Tenth Sunday After Pentecost
August 8-9, 2020
“Job and God”
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
I believe that this is the best time to be a Christian. This is the best time to be a believer as we begin the sixth month since our lives were turned upside down due to the virus.
There are many people who live without a belief in God. Without God, no one is in charge. For some, despair has arrived and stayed. There is no anticipation for the future. No God. No hope. No order. Only chaos.
But these last number of months have not been easy on a believer either. Believers, like those who are not, experience the same anxiety and worries and fears. But here’s the difference – we believe there is a God who has life and problems and loses and the virus, and us, in His hands. Today in this sermon taken from the book of Job I hope you see the presence of God and His strong and caring heart in the middle of suffering.
For many years, life for Job was good. He had everything that one could wish for in life. He was healthy and could go about life without physical pains. He was wealthy, owning a great amount of sheep, oxen, camels, and donkeys. Thousands of them. He had servants to tend all he owned. He had a large family. Job 1 says, “He was the greatest man among all the people of the East.” (Verse 3c) And he had God. And God had him.
But then he had suffering. Lots of it. Too much of it. All at once. All his cattle and livestock? An enemy raided his land and took every last head. Servants? Died a terrible death. Kids? They were all together and a storm hit, the house collapsed and they all died. Real suffering. Real despair.
Then that good health that allowed him to live life without every step and every movement reminding him that he needed some Tylenol, left him as well. “So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and afflicted Job with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the top of his head. Then Job took a piece of broken pottery and scraped himself with it as he sat among the ashes.” (Job 2:7-8) But Job, initially, held strong. His faith in the goodness of God was seen in his memorable words, “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)
Real suffering. Real anguish. And now real questions. Though he had faith and didn’t become an atheist, he wanted to know why he was suffering. Why was God picking on him? Why did God allow such hard things to be in his life? He sort of enjoyed his life before, why did all this have to come? He wanted God to give an account of His actions. In Job 23 Job makes this demand, “Even today my complaint is bitter; his hand is heavy in spite of my groaning. If only I knew where to find him; if only I could go to his dwelling! I would state my case before him and fill my mouth with arguments.” (Job 23:1-4)
So God does what Job prays for. God, who has been silent for most of the book of Job, speaks. “Then the Lord answered Job out of the storm. He said, ‘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.’” (Job 38:1-3) Then God gives it to Job. Both barrels. “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know.” (Job 38:4-5a) And this sarcasm doesn’t stop for 4 long chapters. “Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth? Tell me, if you know all this.” (Job 38:18)
Job wants to know why his life took such a hard turn and God doesn’t answer him. When I was a kid, when I didn’t think life was fair, when I didn’t get my way, I would ask my folks, “Why?” Why can’t I stay out with my friends? Why can’t I go on that overnight with my buddies? Why is my bedtime at 8:00? And you know, they never gave me a good answer. My mom or dad would say, “Because I said so.” Arms folded. Curtly spoken. No discussion. “Because I said so.” It worked for them…sort of. I used it on my kids. I bet you’ve done it as well. It is the word spoken between two people who are not equals.
Job wants to present his case. He wants God to tell him why he is suffering. He wants his friends who had accused him of some terrible thing he did that caused God’s wrath to hear God’s vindication of saintly Job. But God doesn’t say those things. In God’s answer He tells Job that God is God and Job is not.
Some of you have told me that you learned much about suffering in the book of Job. Actually, I find God’s words quite unsatisfactory. There is not much empathy, sympathy, compassion, and caring from God in His answer. I am glad that this isn’t the only picture we have of God’s reaction when people are suffering. In Mark 4 we have the account of Jesus calming the storm. The disciples of Jesus got into a boat and we read, “A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, ‘Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” (Mark 4:37-38)
When we suffer we want to know that God has a heart for us in the middle of our hell. God can be almighty and all-knowing, as He was in Job, but if He can do anything but He won’t care for us in our pain, then He isn’t the God who we need. These disciples who had already seen miracles that would drop their jaws wanted to know about His care for them. Jesus, asleep on a cushion, during the storm, is asked, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” And with might and mercy, Jesus acts, “He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be Still!’ Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.” (Mark 4:39)
God has an answer for suffering – it is Jesus. In Hebrews 4 it tells of Jesus and it tells us His invitation for us to know His compassion. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:15-16)
The question of human suffering is not answered fully in Job. It is answered fully in Jesus. Might and mercy. Strength and compassion. Jesus dies for sinners – like you and me. His work is powerful and it is filled with love and mercy. We realize that He truly cares for our life now and forever. He can die for sin and rise to life – mighty and merciful; lowly and exalted.
I had the most wonderful experience in a cemetery last week. (I know – I need to get a life!!) I was at Fairmount Cemetery – it is at Alameda and Quebec. The graveside was at the far end of the cemetery – so I got to look at how spacious and historical the cemetery is. There is also a very large Jewish section of the cemetery. As I traveled to the gravesite I saw headstones with rocks piled upon them. Small stones. Bigger rocks. I saw hundreds of markers adorned that way. I remember seeing the end of the movie Schindler’s List with folks in line putting stones on Oskar Schindler’s grave. Why did they do that? Why not flowers?
On the website, My Jewish Learning, the answer to “Why Jews Put Stones on Graves” was given. The article says that rarely will one see flowers in traditional Jewish cemeteries. Instead, stones, small and large are piled without pattern on the grave. You see, flowers are a symbol of passing. Like life flowers fade. They are temporary. Stones last. They are permanent. The Rabbi who wrote the article quoted Isaiah 40, “All flesh is grass, and all its beauty like the flower of the field; grass withers and flowers fade.” (Portions of verses 6-8a) But stones don’t die. They last. Solid. Forever. Stones, not flowers, are placed on Jewish graves.
Maybe we should put stones on our graves. You and I have something solid and sure. God and His promises, God and His salvation, don’t fade and are thrown away in a few days. We have a God who stands by us in suffering, during our questions, in our anxiety and concerns. When we raise the question, “Lord, don’t you care?”, in Jesus, He proves that He does.
The best time to be a Christian? Right now. Today. Life, with all its questions, has an answer. Our God is merciful and mighty. Our God is strong and loving. You are His. That doesn’t change. Amen!!