The Story of Job

Sermon by Reverend Dr. John W. Mann | May 22, 2022

Why do the innocent suffer?

Why do some people seem to have more than their fair share of suffering?

Why doesn’t God do something about it?

Does God even care?

Why believe in a God who allows human suffering?

One writer of Scripture said on the subject, “I saw that under the sun the race is not the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favour to the skilful; but time and chance happen to them all. For no one can anticipate the time of disaster. Like fish taken in a cruel net, so mortals are snared at a time of calamity, when it suddenly falls upon them.”

Is time and chance our only hope?

What about the idea of a loving Heavenly Father who wants the best for his children?

What about the loving Shepherd who gathers the lambs into the fold?

There are no easy answers. A story in the bible tries to put some framework of understanding around the idea of suffering. It’s a big story and we only scratch the surface of it here, but the least we can do is raise the questions. The good questions don’t have easy answers and so maybe we can take something away to think about.

The story is Job. The story took shape during Israel’s years of captivity in Babylon. From around the year 597 BC to 520 BC many of the Jews from Israel were deported to Babylon. It was a time of suffering. They were not slaves like they had been in Egypt. The Babylonians encouraged them assimilate into the life and culture of Babylon. It was a simple matter to be a Jew in the promised land. What did it mean to be a child of Abraham in a foreign land?

The story of Job is like a parable for the nation that suffered. It is based on the premise, “what if there was an individual who suffered as much as a person possibly can? How would everything we believe and cherish apply to such a situation? What would we learn about our own sufferings?

The story goes like this:

There was a man named Job. He was a good man – truly good. He had a loving family, great wealth and he was respected far and wide for his generosity.  He had everything a person could ever hope for in life.

As the story goes, God is off in heaven more or less watching people get on with their lives.  Occasionally God gathers the angels together and asks them to share their observations about what’s going on the world.

Most of the angels gave fairly neutral observations. During this accounting an angel unlike any of the other angels appeared before the Lord. He had a very special role in the heavenly courts. One might say he was the “angel for the prosecution,” or even, “the devil’s advocate.” The angel’s name was Ha-Satan; but this was not the fallen angel of legend, the epitome of all evil. Satan simply means, “The Accuser.” He was like the “Attorney General” of the heavenly court.

God asked Satan, “Where have you been?”

And he answered, “I have been all over the world.”

God asked, “Have you considered my servant Job? He is above accusation. He is blameless. He turns from evil at every opportunity.”

Satan responded, “Yes, I’ve seen your servant Job. Why shouldn’t he be righteous? It’s as if you put a fence around him so that no harm may touch him. In everything he does he prospers. Wouldn’t they all fear God when life is so rich and full? Take away his wealth and see if he doesn’t curse you to your face.”

“I don’t think he will curse me,” said God, “but to put your accusations to rest, you may try him. Everything Job has now belongs to you. Do with it what you want; one condition: you may not physically harm in any way.”

So, God and this Satan character decide to interfere in Job’s life to see what kind of character he really is. In One fell swoop everything by which Job identified himself was taken away. His servants came to him and told him the bad news.

A band of marauders attacked and killed most of his servants and stole most of his livestock. Those that survived were killed in a freak thunderstorm. He had a large herd of camels and some other enemies took them away.

If that wasn’t bad enough, his seven sons and three daughters were killed when a tornado blew their house away.

So, what will Job do when he is tested thus?

He went into mourning. He shaved his head and covered himself in ashes. He laid on the ground and prayed, saying, “Naked I came into this world and naked shall I leave it. The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

Once again God convened the heavenly hosts. When Satan arrived before the Lord, God asked him, “Where have you been?” To which he replied, “I have been all over the world.”

“Have you considered my servant Job? You tried your best. He remains and upright and blameless man. His integrity is intact.”

“People will give up everything to save their lives,” said Satan. “He’s grateful to be alive. I wager if you took away his health, he would curse you to your face.”

“Very well,” said God. “He is in your power; you can do anything to him short of taking his life.”

So, Job’s situation went from bad to worse. Satan went and touched Job with a terrible sickness. He broke out in itchy, runny sores from the top of his head to the bottom of his feet. He was in such misery that he used a piece of broken pottery to scrape his wounds.

He spent his days sitting on a pile of ashes. One day his wife came top see him. “Look at you,” she said, “you make me sick. You’re covered with sores. Your children are dead. You’ve lost everything. And still you persist in your devotion to God? Why? What has God done for you lately? Why don’t you just get it over with? Curse God and die.”

In reply Job said, “If we are willing to receive good from the hand of God, should we not be willing to receive the bad?”

As one day fell into the next, weeks became months and months became years. Time stretched out into an endless horizon of pain and misery. Job became a legend of suffering. The people who once enjoyed his bounty now came to mock him and spit on him. The elders ignored him. Young people who once sought his counsel now mocked him. He became known far and wide as the man whom God had cursed.

All the while God and Satan stood by watching and waiting.

Three of Job’s closest and dearest friends gathered to help him. Their names were Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar. When they first saw him from a distance, they were very sad. The man once proud and strong was now a shell of his former self. They gathered around him and sat down in the ashes. No one said a word.

After seven days of silent suffering, Job said to his friends, “I curse the day I was ever born. May the day I was conceived go down into darkness and be forgotten. I have no peace, no rest. It would have been better for me to have died at birth. Then at least I would be at rest.”

Job and his friends then engaged in a lengthy debate. They argued around the belief that God will always bless the righteous with a good life, and that the unrighteous will be punished. Therefore, Job must have done something to deserve his fate. All the while, he sank deeper and deeper into self-pity and despair. There was no end to the argument.

Finally, it was as if God had heard enough. The skies darkened and the thunder clouds rolled and out of the maelstrom God spoke –

God said to Job and his friends, “Who dares to darken my counsel with ignorant words? I will ask the questions and you will answer.” And God asked one of the most profound and challenging questions of all time:

“Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?”

God then revealed to Job a description of God’s cosmic responsibilities. This is not an uncaring and distant deity, but one who is personally concerned about every detail of creation, from how an ostrich lays its eggs, to the placement of the stars in the universe.

As God speaks, Job is drawn deeper and deeper into the mystery. Until finally, in a strange and awesome logic, he comes to see that while God is deeply involved in and concerned for human life, God ultimately is mystery. To know God is not to understand God’s ways, but to accept that God is beyond our understanding. Yet because of that realization, Job experienced God more personally than at any time in his life.

“Now my eyes see you,” he said.

The story ends with Job offering a prayer for his friends. God restored to him everything he had lost, not because he earned it, but as a sign of divine generosity. We arrive back at the beginning with suffering still a mystery.

In his book A Soul Under Siege Welton Gaddy shares his experience with a devastating depression. His story, like many of our stories finds its meaning in the lessons of Job:

“Only in hurting do many of us, if not all of us, find out what life is really like. To be oblivious to the essential nature and meaning of life is tragic; to be unfamiliar with the disappointed hopes and unrealized dreams, insensitive to physical aches and pains, without appreciation for the powerful truths that can emerge from dark nights of the soul.

Only in hurting do some of us discover that we are finite creatures, not competitors with our infinite Creator; responsible persons capable of failure, not mechanical robots programmed only for success; sinners with the capacity for evil, not perfectionists with possibilities only for good; confessors constantly in need of forgiveness, not judges impatient with guilt; seekers looking for redemption, not self—appointed messiahs.”

Lessons to be learned?

Perhaps that God does not easily fit into our arguments, logic, or philosophies. God is not beholden to our sense of entitlement. God answers us – but not God does not answer to us.

And woven through the story is the thought that God cares deeply for every detail of creation, even for the suffering of humankind. Amen.

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