Monday, 15 July 2013
On the book of Job
Reading: Job 1:6 – 22, 2:1 – 10
One day the heavenly beings came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them. The Lord said to Satan, ‘Where have you come from?’ Satan answered the Lord, ‘From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.’ The Lord said to Satan, ‘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.’ Then Satan answered the Lord, ‘Does Job fear God for nothing? Have you not put a fence around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand now, and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.’ The Lord said to Satan, ‘Very well, all that he has is in your power; only do not stretch out your hand against him!’ So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.
Job Loses Property and Children
One day when his sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in the eldest brother’s house, a messenger came to Job and said, ‘The oxen were ploughing and the donkeys were feeding beside them, and the Sabeans fell on them and carried them off, and killed the servants with the edge of the sword; I alone have escaped to tell you.’ While he was still speaking, another came and said, ‘The fire of God fell from heaven and burned up the sheep and the servants, and consumed them; I alone have escaped to tell you.’ While he was still speaking, another came and said, ‘The Chaldeans formed three columns, made a raid on the camels and carried them off, and killed the servants with the edge of the sword; I alone have escaped to tell you.’ While he was still speaking, another came and said, ‘Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their eldest brother’s house, and suddenly a great wind came across the desert, struck the four corners of the house, and it fell on the young people, and they are dead; I alone have escaped to tell you.’
Then Job arose, tore his robe, shaved his head, and fell on the ground and worshipped. He said, ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.’
In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrongdoing.
One day the heavenly beings came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them to present himself before the Lord. The Lord said to Satan, ‘Where have you come from?’ Satan answered the Lord, ‘From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.’ The Lord said to Satan, ‘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.’ Then Satan answered the Lord, ‘Skin for skin! All that people have they will give to save their lives. But stretch out your hand now and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face.’ The Lord said to Satan, ‘Very well, he is in your power; only spare his life.’
So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord, and inflicted loathsome sores on Job from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. Job took a potsherd with which to scrape himself, and sat among the ashes.
Then his wife said to him, ‘Do you still persist in your integrity? Curse God, and die.’ 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.
The beginning: God and The Devil:
The curtain opens on Job a righteous man and a wealthy man with ten children and large herds. Job is someone who has it all. It is first light of the day and his children had a party the night before and Job worries that they have sinned in their hearts against God so he prepares burnt offerings to atone for their sin. He was a good man, perhaps today we’d describe him as a God fearing man.
Meanwhile up in heaven, the heavenly beings gather together and start talking. God asks Satan, whose name quite literally means adversary. God asks Satan what he’s been up to. Satan says, “Well I’ve been travelling around the earth.” “Really,” says God, “have you seen my servant Job. There is no one on earth as good as him. He truly fears God.” “hah” says Satan. “Of course he’s good. Of course he loves you. You’ve given him everything. Take it away and he will curse you.”
And so begins the suffering of Job. It is hard for me, and perhaps all of you to, comprehend how God could sit up in heaven like a divine puppet master and let Job suffer in the way he does. Not to mention all the death that is caused to prove a point. It reminds me of the song by Chris de Burgh “Spanish Train” where God and the devil are playing poker for the lives of a 100 souls on a train. It is not in keeping with the God we know. The God I know is a God of love. The God I know does not sit up in heaven wagering with the devil for our lives.
So what do we do this with this? We know the book of Job contains deep truths about the nature of God and suffering. But did God and all the heavenly beings sit up in heaven and just watch and wait to see what would happen to Job? I’m not convinced. What do we know about God? God is loving. The old testament uses the word “hessed” which means loving kindness to describe God’s love. God’s love is anything but ordinary, it is a deep and abiding. We know God’s is merciful, countless times God shown mercy and compassion for God’s people. We know that God gives us the gift of new life in Jesus, a continual reminder that God’s love for us is without end.
It is more probable that the book of Job is more like the book of Jonah. The book of Job is a tale that contains deep truths about God but not necessarily the literal truth. Did God really let the Satan afflict Job with suffering to prove his point? I doubt it but it is a good literary device. I’m guessing that the people in ancient times struggled with the same kinds of questions we do today. Then, as now terrible things happen in the world like floods and train derailments. Why do good people suffer? Why does it seem like people who do bad things thrive even succeed? In my time of suffering where is God and what is the point of faith?
Job is like a case study on suffering and the opening scenes with God and the Devil just provide the means to think more deeply about the nature of human suffering. Job leads the way as he questions God and demands an answer for his current state.
Job 2:11 – 13
Three of Job’s friends heard of all the trouble that had fallen on him. Each traveled from his own country—Eliphaz from Teman, Bildad from Shuhah, Zophar from Naamath—and went together to Job to keep him company and comfort him. When they first caught sight of him, they couldn’t believe what they saw—they hardly recognized him! They cried out in lament, ripped their robes, and dumped dirt on their heads as a sign of their grief. Then they sat with him on the ground. Seven days and nights they sat there without saying a word. They could see how rotten he felt, how deeply he was suffering.
Job 5: 8 – 19 – Advice from Friends:
“If I were in your shoes, I’d go straight to God, I’d throw myself on the mercy of God. After all, he’s famous for great and unexpected acts; there’s no end to his surprises. He gives rain, for instance, across the wide earth, sends water to irrigate the fields. He raises up the down-and-out, gives firm footing to those sinking in grief. He aborts the schemes of conniving crooks, so that none of their plots come to term. He catches the know-it-alls in their conspiracies— all that intricate intrigue swept out with the trash! Suddenly they’re disoriented, plunged into darkness; they can’t see to put one foot in front of the other. But the downtrodden are saved by God, saved from the murderous plots, saved from the iron fist. And so the poor continue to hope, while injustice is bound and gagged.
17-19 “So, what a blessing when God steps in and corrects you! Mind you, don’t despise the discipline of Almighty God! True, he wounds, but he also dresses the wound; the same hand that hurts you, heals you. From one disaster after another he delivers you; no matter what the calamity, the evil can’t touch you—
After Job’s life is destroyed, everything gone, he sits covered with sores in heaps of ash wishing he were dead. Then Job’s three friends show up. And it starts off well. They do the pastoral thing. They sit with him in ashes, saying nothing for seven days and seven nights. Then Job breaks his silence. He cries out,
“Why does God bother giving light to the miserable, why bother keeping bitter people alive, Those who want in the worst way to die, and can’t, who can’t imagine anything better than death, Who count the day of their death and burial the happiest day of their life? What’s the point of life when it doesn’t make sense, when God blocks all the roads to meaning?
24-26 “Instead of bread I get groans for my supper, then leave the table and vomit my anguish. The worst of my fears has come true, what I’ve dreaded most has happened. My repose is shattered, my peace destroyed. No rest for me, ever—death has invaded life.” (Job 3:20 – 26)
What follows is reason we have the expression “Job’s comforters.” Job’s friends each take turns trying to persuade him that he’s done something wrong, the he’s done something to displease God, or that somehow this is part of God’s plan. Each one of his so called friends find their own reasons to make Job believe that he must confess his guilt to God and beg for mercy. Their arguments all contain partial truths about God. Deep in his bones he knows that what they are saying about God is wrong and that he’s done nothing wrong. He refuses to confess to some unknown sin and then beg God for mercy. Job remains firm in his innocence. He offers this prayer,
“Here’s what I want to say: Don’t, God, bring in a verdict of guilty without letting me know the charges you’re bringing. How does this fit into what you once called ‘good’— giving me a hard time, spurning me, a life you shaped by your very own hands, and then blessing the plots of the wicked? You don’t look at things the way we mortals do. You’re not taken in by appearances, are you? Unlike us, you’re not working against a deadline. You have all eternity to work things out. So what’s this all about, anyway—this compulsion to dig up some dirt, to find some skeleton in my closet? You know good and well I’m not guilty. You also know no one can help me.” (Job 10: 2 – 7)
Fed up with his “friends” Job demand answer directly from God and demands to know directly from God what he has done to deserve the horror that he’s facing.
Job asks our human questions. How many of us want to know why good people have to deal with truly terrible things? Job knows what we know, suffering does not know good or bad people. Suffering comes unexpectedly and out of the blue. Suffering is not caused by what we’ve done or failed to do. Job points out in 21 that “the wicked” often go unpunished. Job wants to know why and the only one who can say why is God.
618: God When I Stand vs. 1 & 2
The Answer from God
Job 38:1- 7,
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?
Job 40: 1 - 9
And the Lord said to Job: ‘Shall a fault-finder contend with the Almighty? Anyone who argues with God must respond.’
Then Job answered the Lord: ‘See, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth. I have spoken once, and I will not answer; twice, but will proceed no further.’
Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind: ‘Gird up your loins like a man; I will question you, and you declare to me. Will you even put me in the wrong? Will you condemn me that you may be justified? Have you an arm like God, and can you thunder with a voice like his?
Job finally stands before God and gets to ask his questions. And God does something amazing. For two full chapters God questions Job. God demands to know if Job knows what God does and if Job was there when God laid the foundations of the world, if Job was there when God put the stars in the heavens or the sun in the sky. It is perhaps one of the most beautiful and still unsatisfying answers to why we humans suffer. The short answer is, “Only God is God. Only God is the divine mystery and it is not for us to know completely.”
For those of you who like a clear cut answer to the question of “why suffering” you are not going to get it from God. We humans somehow how have to live with this mystery which we cannot understand. We need avoid going down the road of the so called friends who deem suffering as either Job’s fault or somehow part of God’s plan. God says to the friends, “‘My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends; for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.” (Job 42:7)
In his suffering Job got it right – he kept talking to God, telling God he was angry, demanding answers, seeking clarity and relying on God’s goodness. Even when Job’s wife tells him to curse God and die, he cannot do it. He says, “Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?’ (Job 2:10)
God’s answer to Job maybe totally unsatisfying yet it is enough for Job. After God replies to him from the whirlwind and God questions Job, he says to God:
“I’m convinced: You can do anything and everything. Nothing and no one can upset your plans. You asked, ‘Who is this muddying the water, ignorantly confusing the issue, second-guessing my purposes?’ I admit it. I was the one. I babbled on about things far beyond me, made small talk about wonders way over my head. You told me, ‘Listen, and let me do the talking. Let me ask the questions. You give the answers.’ I admit I once lived by rumors of you; now I have it all firsthand—from my own eyes and ears! I’m sorry—forgive me. I’ll never do that again, I promise! I’ll never again live on crusts of hearsay, crumbs of rumor.”’ (Job 42:1 – 6)
In the course of 40 chapters Job helps ask hard questions for which there really are no neat answers – God is divine mystery and we only know a small part of God. As to why there is suffering and terrible things in this world? We can’t begin to know and it is one of those questions we will continue to wrestle with. There will not always be answers for our questions but we can trust that with God all things are possible, that God’s mercy is abundant and the God’s love for us is without limits. In the end, Job’s fortunes are restored. The last line of the book of Job says, “After this Job lived for one hundred and forty years, and saw his children, and his children’s children, four generations. And Job died, old and full of days.” (Job 42:16 – 17) We trust that just as God was with Job all the days of his life, through the good ad bad, so God is with us.
618: God When I Stand vs. 3 & 4