Eleventh Sunday After Pentecost August 12-13, 2023
“Consider Job” Job 38:4-18
Rev. John R. Larson Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
Sometimes God has some most unsatisfying words. A few Sundays ago in our Sunday Morning Bible Class we read James 4:9 which is quite unsettling, “Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom.” I wouldn’t call that a great evangelism verse. We would rather have a verse like, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice.” (Philippians 4:4) But there you have it – Grieve, mourn and wail. Laughter is gone and joy has been reversed.
In last week’s Gospel reading I felt that the words of Jesus were quite unsatisfying – especially to those who were in a pickle. Thousands of people had spent the whole day listening to the words of Jesus. They had come for the miraculous healing Jesus offered. I guess they hadn’t planned on staying the whole day but they had. As the day was almost gone and the disciples started discussing the dilemma of the crowds not having enough to eat, they told Jesus to call an end to the day. They told Him to tell the crowds to go away and find some food. Jesus’ unsettling words were, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.” (Matthew 14:16) “What?? 5,000 men, their spouses and children and all we have are five fish and two small loaves of bread? We need to provide for them? We voted and we think You should send them away!!” Jesus’ words to them were unsatisfying.
When we read the account in Job, I found the words that God speaks quite unsatisfying. Job’s account of suffering in unimaginable. Within one afternoon Job lost everything. His children all died. His house was destroyed. Those who worked for him perished. His wealth was taken away. He had nothing. All gone. His life was a wreck.
His wife encouraged him to just throw in the towel. Her answer to this hand that God had dealt him was, “Curse God and die.” (Job 2:9)
He had unsatisfying words from those who brought him the news of his personal and financial demise. The one who said she would be with him “in sickness and in health” encouraged him to give up. And Satan, ever the foe, told God that the only reason that Job had remained committed to Him is that Job’s life had been prosperous and protected. Satan asked God, “Does Job fear God for nothing? Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. But stretch your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.” (Job 1:9-11)
But Job didn’t curse God when he had lost everything. He’s the one who said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” (Job 1:21)
But Satan was not done with his plot of injury. Satan said to God, “Stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face.” (Job 2:5) So from the top of his head to the bottom of his feet Job developed painful sores. He would take a piece of broken pottery and try to scratch the pain away.
Life was unsatisfying. Job had three friends who initially offered great hope, but in time they wanted him to confess whatever evil he had done to bring on such suffering. There must have been a cause that this true-life story of “riches to rags” had happened. Job would simply like to meet with God and have a face-to-face conversation about all of this. But that is not what happened.
Have you ever had something happen in your life and you wanted to know why someone did something they did? And the answer they gave was this: “Because I say so.” You ask your parents why you can’t do something, or why you have to do something, and they say, “Because I say so”. It really isn’t an answer, but it ends the debate. Sometimes. Parents, you’ve used them. Kids, you’ve heard them. A boss at work will use the same words. A coach insists that those words carry a great deal of weight as they lead their team.
Job wanted to know why his life went to hell and this is how God answered him, “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you and you will answer me. Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set, or laid its cornerstone – while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy? Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb, when I made the clouds its garment and wrapped it in thick darkness, when I fixed limits for it and set its doors and bars in place, when I said, ‘This far you may come and no farther; here is where your proud waves halt?’” (Job 38:2-11)
God’s sarcasm is biting. God is saying clearly, “I am God; you are not.” God is saying to him, “Who do you think you are?” I find these words quite unsatisfying. I rather like the words of Jesus in Matthew 11 when He speaks His invitation, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
I don’t like God’s unsatisfying words. But He has many of them in the Scripture. He has words that are accusing and painful and biting and damning. But after His many unsatisfying words He speaks a better word, a satisfying word. In that Bible Class on James we read that strange verse, “Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom.” There is time when we become overwhelmed that we have screwed things up. Have you ever come to the honest moment in life when you have said: “This is on my shoulders.” “I screwed up.” “I’m responsible.” “I sinned against you.” When we come to those words, when we face our failure and stop blaming others, we actually find delight in James’ most unsatisfying words, “Grieve mourn and wail.” We walk from looking at self and look for our answer in Jesus.
When the disciples had no solution to feeding that crowd of thousands upon thousands, and yet Jesus gave them the words, “YOU give them something to eat…”, they looked to the only hope they had – to Jesus. When Jesus took the small amount they had, He multiplied it and gave all of the crowd plenty to eat. The unsatisfying words were changed by Jesus.
And Job? God’s harsh words to him changed him. In Job 40 – a few chapters after he had gotten that tongue lashing from God – Job speaks, “I am unworthy – how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth. I spoke once, but I have no answer – twice, but I will say no more.” (Verses 4-5) Then in the last chapter of the book Job says, “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak: I will question you and you will answer me.’ My ears had heard of you and now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:3-6)
Now the broken could be made whole. Now the unsatisfying words of God were heard, and God could lift him up.
Has God spoken some unsatisfying words to us? Yes. Sometimes we want to know why we are going through a hard time. Sometimes we want to know why we are suffering, or we are facing things much too big for us. Sometimes we just look at the suffering of others and ask the question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?”
At such times we have to live by something greater than sight. We have to have eyes that see beyond the reality of that darkest moment, to the reality of faith in God’s wisdom, God’s purpose, God’s presence and God’s love. Paul would give us these words, “We live by faith, not by sight.” (II Corinthians 5:7) “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (II Corinthians 4:18)
The most satisfying words of God are that we are Christ’s. We are claimed by Him, washed by Him, forgiven by His blood and told that nothing, nothing, will ever be able to separate us from the deep love of Jesus. Amen!!