Who said life is fair?

Lent 1 2014

Job 1. 1, 2. 1-10

Who said life is fair? Who said life is fair? A friend of mine inherited so much money from her grandfather that neither she nor her two sons would ever have to have a job as long as they follow the financial advisor’s advice. She is a good person but no more righteous than you or me. Another friend lost his job at the beginning of the recession. Bills began to pile up, there was a hospitalization and in the end he went through all his savings and lost his home. He is a sinner but not more than you or me.

Job brings up the hardest questions that we have to deal with as people of faith. They are questions of theodicy – how can God be good in the face of all the evil in the world to which innocent people endure. We all usually agree that we worship a God who is just. It is the foundation of how we understand God. But how is God just when really bad things happen to really good, faithful people? How do we make sense of that?

The story of Job is very old no one knows exactly how old. It originated sometime between 1,000 to 500 years before the birth of Jesus. It was passed down for generations as an oral story that was eventually written down. We do not know who put it on paper. While it was not written or dictated by God, it most certainly was inspired by God.

So let’s look at these first chapters of Job together. Chapter 1:

There was once a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job. That man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.

Sound familiar? “A long time ago …,” “Once upon a time …,” “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…”

We should recognize the beginning of Job’s story alongside other fictional stories we know and love. The opening shows us that this is a timeless story set “once upon a time.” It is a story that we all know, it may be the story of someone we know.

Job had seven sons and three daughters.Seven is a perfect number, having seven sons would have been perfection for any father and three daughters made his child count the good round number of 10. And he had 7,000 (perfect ) sheep and 3,000 camels – for a nice round total of 10,000. You can see where the author is going. Job was perfect and Job’s life was perfect. His children all got along  – having dinner parties together and just in case they ever sinned in their thoughts, Job offered burnt offerings for their sanctification. Perfect!

The story of Job was not written as a factual account, what human is perfect with a perfect life. The point of the story is greater, deeper, and more complex than a historical account. This is surely a story that developed out of a person’s desire to make sense of a world that often does not make sense which is something that all of us do.

In verse 6, begins scene two which takes place in heaven. And as we read the first 2 chapters we see that each scene moves from earth to heaven or heaven to earth. Verse 6 is in heaven and at God’s court where heavenly beings present themselves to God. Ancient societies believed in a multi-layered heavenly court where God, like a king, had beings who worked under God. There were offices and titles that heavenly characters held.

The heavenly court presented themselves to God and one of the characters was called ha-satan in Hebrew or Satan in English. But this is not the Satan of the New Testament; this character is God’s servant and cannot do anything without God’s permission. The Hebrew indicates that this is an office of God’s court; like a CIA Agent or a prosecuting attorney. In order to differentiate this character from the Satan we all know, I am going to call the character “The Accuser.”

So, the Accuser has been walking around looking over all the people of the earth. And God asks, “Did you see my faithful servant Job?” The Accuser says to God, “yea but he has fence around him and his house and all that he has, on every side. Let me take away all his blessings and then let’s see how faithful he is.” So God said, “take away everything but do not touch Job.” So the Accuser killed all of Job’s children and servants and animals. Job heard of the tragedy and in verse 20 he tore his clothes and shaved his head and fell on the ground and in worship said, “blessed be the name of the Lord.” In Chapter 2 God asked the Accuser:

‘Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil. He still persists in his integrity, although you incited me against him, to destroy him for no reason.’ 

The accuser responded, ‘Skin for skin! All that people have they will give to save their lives. 5But stretch out your hand now and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face.’ 

God gives the accuser permission and Job was covered with sores from this head to his feet. Job’s wife thinks he is crazy and said to him, ‘Do you still persist in your integrity? Curse God, and die.’ 10 – But he said to her, ‘You speak as any foolish woman would speak. Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?’ In all this Job did not sin with his lips.

Then Job’s friends enter the story. I would like for us to look for their beauty and see their human-ness. In verse 11 Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar go together to comfort and console their friend. When they see him they wept and tore their clothes and threw dust on their heads because he looked so different from the friend they had always known. Then they sat with him in silence – they sat with their friend for 7 days and 7 nights (the perfect amount of time) without speaking a word. We call that “a ministry of presence.” When there is nothing you can say to someone because their suffering is so great, it is respectful to say nothing. Your presence is sometimes all you have to offer in the hard times in life.

In chapter three, the friends listen while Job talks, while Job opens his heart, while Job tells them how he feels. Again, the friends model for us appropriate behavior of support in times of suffering. Be quiet and listen – be quiet for a really long time and listen as long as your friend opens his or her heart. Job speaks in poetry form which may be summarized when he said, “Let the day perish in which I was born.”

Eliphaz continues the poem in chapter 4 and began by asking, “If one ventures a word with you, will you be offended?” In verse 17, Eliphaz offers a pretty tough question, “Can mortals be righteous before God? Can human beings be pure before their Maker?” No matter how righteous Job thinks he is, he is still mortal, he is still human. In chapter 5, verse 17 he encourages Job to accept his punishment saying, “Happy is the one whom God reproves – do not despise the discipline of the Almighty.”

Job must have sinned. He must have skeletons in his closet. So their advice is that he should repent and accept God’s punishment. They understand God to be like the perfect King who judges, and doles our rewards and punishment. Job needs to repent.

But Job pleads his case. He knows he has done nothing to deserve this. Maybe his understanding of God has been challenged for the first time in his life. He debates back and forth with his friends in long poetic exchanges. He defends his character and his friends try to convince him to end the suffering by repenting for his mistakes. Job feels attacked and asks in chapter 7, verse 20, “Why have you made me your target?”

Poor Job! He does not understand why he has lost his children and servants and his livelihood. He does not understand why he is covered from head to foot with sores. He does not understand why but he knows – he knows – that he did not do anything to cause it. He was a righteous man.

Many, if not all of us have felt like Job at one time or another. We have lost loved ones and we have watched them suffer. We have endured great physical and emotional pain ourselves. We have sat alone in darkness knowing or just feeling that our friends think that we have done something to cause our problem. We have looked around, we have searched, we have pleaded but God did not respond to our questions in the midst of our pain.

Job’s friends were morally simplistic. Moral simplicity is easy to understand, it is easy to get our heads around: Thou shall not steal, Thou shall not kill. It is wrong to steal, it is wrong to kill – morally simple. If you do those things, you suffer the consequences. Job was looking for moral clarity, which is difficult to understand. Some people, like Job’s friends are never able to think beyond moral simplicity. If a young person is caught stealing a banana when he has not eaten in 2 days, it is difficult to find him guilty of stealing. When an abused woman kills her husband in a fight after enduring years of violence and torture, it is not easy to find her guilty. Moral clarity is complex, it is very gray.

Seeing the world in black and white, right or wrong maybe easy but it is not where Christ stands and it is not where Christ calls us to stand. It means working to make sense of things that are nonsensical; it means seeing things we do not want to see, knowing things we do not want to acknowledge. The story of Job is not easy, morally or otherwise. Job is one person whose sufferings are unjust. Negotiating the world and trying to make sense of it within his moral framework is all he can do. And actually it is precisely what God created him to do.

The story of Job, our very lives and most especially the God we worship is hard to understand. We try to our best to make sense of it all, to understand it with the brains that we have and within framework in which we are able to think and reason But just like Job sometimes all we can do is tear our clothes, shave our heads, sit in our ash heap and surrender. God is more complex, complicated and unfathomable than humans can imagine.

Our relationship to God is not blind and uninformed. Our relationship to God includes a longing for moral clarity, by an irrepressible yearning to know and understand “things too wonderful,” things beyond human comprehension but not beyond the human ambition to know. Job causes us to yearn and strive for what ought to be, with God and sometimes against God. As we wrestle with our faith and with Scripture, we should stand ready to call our friends and our teachers and even God, into question. As life comes at us, we will struggle to make sense of what has happened to us. And that is precisely what God created us to do.

Sometimes the best thing we can do at the hardest moments is the only thing we can do –let go and give up —surrender – surrender to life, surrender to God.

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