and harshness. They pouted that he was “being mean” nowadays. Their conclusion was that if Noah suffered, then he suffered because he had done wrong.
Noah protested and pointed out that even in the case of their own accounts, there was an outstanding balance. There was an imbalance.
That only made them angrier.
But Noah continued.
He wrote, “How long will you torment me, and break me in pieces with words? These ten times you have cast reproach upon me; are you not ashamed to wrong me?”
He wrote, “Behold, I know your thoughts, and your schemes to wrong me.”
He wrote, “My lips will not speak falsehood, and my tongue will not utter deceit. Far be it from me to say that you are right; till I die I will not put away my integrity from me. I hold fast my righteousness, and will not let it go; my heart does not reproach me for any of my days.”
He wrote, “He has put my brethren far from me, and my acquaintances are wholly estranged from me. My kinsfolk and my close friends have failed me; the guests in my house have forgotten me.”
And finally, he wrote, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and at last he will stand upon the earth.”
Noah felt that he had said all that could be said, but Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar were determined to prove that Noah was in the wrong. They had appointed themselves as judge, and they were pleased with their verdict upon this bartender named Noah.
They, after all, Understood All — or so they thought.
The truth was, they did not understand the first thing. They did not understand, for starters, that this man had been given more than one Old Testament name.
His first name, as you know, was Job.