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!
We draw near to the end of this series on Job. We have learned much about suffering in this world, but I have been amiss. I have not defined suffering, and that’s a problem.
Not everything that ‘hurts’ is suffering. We have many things in this world that cause pain—some of it short-term, some of it long-term. Yet, not all of the pains in this life are “suffering.” Discomfort is not suffering. The young men and women in middle- and high-school who go out for football, basketball, cheer-leading, softball, band, color-guard and any other similar extra-curricular activity—all of these know what it means to hurt, to experience pain, to endure discomfort…but we wouldn’t label any of these as ‘suffering.’ There are times we engage is self-improvement—aerobics, weightlifting, running, continuing education, community service, etc.—and while these may include or result in pain and discomfort, would not label any of these as ‘suffering.’ Being disciplined in and of itself is not suffering. As parents—unless we want a house full of hellions—we must tell our children ‘no,’ we must correct their behavior through both positive (Yay! Good job!) and negative (‘smack!’) reinforcement, but in normal, healthy situations, we would not say that the children are suffering. There are indications in Scripture that God disciplines His children, but ‘discipline’ and ‘cause to suffer’ are two different things.
So what is suffering? How do we understand suffering?
Here is a working definition for us:
Suffering is enduring, going through, experiencing a prolonged physical, mental and/or emotional pain as a result of illness, injury and/or loss.
Key words here: enduring…prolonged…pain.
My dog, Tippy, was hit while crossing a busy highway. He sustained injury…it hurt, I’m sure…but he died very quickly. My father remarked, “Well, at least he didn’t suffer.” Suffering is about enduring prolonged pain…something we endure through time, whether a day, a week, a year, a decade. Many of us here know what it means to suffer.
And, Job has taught us that God is not the Author of suffering. So, while our God does not cause us to suffer, our loving God is able to turn the suffering inflicted upon us into an opportunity for spiritual growth, hope and faith.
Let us continue with our journey through Job. We join the story once again as God is talking to Job, answering Job’s challenge from chapter 31.
Scripture – Job 41:1-11
[The Lord continued,]
1“Can you pull in Leviathan with a fishhook
or tie down its tongue with a rope?
2Can you put a cord through its nose
or pierce its jaw with a hook?
3Will it keep begging you for mercy?
Will it speak to you with gentle words?
4Will it make an agreement with you
for you to take it as your slave for life?
5Can you make a pet of it like a bird
or put it on a leash for the young women in your house?
6Will traders barter for it?
Will they divide it up among the merchants?
7Can you fill its hide with harpoons
or its head with fishing spears?
8If you lay a hand on it,
you will remember the struggle and never do it again!
9Any hope of subduing it is false;
the mere sight of it is overpowering.
10No one is fierce enough to rouse it.
Who then is able to stand against me?
11Who has a claim against me that I must pay?
Everything under heaven belongs to me.
In this passage, as in the earlier passages (I do hope you take time to read Job all the way though some time), God reveals His power. Yet, He reveals more than His power. In these passages, God also reveals His interests, His areas of concern. And, perhaps surprising to Job, God cares for all of His creation. He’s interested in the earth, the oceans, the mountains, the rivers…He’s concerned about the lions, the ravens, the horses, the eagles…and He is concerned about people as well.
Interestingly, God never demeans or denigrates Job or humanity in general. He says and indicates things like, “You don’t understand; you don’t see it all”…and, “You’re not the center of the world, the only thing I care about.” But, we never hear God saying things like, “You’re a dunce! You don’t matter; You’re useless.” In all of this—in the face of the foolishness of humanity—God does not condemn the man for his ignorance. Rather, like a good Father, he strives to help Job see the truth of reality in a way he can understand it.
Leviathan? A sea monster from some uncertain time. We don’t really know what creature this is, but we get it—this is something with seemingly unstoppable, untamable power, something that everyone fears and dreads. Yet, in the end, this powerful beast, this symbol of all things frightening to human kind, is simply another part of God’s creation. God declares, “Everything under heaven belongs to me.”
What in our own lives seems ‘unstoppable,’ what power seems to threaten our lives and our dreams and goals? God whispers to us, “Everything under heaven belongs to me.” What person or situation in our lives seems like an untamable beast? God reminds us, “Everything under heaven belongs to me.”
III. Job’s Response
And finally, Job gets it. Job responds to the Almighty (Job 42:1-6:)
1Then Job replied to the Lord:
2“I know that you can do all things;
no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
3You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’
Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me to know.
4“You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak;
I will question you,
and you shall answer me.’
5My ears had heard of you
but now my eyes have seen you.
6Therefore I despise myself
and repent of the dust and ashes.”
Finally, Job gets it! God is God and he is not. There are things too wonderful to understand. God has a whole lot more going on that we see on the surface. God’s world and reality is bigger than US. There is a mystery to life that we just cannot see from this side.
God never explains to Job that the Satan was the one who brought all the grief and pain to his life. God never explains Himself to anyone! But, he helps Job see that there is far more to what is going on than we see.
And Job accepts it.
The final words are awkward in the Hebrew—translated in many different ways—but best rendered, I’m convinced—I repent of the dust and ashes. I’m done sitting here. I can do no more sitting here feeling sorry for myself, and I’m not going to understand it all. Ya me voy. I’m outta here.
So, where do we find Jesus in all of this?
That’s the problem. Job lives 2000 years before Jesus…and we are reading this 2000 years after Jesus.
Job is doing the best he can in a pre-Christian world…in a world before Jesus…in a world before the indwelling Spirit of God.
We can have a far different experience from Job’s. We have the life and teachings of Jesus that show so much more than Job could ever see. We have the Spirit of Christ living in us, showing us, teaching us, reminding us, guiding us. We have the written Word of God—that shows us both the world of Job…and the world of Jesus—our world.
I said, “We can have….” There are some who chose to live ‘pre-Christian’ lives, to walk in the same darkness that Job walked in. In fact, they embrace the same twisted theology of Job and his friends…and sit around wondering in midst of their suffering, “Why is God doing this to me?” We have many who have chosen to remain in that pre-Christian world.
Others of us have embrace Jesus, we have heard his voice, we have followed him, and we now live in the Christian reality. We know that suffering is part of a broken world, a sinful world. We don’t even have to sin to suffer—it just comes to us for living in this brokenness. BUT, we don’t sit in dust and ashes. We don’t wonder if God loves us or cares for us. We don’t sit around in self-pity. We experience the pain, the agony at times, of suffering. BUT, we have a hope that carries us through.
We have a Lord who walks with us. We have God’s Spirit who comforts us. We have God’s word that consoles us.
Where are you living? Are you living in Job’s world…or in Jesus’ world? Are you blaming God for everything messed up in your life? Are you convinced that God is angry at you and is punishing you for….something!?
Or, have you heard the Word of God? Have you heard the gentle whisper of God’s love for you? Have you noticed that Jesus wants to walk with you in all areas of your life? Have you begun to plumb the depth of wisdom in God’s Word—wisdom for daily living that will help us make better decisions? Have you tried to hear the Spirit’s voice in prayer? Have you silenced the world around, disconnected, turned off the phone, shut-down the computer…for just 10 minutes…and listened for that ‘still small voice’? Have you committed to reading and hearing the words of Jesus in the Gospels?
The choice is before you today. Stay in Job’s world…or step into Jesus’ world? It is as simple as that—an act of faith, a step of faith, a leap of faith…a determination to believe that God loves us, accepts us, wants more than anything to walk with us…and eventually to bring us safely home to Himself.
Job or Jesus? May today be your day of deciding to follow Jesus. After our prayer, as we sing, I invite you to step out in faith, come to the prayer-rail, and recommit your life to Jesus. If you would like, you may come to me—I will be oh so happy to pray with you and for you as you give your life anew to Jesus.