Here we are in our third section of Job. The reading assignment for today took us through Chapter 27. I am sure most of you are caught up, but for anyone who has missed one a week, let’s do a quick review. — The first two chapters of Job demonstrates that this writing was not to be understood as factual or historical. This story probes the depths of faith in great suffering. This story examines the question of theodicy – how can God be good when the good and faithful people suffer greatly? Why do bad things happen to good people?
The first two chapters set up the entire story, a being from God’s heavenly court questions Job’s faithfulness, attributing it to the fact that Job had everything – a big, happy family, wealth through livestock and his health. God gave the heavenly being permission to take it all away. But, through all his incredible suffering Job remains faithful and never sins.
Job’s three friends come to be with Job and sit in solidarity with Job for 7 days and nights in silence. They listen to Job lament in poetry form all that has happened to him and curse the day he was born. Beginning in chapter 4 until the end of the book, the friends take turns speaking, also in poetry form, trying to talk sense to Job. Over and over they urge Job to repent, to acknowledge his sin and accept his punishment so that he can be forgiven and restored. As they take turns speaking, we feel how they want to shake Job by the shoulders. They love him, they feel for him, they want his suffering to end. They try to re-teach Job the theology of their time – if you are good, you are rewarded; if you are bad, you are punished by God. Job is being punished, they say for his sin.
But for his part, Job remains firm – he did not cause his suffering. He places all responsibility in the hands of God and he grows more and more irritated at his so-called friends. We see this at the beginning of Chapter 19 for today. “How long will you torment me?” They have admonished him 10 times and enough is enough. In verse 6, Job says, “God has put me in the wrong.” All of his friends and family are estranged from him, his wife cannot even stand his breath, he says. And so he begs in verse 21, “have pity on me, have pity on me O you my friends, for the hand of God has touched me.”
In Chapter 20 , Zophar describes the fate of the wicked in very clear terms. Some of what he says is a little too close to Job’s situation. And so Job responds in chapter 21 asking why are there wicked people who grow old and powerful , who sing happily with the tambourine and lyre – who say, “leave us alone,” to God. Job told his friends to open their eyes and pay attention to what is around them.
But Eliphaz picks up the criticism as if Job did not say a thing and in verse 27 tells Job that if he prays , God will hear and will reward him.
Job turns away from his friends and turns his argument directly to God. In Chapter 23, Job lays his case out to God but God is nowhere to be found. In Chapter 24 Job raises the states saying, “why are times not kept by the Almighty?” The poor suffer, naked, cold and wet and God pays no attention to their prayers. With his words, Job is waving his fist at heaven and calling God on the carpet.
After a quick accusation from Bildad where people are like maggots in God’s eyes, Job turns to sarcasm to his friends in Chapter 26. “How have you helped one who has no power?” – Nothing! “Far be it from me to say that you are right,” he says in Chapter 27, “until I die, I will not put away my integrity from me.” Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind.” It is important to catch that very important point in this story. Job had lost everything – everything. The last thing he had to hold on to and to stand by was his integrity. Be sure to read this week as God finally responds to Job.—
Job’s firm stance of innocence flows from his isolation and sense of unfair persecution. Job has leveled charges against both his friends and God. And he recognizes that in taking God to task, the balance of power is stacked against him so a permanent record is necessary. His language is that of the ancient court and he desires a written and permanent recording of the facts. His move from destructible book to indestructible rock shows the intensity of his desire to be heard and for his innocence and the unfairness of his treatment to be recorded in the permanent record. And although his argument is leveled at God, he expects that, in the end, God will declare his innocence and clear his name. —
The phrase from chapter 19, “I know my Redeemer lives,” means something a little different to Job than to us. In our minds, some of us hear the contemporary song by Nicole Mullen in our heads and some of us may hear the song from Handel’s Messiah. Our Redeemer is Christ, but Job was written at least 500 years before Jesus was born. The word translated as “Redeemer” is go’el in Hebrew. In ancient times, the go’el was a relative, who when in that role, functioned to protect family members from harm. In the story of Ruth, Boaz was the go’el. Isaiah, which was written after Job, established God as the go’el, as when God delivered the people of Israel from Babylonian exile. In the book of Psalms, as the go’el, God delivers from death and rescues anyone who prays.
Job is in need of a go’el, someone who like Moses could deliver him from his oppressive life of pain and suffering. Job needs a Redeemer and he believes that there is one who will eventually rescue him from the mess his life has become. His declaration that he knows his Redeemer lives is a powerful witness to us that even in the midst of incredible pain and suffering, even in the midst of darkness and despair, we, even more than Job, know that there is One who saves us, who redeems us. And we, like Job, will be able to say, I shall see God “on my side.”
While at times throughout the story, Job’s doubt shows through, when it comes down to it, he remains firm that he is innocent. It is striking that in the face of all that his friends say, that Job remains certain he did not cause or deserve the suffering and pain. Job’s self-certainty stands against the confidence of his friends and against the traditional theology of the time. The ancient people viewed God as a King or a supreme Judge who had a court and who doled out rewards and punishments in a fair and just way – so if you were suffering – you caused it. From our perspective Job’s friends seem relentless with their ridiculous arguments, but truthfully, they were only standing up and speaking out for their beliefs and how they understood God. They were being faithful.
But Job challenges us to think for ourselves, to be open to new ideas and thoughts and perspectives – even when it comes to how we understand God. Job urges us to pay attention to our life experiences and to grow and deepen our faith through them. Job dares us to even stand before God and argue our case. Job calls us not to accept a theology, an understanding of God that is different from our experience of God.
Most people of faith are socialized their entire lives not to stand against church tradition, not to stand against the church teachings, not to stand against the faith of their fathers. Yet, ironically, those who dared to point to other paths, other ways of seeing and being, other modes of thinking have often been the ones to actually move the church closer to God.
Think of Martin Luther who stood up against some of the Catholic Church’s ideas like that of buying forgiveness. Think of Barton Stone and Alexander Campbell who were kicked out of the Presbyterian Church because they did not agree with tests of faith. Think of Martin Luther King Jr. who called Christians to include all of God’s people regardless of race.
Last Week I was privileged and blessed to meet Richard Cizik. Richard is an ordained Evangelical minister who from 1980 – 2008 was the Vice President for Governmental Affairs of the National Association of Evangelicals. His primary responsibilities included setting policy direction on issues before Congress, the White House, and Supreme Court, as well as, serving as a national spokesman on issues of concern to evangelicals. You might say, he was all in – he was a firm believer in the authoritative teachings of Scripture as understood by the Evangelical church. He helped keep the Evangelical church’s teachings in the front of that national government and the media.
In 2002 he represented the Evangelical church at a climate conference in Europe. Before he left he was told by colleagues that they would try to brain wash him and he assured them not to worry, his faith was strong, his mind was clear. But as he sat for 3 days hearing the scientific evidence of the condition of the environment, he was forever changed. And once his eyes were opened, God would not let him rest – he was troubled in his thoughts when he was awake and in his sleep. He did a lot of praying during that time and confided in a trusted friend in the faith.
And then he began to speak out calling the Evangelical church to take the lead in caring for God’s creation and to add their voices and influence. In response, James Dobson and other Evangelical leaders said that Richard’s activism on global warming was “a threat to the unity and integrity” of the organization and called for his resignation.
Richard has received many recognitions and awards for his courage and stance. He was named the most inspiration speaker in 2006 and the most creative thinker in 2008. His experience deepened his faith and his relationship to God through Christ.
As we follow Jesus’ life and teachings through the Gospels, we find him challenging the traditions of his faith over and over. He argued with the Sadducees. He stumped the Pharisees. He questioned all authority of the faith and pushed their understandings of Scripture. He turned over the tables of the money changers at the temple and pushed the faithful to broaden their understanding of God and the law. He so threatened the religious status quo that they called for his arrest and execution.
Job questioned the accepted theology of his time. The one we call our Lord and Savior questioned the accepted theology of his time. And so I stand here today to say that if your experience of God, that you know through Christ, does not adhere to the tradition, the teachings of the church – do not be afraid to stand up. But let me add a word of caution. This past week Fred Phelps, the head of the Westboro Church passed away. We could say that Fred Phelps stood up for his beliefs and against the status quo of the church – but his message was one of exclusion and hate and those two ideas were never taught by Jesus.
With that in mind, have the courage to stand up for your theology, be ready to speak in love against anyone if what they are teaching about God does not make sense in light of your experience of God through Christ. By doing so, you may just help move the church a little closer to God.