Below is my sermon text for this week’s lectionary text of Job 38:1-7, (34-41):
I once saw a sign on a billboard for a church that said, “Looking for peace and happiness? Come find God here.” I wonder what our friend Job might think of that claim? As you have seen over the last couple of weeks, peace and happiness are among the last feelings Job feels when considering his life and his relationship with God. When I began seminary last year I have to say that my image of Job as a reader what shattered. Like many of you I had always heard the phrase, “The patience of Job” when referring to someone with great patience. It was not until last year in my Old Testament class after doing a careful reading of this entire book that I learned just how impatient Job was. In fact, by the end of the book Job grows plain bitter towards God and life. In Job 19 we read the famous text where Job exclaims, “he knows that his redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth.” We guess what sports fans, Job is not pleading for God to show up. He is pleading for a redeemer to rid him of the turmoil he feels God is bringing upon him. Job is not crying out for God, he is crying out against God. Much of the book of Job is spent with Job growing more and more restless of God lack of answers and his friends who are continuing to try and convince him to just curse God. But Job knows he is innocent. He knows he has not done wrong and he pleads his case against this injustice throughout the book. You see Job is not merely refusing to curse God because he is righteous. He also refuses to curse God because that means he loses his case and admits to a guilt he has built such a case against.
And it is here in chapter 38 that we finally hear the long awaited response of God. By the time we make it here we are ready for some sense to be made from the madness of Job’s suffering. Surely, God will explain why Job is subject to such a degree of suffering? Surely it will be here where God will answer the age-old question Rabbi Kushner so famously coined, “Why do bad things happen to good people?”
But God does something even more interesting and disheartening than that. On the one hand, God appears to Job as the God of creation. He spends verses 1-7 of chapter 38 recounting to Job the works of creation-and reminding Job he was no part of them. Why? Does this not add insult to injury? Well we have to remember there is disconnect here we experience with the culture of the Old Testament. God was not merely the God who creates out of nothing as we have come to interpret. It was not thought of as merely “Let there be light from no light” and then God flipped the switch on to turn on the lights of creation. It is much more involved than that. For these people God creates something not from void but from chaos. Put it another way, “let there be light” really refers to God granting order from the chaos of darkness. We know this as Christians as well. If Jesus is the Light of the World then he is indeed a light among the chaos of the darkness of this world-including and especially suffering. If this is true then John 1:4-5 can be read with new meaning:
…in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. (John 1:4-5)
You see there is actually an answer in the non-answer God gives Job. The issue we have as readers and humans is that it is not the answer we want or that Job wanted. Bu then who ever said God works around our personal whims and wishes?
The second point we need to catch in this speech from God is that while God is conveying this notion of being the Creator of order from chaos He is doing it from the ash-heap where Job sits in misery. Job doesn’t have to go to some mountain or alter to find God. God comes and find Job. This might God of all of creation comes to Job in his moment of greatest weakness and joins him in the humiliating circumstances where he lies.
So now you may be wondering that age-old question that plagues preachers in all settings: what does this mean for us? I’m afraid that if you are expecting an explanation from me about this story you will sorely miss out. I can use the excuse, I reckon, that if God didn’t give any direct answers then surely I don’t have to either. But I do think there are a couple implications here we can learn from and consider.
Have you ever noticed how egocentric pain and suffering is? I don’t mean that in some accusatory way-but it’s a fact. When our world collapses around us we understandably retreat to the closed shell of what is left of our personal humanity. We stop acknowledging the world around. And why should we? After all, there is too much chaos in our own lives right then to even think about the chaos that exists in the rest of the world.
Dr. Carol Newsome, and Old Testament professor at Candler and our resident expert on Job, shared with me a personal story the other day about a real-life reality of this egocentric nature of suffering. She said that she had a student once who, halfway through the semester, lost her teenage son in a car accident. This was her only child and he was now gone. This student shared with Dr. Newsome that on the day of her son’s funeral she was riding in the car and her Bible fell open to the book of Job. And for some reason she began reading on her car ride to the funeral home. She told Dr. Newsome that for some reason, that did more for her pain at that moment than anything else could. Dr. Newsome questioned her and asked, “Why is that? I know Job to be one of the more depressing books of the Bible.” “It sure is” the student said, “But it helped to remind me in that instant that I was not the only one in the world who was suffering. And for some strange reason, it gave me a sense of momentary peace and freedom.”
I want to commend Rev. Brock for doing this series from Job. And I want to commend all of you for coming to hear it. In our modern American churches we don’t hear too much from old Job these days. Often we are guilty to extracting from the Gospel what we need and can use to make our lives better, more productive, and easier to manage. Job challenges us to come face-to-face with the notion that sometimes, no matter how hard we try, we are met with the painful knowledge that we can’t fix everything. Life happens and sometimes that means pain and suffering happen as they are just as much a part of the human condition as happiness and joy. And we don’t like this. As a self-sufficient, self-produced culture we don’t like to be reminded that sometimes we are not the captains of our own destiny. And Job serves as a painful reminder of this fact.
In spite of that I think Job’s story does have more answers than we like to give it credit for having. They are not always our answers on our terms. But they are answers just the same.
This God of creation is the God who continues to create. And this is a God who refuses to let the chaos of suffering and pain keep Him from creating. Even in the midst of suffering and heartache God is still creating anew. And even more than that this God refuses to let us lie in the ash-heaps of life alone. This God does not wait for us to come to Him-often He comes and seeks us out.
Job also grants us permission to take our frustration and pain and heartache straight to God. Culturally we are taught we can’t do this and we have to suck it up because God knows there is always more suffering in the world than we know. But I think Job grants us a new permission to express our grief with the chaos of suffering with God himself. We don’t have to put on a “happy face” when we come to church. We don’t have to mask our suffering or, worse yet, stay home until we feel better. Dr. Tom Long puts it an even better way when he says, “What better place than the church to take our pain and leave it with God?”
And finally Job reminds us that God will be present in our pain and suffering. Who knows better about suffering than a God who suffered Himself. And so we leave this place with few answers but with one promise: whether it is in the ash-heap of the land of Uz or the ash-heap of Golgotha or the ash-heap of our very lives here today, God will show up. God will continue to create anew. And that is often all we have cling to. And more often than not, that is enough. Amen.