Last Sunday was my final day with the church that I have been working at for the past year or so. The pastor asked me to speak and I am now posting a slightly modified version of the manuscript here in bite sized chunks.
The gospel that we believe as Christians is a gospel that calls us to faith in God, to trust in God, despite whatever may come, whether or not we would have chosen the path he takes us down ourselves.
To illustrate that this morning, we are going to look at the book of Job.
Now, there may be some disagreement about this, but my opinion is that Job was written as a drama or a play. I don’t think that this book is meant to tell us about actual events that occurred historically, I think it is meant to illustrate an aspect of life in a dramatic fashion. So where Job lived, what he did, those are not questions we should focus on.
The opening scenes of the book in the throne room of God that record a conversation between God and Satan are not meant to tell us what actually happens in heaven, I don’t think, so much as to act as a back-story setting up a situation that we can all identify with.
And that situation is that life does not always go the way we want it to go.
Try as we might to avoid it, pain and misery do find us, and disasters do fall on us. If we have not suffered that in life, we will. Perhaps they will not be quite as dramatic as what Job faced in this story, though often times they are.
I first really began thinking about this in the wake of the earthquake in Haiti a few months ago. For quite a few families in Haiti after that quake I am sure that Job’s misery was very similar to their own.
But to whatever degree that we sympathize with Job, the truth is that we all can sympathize with him.
And I think that is the point of the story- to draw us in so that we feel what Job is feeling. We know what completely unexpected disaster feels like. We know what it means to be broadsided with bad news. And probably, we know what it means to have friends trying to comfort us when that bad news arrives.
But in Job’s story the comfort that his friends offer him turns out to not be very comforting.
And that is because his friends want to fit everything into nice and neat categories.
Only the evil suffer, they want to say, so if Job is suffering like this he must be guilty of some terrible, atrocious sin. That’s the only explanation, and the only response, they say, is that Job must repent and beg God for forgiveness.
Unfortunately, as our own experience probably tells us and as the back-story makes clear, these nice-neat categories are not really sufficient.
Job has two responses to their explanation for his suffering.
One is a question- to ask how they explain all the wicked people who are doing quite well while righteous people barely make do, all the mob bosses who go untouched while innocents die in concentration camps?
His second response is to acknowledge that is very possible that he has sinned and deserves this punishment from God, but to say he doesn’t know what his sin is and just wants God to explain why this is happening to him.
And so Job is expressing a sentiment I think we have probably all felt, if we are honest. That is the sentiment of confusion and uncertainty, of not knowing what God is doing or what we should do.
So this back-and-forth dialogue goes on for the whole book of Job that leaves us with no conclusion, we still feel the confusion and agony of Job at the end when God finally speaks. Here, we think, we are finally going to find comfort.
But what God says, I think, probably strikes us as a little bit unsettling if we are honest. I’m going to read just a little bit of God’s answer in Job 38:
Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind: “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me. Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements- surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?”
Skipping down a little to verse 16:
“Have you entered into the springs of the sea, or walked in the recesses of the deep? Have the gates of death been revealed to you, or have you seen the gates of deep darkness? Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth? Declare, if you know all this.”
And this barrage of question continues until we get to Chapter 40:
And the Lord said to Job: “Shall a fault-finder contend with the Almighty? Anyone who argues with God must respond.”