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 began our journey through Job just three weeks ago, a journey through suffering. We all experience suffering, pain, loss, hurt. And, we all want explanations. If we can figure what causes the pain in our lives, we might be able to avoid the suffering…lessen the suffering.
Job the man dealt with pain and suffering. As we go through the book of Job, as we walk along with Job (and his ‘friends’), we gain a deeper and better understanding of both suffering and faithful living.
At the beginning of the book, Job loses his property, his herds, and his family—his children. In the face of all his loss, he mistakenly thinks that God is the author of his suffering and declares, “The Lord has given and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord!”
He has it half right. The Lord does give, does bless…but what was taken from Job was taken by the Satan.
We may or may not get things ‘half right,’ but we often get things upside-down. How many times have we moaned when things didn’t go our way, “Why is God doing this to me?!” Our son, Andrew, was learning to ride his scooter when he was three or four years old. He had practiced a route that ran from the driveway, around the big oak tree and down the sidewalk in front of the house. He had done it time and again…and one day, we were outside with the video camera. “Dad, record this!” So I did. As he rounded the tree, his little front wheel fell right into a crack and stopped dead. My son and the rest of scooter spilled over head-first smack on to the sidewalk. He came up wailing. As we consoled him, he declared, “God made me do it!” Grateful for the theological moment, I steered him in a better direction.
But, some folks never grow out of that—when bad things come along, they cry out, “Why is God doing this to me!”
Perhaps just as bad as blaming God for every hurt and pain, when good things come along in life, we tend to take a deep breath, put on a little swagger, and declare, “Man, I am GOOD!” That special someone agrees to go out on a date, and it’s, “Yeah, I’m the man!” We work a good deal on something we need—a car, a fridge, a suit—and it’s, “I can deal it, I can deal it!” For some strange, mixed up reason, we think we’re good…or great! We think we make the good things happen in our lives.
We have things so upside-down. The bad is from God, the good is from our own amazing selves? In a right-side-up world, we would recognize that “every good and perfect gift comes down from the Father of heavenly lights,” and every pain, mess, disaster grows out of the work of Satan, our own foolishness, or the brokenness of this world.
Job the book teaches us that God is the Author of all things good…and that there are forces—spiritual forces—in this world that wish us any and every harm, and that our own decisions leads us to disaster at times.
Today, we resume our study of Job. Let’s see what God has to teach us today….
Scripture: Job 14:7-15 (NIV)
7“At least there is hope for a tree: If it is cut down, it will sprout again, and its new shoots will not fail.
8Its roots may grow old in the ground and its stump die in the soil, 9 yet at the scent of water it will bud and put forth shoots like a plant.
10 But a man dies and is laid low; he breathes his last and is no more.
11As the water of a lake dries up or a riverbed becomes parched and dry, 12so he lies down and does not rise; till the heavens are no more, people will not awake or be roused from their sleep.
13“If only you would hide me in the grave and conceal me till your anger has passed! If only you would set me a time and then remember me!
14If someone dies, will they live again? All the days of my hard service I will wait for my renewal to come.
15You will call and I will answer you; you will long for the creature your hands have made.
II. A Shift—from Lament to…?
Vs. 7-9: Job considers a tree. Job points out that the tree seems to find new life even after it seems dead.
I saw this to be true very recently, in fact. When we returned from youth camp, I noticed that there had been small fire at the edge of a field near the Stripes down near where we live. The land was scorched black. I remember thinking, “Ah…bad time for that in the middle of the dry season—that’ll be there until the next rains in September.” I was wrong. Just this week as I passed that patch of ground, I was surprised and pleased to see that new grass had sprouted, the mesquite tree there was covered in green leaves, and other weeds were slowly covering over the scar of the fire. Evidently, the fire had burned off the surface of the ground, but the roots and seeds in the ground were still there. Job was right—these plants and trees can return with new life.
Vs. 10-13 – Job considers humankind.
But, people? No new life there! Once we are knocked down, once we’re stripped of life, there is no renewal. When we’re done, we’re done. When we’re burned out and cut down, we humans don’t tend to rise again. And, we can easily imagine that Job feels burned out, stripped bare, cut down…and he senses that when he is dead, he will be dead.
BUT…in vs. 14-15 – We sense a change…a shift. Job realizes that he is NOT dead yet. He may be sitting in ashes, but he is not completely burned out. His world has been cut down…but he is not cut down completely. He has voice, he has thought…and as long as he is alive, he has HOPE! The tree may live again and humankind may find no new life…but, AS LONG AS I LIVE, THERE IS HOPE!
We hear this again clearly later in Job’s discourse (Job 19):
23“Oh, that my words were recorded, that they were written on a scroll,
24that they were inscribed with an iron tool on lead, or engraved in rock forever!
25I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth.
26And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God;
27I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!
In the midst of his sorrow, loss and suffering, Job holds on to HOPE. In fact, we should not even be surprised. He is a man of faith…and a large measure of faith has to do with hope. Do you know the words Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome?
“…We know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5)
Suffering produces perseverance which produces character which produces hope! Job knows what suffering is…his suffering resulted in perseverance…character and…Hope! His journey through the darkness, the loss and pain has brought him to a new place. Job has HOPE! And hope…well, hope is everything.
III. The Power of Hope
Patrick Seger was the Samaritan’s Purse team leader in the Philippines for the first month after Typhoon Haiyan in 2013. “It’s been said that a person can live 40 days without food, four days without water, four minutes without air, but only four seconds without hope. Why? Hope provides the power that energizes us with life. Hope is a powerful thing. It keeps us going when times are tough. It creates excitement in us for the future. It gives us reason to live. It gives us strength and courage.”
Also in 2013, Time magazine published an article called “How Hope Works.” The author points to scientific data, psychological experiments…and the very real, everyday experiences of people to show first of all that there is a direct link between HOPE and work productivity & academic achievement. The author points out that hope is NOT the same as wishing. Hope is a deliberate process that recognizes where one is…where one wants to be…and a willingness to take the steps to get from one place to the other. In the studies, they found that people with a higher level of hope had a greater tolerance for discomfort, inconvenience…and suffering. Hope has power!
In 2015, The New York Times published “The Power of Hope is Real.” The author points to multinational studies that have shown that people who are stressed, impoverished and hopeless can have their lives turned around when they are given hope. While Karl Marx, one of the founders of the communist movement, once said that ‘religion is the opiate of the people,’ these studies found quite the opposite…that religion—a hope-filled religion—is the amphetamine of the people! In the end of the study, what did they discover works to lift people out of extreme poverty? The power of hope!
These 21st Century writers, newspapers, magazines, and studies all serve to confirm what the Scriptures told us 2000 years ago. Hope gives life. Hope carries us through suffering.
IV. A Faith of Hope
Jesus is the author of hope for us. What could we do without God’s forgiveness? What could we expect without the work of Jesus on the Cross? Who would we be today if not for the life-changing faith that God gives us in Christ Jesus? Jesus’ call to repentance is a call of hope—we can change! Jesus’ call to discipleship is a call of hope—we can live differently. Jesus’ call to mission (“Go therefore into all the world….”) is a call of hope—we can change the world…as God’s people.
So, where has Job taken us today? We see that even in the midst of suffering, even when we feel we may have lost EVERYTHING, there is still a place for hope. In fact, Paul reminds us that hope comes out of suffering. We see where we are. We see where we need to be. We determine to do whatever is necessary to get from point A to point B—and hope is born. As Christians living three or four thousand years after Job, we know that two of the greatest things we can do as followers of Jesus: 1) Hold on to the hope within our own lives; 2) sow seeds of hope in the lives of others—help them to see that our God is a God of change, that change is possible. What is your hope? What seems ‘hopeless’ in your life? Where there is hope, there is possibility.