Job 42. 1-6, 10-17
This is our final week in the book of Job. I hope that you enjoyed this journey as much as I did. There is much to learn and contemplate in this book. Let’s do a brief and quick review. Job was a righteous and devout man, there was no one like him on earth. He was blessed with 7 sons and 3 daughters, land full of livestock and servants to care for it all. He had his health, his family, wealth and his religion. One of the heavenly beings in God’s court challenged God and said that if Job lost everything, Job would curse God. God gave the Accuser permission to test Job’s character. Job’s possessions were destroyed, a mighty wind killed his children and almost all of his servants and he was covered head to toe with boils. So Job sat down in an ash heap. His wife told him to curse God, his three friends told him he must have sinned and should repent. And through it all Job maintained his innocence.
In the section for last Sunday, Job rests his case and finally so do his 3 friends. But then Elihu begins to speak. Who Elihu is and when he arrived on the scene, we are not told. He has obviously been listening. He has heard the back and forth arguments but has waited to speak out of respect for his elders. But now, this young man is angry and speaks in defense of God and provides the introduction to God’s response. Elihu speaks for five chapters and then disappeared as quickly as he appeared. He says, “God is greater than any mortal. God speaks in one way, and in two, though people do not perceive it….If he should take back his spirit to himself and gather to himself his breath, all flesh would perish together and all mortals return to dust…. God thunders wondrously with his voice he does great things that we cannot comprehend.”
In chapter 38, God begins to speak out of a whirlwind. God turns the questions from Job into questions to Job saying, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Put wisdom in the inward parts or given understanding to the mind?” For three chapters God speaks of creating the earth, clouds, lightening and rain. Pastor Sung taught us last week that wisdom was born out of chaos through creation and wisdom was born out of chaos and loss for Job.
In the first part of the very last chapter of the book, Job answers to God. Let’s read the end of Job now.
There is so much great material here for the final sermon. God responded by restoring Job’s blessings twofold only after expressing anger to Jobs 3 friends and telling Job to pray for them.–I could do the entire sermon on just Job’s relationship to his friends – on how they first responded so perfectly to the suffering of their friend by crying out and sitting with him in silence for 7 days and nights. How they then talk and disagree and confront Job and go on and on and on. How Job was hurt by his friends but in the end is proven right by God. But in order for God to forgive them, Job must pray for his friends. Hmmm, I wonder if that requirement gave them pause. I wonder if for a moment they wondered if Job would pray for them. But Job was righteous and did the right thing. That could make a good sermon.
And then when Job’s children are mentioned, 7 sons and 3 daughters, only the daughters are discussed further – their names are given – they were the most beautiful in all the land AND they received an inheritance along with their brothers! What? Remember that this is probably the oldest book in the Bible and it ends with Job’s daughters being put in the spotlight as special and equal. That could preach.
If I only I had another week or two, but alas I do not and so the focus must remain on Job instead of his friends or his daughters. The focus must be on this righteous, patient and courageous man. The focus must be on this man who was not afraid to confront fear and uncertainty. He was not afraid to confront his friends or his theology. He was not afraid to confront God. Job was courageous.
Courage is an American virtue. We love heroes and hero stories. Courage is an American virtue that depends on and reinforces some of our other American values like self-reliance, strength and power. We are inspired by brave, tough people who face adversity with power and strength, determination and a positive attitude.
Job would not have been an American hero, strong and self-reliant. Job is not joyful or brave. Job is vulnerable and vulnerability is not virtuous. We don’t particularly want people to be vulnerable or weak. We do not want the truth that they are hurting and struggling. We do not want them to break down and cry right in front of us. We Americans want people to, like God said to Job, “gird up their loins” and be tough. We want people to get through tough times cheerfully. We want to be able to say things like, “I don’t know how she does it with all she is going through.” We have come to have such high expectations of each other and of ourselves that as soon as things get difficult, we are given a prescription for anti-depressants or anti-anxiety drugs. While I am not saying that these drugs can’t be very helpful and even life-saving, they are also a result of the expectation that demands we do everything – with a smile. We must be strong and we have precious little tolerance for pain or difficulty. If we cannot avoid it then we want to get rid of the hurt as quickly as possible. We have no time to work through our issues. We have no time for counseling or support groups. Only 1/3 of people on anti-depressants are also in therapy of any kind. We are impatient and demanding of ourselves. It is much harder to face our vulnerability and weaknesses, to look inside our hearts and feel. We expect to be strong and happy all the time.
Suffering rarely makes sense and it calls for courage. It takes courage to own up to the limits of our own power and to let go of control. It takes courage to sit down in our ash heap and allow ourselves to feel the pain, the loss, the hurt. It takes courage to sit in the place called uncertainty. It takes courage sit in the suffering and to learn and grow from it. It takes courage to seek support and guidance from family, friends and professionals. It takes courage to trust God in the midst of pain and suffering.
Like Job, we are weak and vulnerable. Pain and suffering are part of the mortal life. This is the way it is for us. We suffer because we are human. And when we suffer, it is usually beyond our control.
Apostle Paul reminds us, it is when we are wounded and helpless that we see most clearly. Courage is not about trusting our own strength. Our own strength is exhausted by suffering, and then we see most clearly that true strength is rooted in God’s power, and true courage is letting go and resting in God’s arms and trusting God.
Scripture says over and over, “Do not be afraid…. Fear not” and so as a community of faith we try to let love—not fear—have power in our lives.
Job said to God in our passage today, “I have heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you.” All he knew about God, he had learned by listening to the teachers of the faith but he had not experienced God firsthand. It was not until he was broken open through his suffering that he was able to see. It was God’s presence that transformed Job and God’s presence can transform us.
Suffering changed Job’s understanding of God. Bad things happen to good people and there is more to God and God’s reign than Job ever imagined. Job did not receive answers to his questions and neither do we. But out of his suffering came a closer relationship to God and a greater respect and reliance on God. —
It is not until we are broken apart that we say—“Now I have seen you! Now I understand!”
And that is one of the church’s most important teaching. Christ modeled suffering for us. We all suffer and through it we can come to understand ourselves a little better and we can come to understand each other a little better.
AND through our suffering we can come to understand that God is bigger more complicated and more mysterious than we ever dreamed or imagined. In the midst of suffering we experience God like never before. When we have given up on the things of this world, when we have given up even on our own abilities – all that is left is God. That is when we can see most clearly, that is when we realize how much we do not understand, how much we cannot control, how vulnerable we are.
This week will be my two year anniversary as the pastor of this incredible congregation. In only two years, I have presided at more funerals than I can count. I have been honored to celebrate the lives of some women in their 80’s and 90’s and one infant girl gone before she lived. I have been privileged to journey with men and women in their battles with cancer. I have officiated at the service of a man who took his own life and his wife who died two days later. I have buried a woman who died of alcoholism. I have held hands and prayed and cried on the way home. I have journeyed with this congregation in some tough times. And I have also witnessed church members bringing casseroles, cleaning houses, transporting, doing yard work and building ramps. I have watched church members file in and out of hospital rooms, giving hugs, sending cards and praying. And I have seen church members just sit quietly with their friends in their ash heap. The church is not where you come to escape suffering. We know that no one escapes – not rich people, smart people, or the most righteous people on earth. Church is where we come to support and to be supported. Church is where we come to know ourselves and each other better. Church is where we come to learn that God is way beyond our understanding and it is dangerous if we believe we can. Church is where we come to find hope.
Church does not prevent or take away suffering but helps us find God in it and through it. Church cannot take away the pain, but we will pull up a chair and sit with you. Church will not alleviate the struggle but gives hope that you are not alone.
Our culture has taught us that courage is power and bravery and self-reliance. Job teaches us that courage is none of that. Courage is being vulnerable. Courage is sitting in our ash heap, allowing ourselves to feel and to be broken and then allowing God to come into our hearts and lives. It is then and there, that we will see God.
- I know my Redeemer Lives
- Palm Sunday 2014