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Message from Wednesday Evening , 4 February

Note: this message mostly came from Philip Yancey’s book, Disappointment with God, a book I learned of through the Stephen Minister Leader training I received back in the spring of 2014. 

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Job 1:1-22

The message tonight is mostly from my reflections of having read a wonderful book late last fall by Philip Yancey called Disappointment with God.

job

If you ask most Christians, even pastors, what the book of Job is about, you’ll get that Job is about the problem of suffering. It’s about remaining faithful to God in the midst of terrible grief and pain. And without a doubt, chapters 3-37 contain the dialogues of 5 men, Job, Elihu, and three other of Job’s friends, as they meditate on the cause of Job’s suffering. While those chapters might be excerpted out as a treatise on human pain, we would have to ignore the opening and closing chapters, and our own first reading tonight. “And the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?” (Job 1:8)

Just as a cake is not about flour, eggs, milk, and sugar, so the book of Job is not about pain and finding meaning in suffering, it uses those ingredients to tell a much larger, even cosmic story about faith. A good question to ask about the book as a whole is who is the main character? I think up to now, we’d have said Job. But I’d like to suggest that Job is not the main character as much as God is and if so, that changes not just our whole perception of this part of the Bible but even our role in the cosmos. That’s a pretty big claim, so hang on.

Again, it’s the author Yancey who helps us sort this out. He suggests we think of Job as a mystery play, a whodunit detective story. But before the action among the characters starts, we in the audience get a sneak peek behind the scenes, as if we’ve shown up early for a discussion with the director where he describes the plot and the characters and who does what and why. In fact, he solves every mystery about the story except how Job will respond in the end. Will Job trust God or deny him?

Later when the curtain rises, we see only the actors on stage, confined within the story with no knowledge of what the director told the audience in the preview. We know why Job is suffering, but Job does not. What did Job do wrong? Nothing. He actually represents the very best of the species. God himself called Job blameless and upright. Is Job suffering punishment from God? Far from it. Instead, he was selected as the principal player in a great cosmic contest, really, something of a bet between God and Satan.

The trouble starts with Satan’s claim that Job is nothing more than a spoiled favorite of God, faithful only because God has “put a hedge around him.” Satan scoffs mocks God that the only people who truly love God are those more or less bribed by God to love Him. If times get tough, most will simply abandon God. When God accepts Satan’s challenge, He consents to let Job’s response settle the issue, and one calamity after another starts to rain down on poor unsuspecting Job.

What this is a rare peek through the keyhole into the unseen realm beyond our time and space. In my experience, when people experience suffering and trauma, questions spill out: What is going on? Why me? Doesn’t God care what’s happening? This one time, we the onlookers, not Job, are granted really a one-time glimpse behind the curtain, a look at a different reality than the one we typically see.

Later in the book, Job puts God on trial, accusing Him of unfair acts against an innocent party. Angry, betrayed, even satirical, Job wanders as close to blasphemy as he dare. His words ring true in our ears because they give voice to our most deeply felt complaints against God. Our reading and the rest of chapter 2 as well prove that God is not on trial as much as Job is. The point of Job is not the meaning of suffering but the meaning of faith. It’s not about where is God when it hurts and much as where is Job?

This si not just some idle theological idea either. If we take it seriously, it calls into question all the times that we too, like Job have experienced suffering and perhaps not been so faithful. And it begs the question what kind of God do we have that would set us up for such a trial? It might even make us pretty angry. But again this is not a contest between Job and God so much as it is between Satan and God with Job as God’s stand-in. If you read the last chapter of Job along with our reading tonight, it is unmistakable that Job was performing in a cosmic showdown unseen by those who only inhabit our world.

There are other even shorter peeks into this other world in the Bible. In Luke 10, after sending out the disciples to preach and heal and cast out demons, they report back to Jesus what they had seen and Jesus says He saw much more, He saw Satan fall like lightening from heaven. The parables of the lost sheep, lost coin, and lost son all make the same point and show us what happens when a sinner repents, great joy breaks out among the angels in heaven. Job is just an ordinary person like us. He was living an ordinary, though righteous and upright life, when he was called upon by God to endure a trial with cosmic implications. He had not glimmer of light to guide him, no hint of what the characters in the unseen world where doing. And yet he was handpicked to settle a small piece of the history of universe.

I realize it’s almost absurd to think that one human being, one tiny dot on a tiny planet, can make a difference in the history of the universe. Even one of Job’s so-called friends, Elihu thinks so. “If you sin, how does that affect God? If your sins are many, what does that do to him? If you are righteous, what do you give to him, or what does He receive from your hand? Your wickedness affects only a man like yourself and your righteousness only the sons of men.”

But Elihu is flat wrong. God is greatly affected by the actions of on man. Later in Ezekiel, God hold us Job, along with Daniel and Noah, as one of His three favorites. This showdown between God and Satan, and Job’s role in it resolves for all time the question of whether one person’s faith matters. Job’s faith mattered. Indeed our faith, in good times and bad, whether or not those are times of testing or not, our faith matters. The history of the whole of humankind, and in fact, our own individual history of faith, is wrapped up within the great drama of God’s creation.

Very often, disappointment with God begins in Job-like circumstances. A loss of a job, a loved one, a child, the onset of a terrible, incurable disease may bring questions like why me? What does God have against me? Why does God seem so distant? As readers of Job’s story we can see behind the curtain to see the time for what it is, a contest being fought in the invisible world. But in our own trials or as witnesses of the sufferings of those we know and love, we will not have such insight. When tragedy strikes, we will live in shadow unaware of what exactly is transpiring in the unseen world. But once again the drama Job lived may be replicating itself in our lives. Once again God is willing to let His reputation ride on the response of unpredictable human beings.

The real battle will never be about the circumstances in which we may find ourselves, if only situation was different we might be able to believe in God. Rather the most important battle will be within us. Will we, despite all, believe and trust in God? Job teaches us that at the moment when faith is hardest and least likely, then faith is most needed. Our choices matter, not just to us, or to our loves ones, but to God, and the whole cosmos He rules.

No one has expressed the pain and unfairness of this world better than Job. But the book of Job is not really his own viewpoint but rather the view of God. The bet between Satan and God establishes the truth that Job, you and I, are called to join the struggle to be faithful in a world where so much goes wrong. We really don’t have a good answer to as to why. Instead, the book suggests a different question, “To what end?” By remaining faithful to God through his sufferings Job, crusty, crotchety old Job, helped to show that God will restore and wipe away all pain and unfairness of this world in the resurrection.

Job is but a forerunner of Jesus, the one who remained faithful, even unto His own death, in the face of the ultimate injustice, despite lies and wrongs done to Him. When we remain faithful we give witness to Christ Jesus. Our sufferings echo His and others see in our faithfulness, an echo of His faithfulness for us all. Far from being punishment, God calls us to the high estate of participating in the sufferings Christ and in doing so, bringing echoes of resurrection into our world.

Why does God let so much pain and evil exist even thrive among us? Resurrection involves us and the world we live in. Every act of faith by each one of the people of God is like the tolling of a bell, resurrection has come; the kingdom of God is come near; it has come among us; and like one of this big bells it resonates not just among us but throughout the whole of the created universe. Amen.

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