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 are half-way through this journey with Job—an interesting journey to be sure! As we get to this point, let’s take a moment to look back on what we’ve learned from Job about this thing called suffering:
· Suffering – common to all of us as people, though in various forms.
· Suffering – NOT from God; from Satan, our bad decisions, a broken world.
· Suffering – more bearable when we share the pain with others, with friends.
· Suffering – may be a good time to talk to the sufferer about God; always a good time to talk to God about the one suffering: We pray for those who suffer.
· Suffering – can bring us closer to God; opens our ears to hear God.
· Suffering – produces perseverance, character and, ultimately, hope!
Today, we continue our journey with the man Job through the book of Job. The man Job cries out to God for justice, for an answer….
Scripture – Job 31:35-37
35“Oh, that I had someone to hear me!
I sign now my defense—let the Almighty answer me;
let my accuser put his indictment in writing.
36Surely I would wear it on my shoulder,
I would put it on like a crown.
37I would give him an account of my every step;
I would present it to him as to a ruler.
Job is frustrated. His friends keep telling him that his suffering is a product of his own sin, that he has somehow offended God. Job has examined his life, looked at it from every angle, turned it upside-down, but he cannot find this supposed offense. He is still operating from his friends’ perspective—God rewards the good and punishes the bad.
Job is about to learn what Jesus’ disciples learned from him some 2000 years later. The world is NOT set up on this good/bad, reward/punishment scale. In fact, if we were to really and truly think about it, would we really want things to work this way? Do we really want the world to function on this kind of justice? Oh, it’s so easy to want it when we see ISIS and violence and injustice around us…but do we want to God to deal with us personally this way? Do I really want God to step in and deal out punishment and suffering on me every time I think and act selfishly? Do I really want suffering every time I short-cut the law or outwit my competitors in business through some “if-y” loophole? Do I want God to send fire and desert winds on me when I arrogantly think myself better than those around me? Do I want God to pin me down with illness and rob me of family and income because I’ve committed a sin against Him or someone else? No way. When it comes to me, I want grace, pardon, forgiveness. I only want that other law when someone sins against me, mine or my world.
But, Job is where he is. He makes his case before God. He refutes his guilt. Listen to these words from the same chapter:
5“If I have walked with falsehood
or my foot has hurried after deceit—
9“If my heart has been enticed by a woman,
or if I have lurked at my neighbor’s door…
13“If I have denied justice to any of my servants,
whether male or female, when they had a grievance against me…
16“If I have denied the desires of the poor
or let the eyes of the widow grow weary…
24“If I have put my trust in gold
or said to pure gold, ‘You are my security’…
29“If I have rejoiced at my enemy’s misfortune
or gloated over the trouble that came to him….
“If, if, if…IF I had done any of these things, God would have a right to punish me, but I am blameless!” says Job.
So, what is GOING ON?!?
That brings us to Job’s cry:
35“Oh, that I had someone to hear me!
I sign now my defense—let the Almighty answer me;
And God does.
II. God Answers Job
Let’s just hear what God has to say…. (Job 38:1-11; 31-41)
1Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm. He said:
2“Who is this that obscures my plans
with words without knowledge?
3Brace yourself like a man;
I will question you,
and you shall answer me.
4“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
Tell me, if you understand.
5Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
Who stretched a measuring line across it?
6On what were its footings set,
or who laid its cornerstone—
7while the morning stars sang together
and all the angels shouted for joy?
8“Who shut up the sea behind doors
when it burst forth from the womb,
9when I made the clouds its garment
and wrapped it in thick darkness,
10when I fixed limits for it
and set its doors and bars in place,
11when I said, ‘This far you may come and no farther;
here is where your proud waves halt’?
31“Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades?
Can you loosen Orion’s belt?
32Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons
or lead out the Bear with its cubs?
33Do you know the laws of the heavens?
Can you set up God’s dominion over the earth?
34“Can you raise your voice to the clouds
and cover yourself with a flood of water?
35Do you send the lightning bolts on their way?
Do they report to you, ‘Here we are’?
36Who gives the ibis wisdom
or gives the rooster understanding?
37Who has the wisdom to count the clouds?
Who can tip over the water jars of the heavens
38when the dust becomes hard
and the clods of earth stick together?
39“Do you hunt the prey for the lioness
and satisfy the hunger of the lions
40when they crouch in their dens
or lie in wait in a thicket?
41Who provides food for the raven
when its young cry out to God
and wander about for lack of food?
As I read these words, I am reminded of what God says to Isaiah in Isaiah 55:8-9:
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
Job (and we!) has no clue about the greatness, the power, of God. We are mere specks of dust on the face of one of one billion balls of rock floating in a universe that we have no way of understanding. Oh, scientists make out like they know so much, but it’s mainly guess-work and hope and good intention. But does anyone really know where we have come from, how we hold together, and where we are going? Our best and brightest scientists talk about a “Big Bang”…but none of them dare to speculate what caused that ‘bang’ or why all the matter of the universe gathered in one place. Their ideas only go back so far…but our God goes back even farther.
Who is this God? Thankfully, in these words from God found here in Job an image of the Creator and Sustainer of all things emerges. God is a Maker, Giver, Builder and Provider…not a destroyer, killer, an ‘unmaker.’
III. Jesus as God’s Image
Jump with me to the New Testament for a moment. Paul has some very important words for us as we strive to get this image of God into our minds.
In his letter to the Christians in Colossae, Paul writes these words as he strives to help them understand more about both God the Father and Jesus Christ:
15The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. (1:15-20)
According to Paul, Jesus—the Son—is the image of the invisible God. And when we think of Jesus, when we see Jesus in the Gospels, what do we find there? Do we find a destroyer? A killer? A peddler of suffering and pain? An unmaker?
In Jesus we find a maker, a healer, a restorer, a guide, a teacher, a friend. He has opportunities throughout his ministry to act out that law of good/bad, reward/punishment. He has plenty of chances to bring suffering to the evil and bad. But, no. He could have called down armies of angels to deal with those who meted out injustice. He could have just as easily cast disease on the evil ones. But, no.
In our New Testament reading today, we get a glimpse of God and the ways of God:
43“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ (reward/punish!) 44But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-48).
Jesus here gives us his own understanding of the ways of God. He calls us to be like the Father… ‘love your enemies and pray for those who persecute us’—sharing good and blessings with all…regardless of their goodness or righteousness (right-ness). And, not only is God like this, Jesus calls us to do the same!
IV. One and the Same God
Jesus is maker, healer, giver, provider…the image of the invisible God.
As we began this study, we affirmed our belief in the sovereignty of God. Today, let us also affirm our belief in the unchanging nature of God’s character. If that is so, and if Jesus is the image of God…then the God we see in Jesus is the same God we find in the book of Job. And that image of God reveals a ‘good’ God.
If you saw the recent list on FB about Methodists, one of the commonalities among Methodists is our recognition of the goodness of God. In fact, we have a little practice common to our churches:
God is good…all the time; all the time…God is good!
Let’s try that again—GOD IS GOOD! (All the time!) ALL THE TIME! (God is good!)
This is not only fun to practice, but it also reveals a truth we need to lay hold of. When we see Jesus, we know this is true. Job is learning that this true….
My brothers and my sisters in Christ, we have got to latch on to this idea—the Goodness of God. We cannot be led astray by the Satan, by bad theologies, by well-intentioned but mis-guided teachings. Our God is GOOD. He is MAKER, BUILDER, SUSTAINER, PROVIDER!
As we go into this new week—in spite of the struggles we face with school traffic tomorrow morning, the frustrations—teachers—that you encounter in the classrooms this week, the difficulties—students!—you face in the classrooms this week or this semester, the trouble—parents!—you have getting those kiddos out the door each morning, the day-to-day challenges—business men and women—you face in the work place and on the work-site, the roller-coaster husbands and wives experience in their relationships—as we go into this week, let us face the hardships with ‘clear eyes’ knowing that God is not the source of our problems. Rather, God is the answer to our problems…because GOD IS GOOD (All the Time!)…ALL THE TIME! (God is Good!)
When you face the trials, struggles, tensions and sufferings that come to you this week, this month, this year, claim the truth: God is Good…all the time. When you get confused as to who’s causing what in your life, and you get turned around like Job thinking the bad stuff is from God, claim the truth: God is Good…all the time. And remember that our good God goes with us, hears us, strengthens us…and never forsakes us.
This, my friends, is God’s Good News for us today.