Note: I usually post an initial sketch on Monday or Tuesday of each week; then, I come back with a revised piece on Fridays. I hope my thoughts nourish your thoughts, that something here helps you think in the right direction for the congregation you serve. Cheers!
Last week, we began a this journey with Job, a journey towards understanding more about suffering—in the world, in our lives. The opening chapter of Job gave us two truths that can help us endure the suffering, the pain, the hurt of this world: first, God is not the Author of suffering; and, second, God allows the suffering because God has faith in us. This world—created by our omnipotent, all-powerful God—came with two things that bring us suffering…the Satan (the Adversary, the Accuser) and free-will—a free will that has led to a ‘broken world,’ a world beset by suffering. These truths help us in that we know that our suffering is not some move by a capricious God out to torment us, and we know that there IS one in this realm who wants us to suffer. Knowing WHERE the suffering comes from helps us to walk more confidently, faithfully, trustingly as God’s people.
Let’s see where this journey takes us today as we look at the third chapter of Job.
Scripture: Job 3:1-10 (NIV)
1After this, Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth. 2He said:
3“May the day of my birth perish, and the night that said, ‘A boy is conceived!’
4That day—may it turn to darkness; may God above not care about it; may no light shine on it.
5May gloom and utter darkness claim it once more; may a cloud settle over it; may blackness overwhelm it.
6That night—may thick darkness seize it; may it not be included among the days of the year nor be entered in any of the months.
7May that night be barren; may no shout of joy be heard in it.
8May those who curse days curse that day, those who are ready to rouse Leviathan.
9May its morning stars become dark; may it wait for daylight in vain and not see the first rays of dawn, 10for it did not shut the doors of the womb on me to hide trouble from my eyes.
First all, we hear some very different words from what we heard from Job last week.
When the raiders, soldiers, fires and winds robbed him of his vast flocks and herds and children, how did our faithful man respond?
The Lord has given and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.
What happened to his calm response? What happened to his non-committal answer?
Well, let’s catch up with the rest of the story….
Between Chapter 1 and Chapter 3, even more has happened. The Satan—Adversary, Accuser—returned to God yet again with a complaint and a challenge.
“Skin for skin!” Satan replied. “A man will give all he has for his own life. But now stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face.”
The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, he is in your hands; but you must spare his life.”
We then find Job covered with sores, from head to toe, sitting in ashes, scraping his skin with a shard of pottery. Even his wife is so horrified by the scene that she begs him, “Curse God and die already!”
He responds, “You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”
Job still thinks the “trouble” of his life is from God. Though his theology and worldview are flawed, his faith, his trust, is real and powerful. I mean, to believe that the horrors of one’s life are from God…and to remain faithful to that God? That IS trust!
Then, his three friends arrive—
Job’s three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him. When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.
II. Three Friends
The three friends come and sit with Job, sit in silence…they hurt with him, they suffer with him for seven days. This is good. This is what friends do. They come in the moment of need, they come alongside us in the midst of pain…and they hurt with us. For this, the three friends of Job must be admired.
Then they open their mouths—and it all falls apart.
They—with best intentions!—begin to offer advice…advice that is based on their faulty, cause-and-effect theology, a theology that says that God rewards good and punishes bad. If we’re suffering—according to their theology—then it’s because of sin in our lives...and that’s what they tell Job. However, we have already seen clearly in Chapters 1 & 2 that the suffering in Job’s life is not from God but from the Adversary. These friends would also agree whole-heartedly with Job’s declaration in chapter 1: The Lord gives and the Lord takes away.
How do we apply that to the seven-year-old girl at my friends’ church who was at VBS one day…and two weeks later died of an amazingly aggressive disease? How do we say such words to the parents whose child is suddenly snatched by an alligator at Disney World? How can we utter such words to the families of officers cut down in a moment of madness in Dallas? How do we quote these words to the family in our own community whose son, brother took his own life just a few weeks ago? Really? The LORD did all of these things? The LORD God, the Author of life, the Creator, committed these horrific acts? Blame disease, blame inadequate signage, blame an unbalanced veteran, blame mental illness, blame the brokenness of our world, blame the Adversary…but STOP BLAMING GOD for the evil and suffering of this world!
These well-meaning friends do talk to Job about God. But, they never get around to talking to God about Job. True friends pray for one another. They bring the hurts and pains of those they love before God.
This last week, Denise, one of our faithful members in the 9am service found herself quite suddenly in the hospital facing surgery. One of the first things she and her husband did was to contact me…and ask me to pray. The day of the surgery, she asked that we put a post on FB asking people to pray. In our moments of pain and need and hurt, we want people to pray for us. It may or may not be a time to talk to the person in need about God, but it is always the right time to talk to God about the person in need.
III. Job’s Lament
So, that catches us up to chapter 3 and Job’s lament. He is crushed, empty, hurt. And he lets us know it. He allows his feelings to rise to the top. He is honest—painfully honest. His pain is so great, his loss so incredible, he wishes he were never born. I think he makes that very clear!
How do we react in our suffering?
Too many times I’ve seen Christians who carry around this false piety or misguided teaching that says something like, “I have Christ in my life; I have to be ‘up’ all the time!” Have you known those folks? Nothing is ever bad or wrong. Never will they let their guard down. They put on a smile…and not even the horrors of Job’s life will wipe it off their faces.
Job teaches us a different way. He shows us that it is okay to hurt, to mourn, to suffer out loud.
How do you react to suffering—your own or someone else’s?
Are we honest—like Job—or do we say what we think we should say?
Job’s honest lament, his candid response, allows us to bring our deepest hurts, fears, and anger to God, knowing that He will hear us…and love us.
IV. Jesus on Suffering
In our New Testament reading this morning (John 9:1-5), Jesus’ disciples ask him, “Why is this man blind—because of his sin or his parent’s sin?”
They are still disciples of Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar, still thinking that if someone is sick or hurt or suffering, it’s because they have sinned. Jesus is very clear in his answer. He’s blind because he’s blind—no blame to go around. BUT, God can work in the midst of the sickness, pain and suffering of our lives. In fact, when those times come, God’s usually gets more of our attention than on those sunny, care-free days of life.
Who of us has not found ourselves sick—the flu or worse—and suddenly our prayer-life moves up to the next level! When we lived in Venezuela, I contracted dengue fever—also called ‘bone-break fever.’ The pain was so excruciating—I didn’t curse the day of my birth, but I did pray for the Lord to take me, to just let me die! I can promise you, my prayer life went from a four to a ten in no time flat!
God does not cause illness, God does not cast pain and hurt and loss into our lives, God does not rob us of health and happiness—He, as Scripture tells us time and again, is the Author of life and hope and goodness! There is an Adversary, the Satan, who is crouching in wait to devour us. We do live in a broken world that includes illness, sickness, injury, and heartbreak. Our own free-will brings us to self-destructive, harmful decisions. BUT, God is there to care for us, to hear us, to bring healing, to bring hope, to give us strength.
In our New Testament reading, God used a young man’s blindness to reveal the truth of God in Christ Jesus…to open spiritual eyes of the people around this man…and two thousand years later, to open our spiritual eyes.
Job is teaching us a lot!
· Suffering, pain, hurt and death are not gifts that God gives—quit blaming God for bad stuff in your life.
· There is a very real spiritual force arrayed against us in the Adversary, the Satan—blame him!
· Friends can be an amazing source of comfort—don’t pass up the chance to be with someone in their moment of pain and suffering.
· When your friends and loved ones are in pain, don’t just talk to them about God; talk to God about them.
· When we are in pain, it’s okay to cry out, to scream, to yell, to lament—pain and suffering are part and parcel of this world…and we do well to express it. God can take it. In fact, God often speaks to our hearts most clearly when we are in those times of pain, suffering and hurt.
Today, we come to the table to remember One who has suffered beyond anything we can imagine. And, he suffered not because he was evil or wrong or bad. He suffered for us, suffered that we might know and have life through him. It’s a mystery. Somehow, the work of Jesus on the Cross made a way for us to know God and become a part of God’s family and God’s mission to the world…a mission of hope, peace, grace…of love.
Let us prepare our hearts as we remember what Jesus has done for us (Communion Sunday).