St Mark’s Church on the Rise 15.11.15
Text: Job 10:1-22; Ps 38; James 5:7-11; Luke 22:31-34,39-46
Job Continues: A Plea to God | ch10 v1. “I loathe my life; I will give free utterance to my complaint; I will speak in the bitterness of my soul. v2. I will say to God, Do not condemn me; let me know why you contend against me. v3. Does it seem good to you to oppress, to despise the work of your hands and favor the designs of the wicked? v4. Have you eyes of flesh? Do you see as man sees? v5. Are your days as the days of man, or your years as a man’s years, v6. that you seek out my iniquity and search for my sin, v7. although you know that I am not guilty, and there is none to deliver out of your hand? v8. Your hands fashioned and made me, and now you have destroyed me altogether. v9. Remember that you have made me like clay; and will you return me to the dust? v10. Did you not pour me out like milk and curdle me like cheese? v11. You clothed me with skin and flesh, and knit me together with bones and sinews. v12. You have granted me life and steadfast love, and your care has preserved my spirit. v13. Yet these things you hid in your heart; I know that this was your purpose.
There is nothing quite as startling as the story of Job.
A respected, prosperous and devout family who suddenly loses everything for no apparent reason.
Unlike Job, the readers of the book are privileged to witness a wager between God and the devil over Job’s motivation; “And the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?”” (1:8). Satan immediately accuses Job of having ulterior motives for his faith; ““Does Job fear God for no reason?” (1:9) and proclaims that if is allowed to ruin Job’s life he will “curse you to your face” (1:11).
When Satan goes forth to slaughter his family and destroy his possession Job’s response is unforgettable, he “fell on the ground and worshipped. And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.”” (1:21 cf. 1 Sam 2:6).
Satan then suggests that if Job loses his health he will yet turn his back on God (2:5). So the devil is allowed to inflict God’s servant with “terrible boils from head to foot” (2:7) (I can still remember the pain of a boil behind my knee as a child.) things get worse, as a mouthpiece of the devil Job’s wife says to him; ““Are you still trying to maintain your integrity? Curse God and die.””
Refusing suicide Job stays centred on the Lord; “Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?”” (2:9-10).
Then three of Job’s friends visit to bring him “comfort” (3:11).
For the next 29 chapters these friends insist that his pains are a punishment for his sins.
This plunges Job into deep depression and he repeatedly protests that he is in the right with God (9:20-22; 12:24).
At the end of the story God appears to Job proclaims him to be righteous and restores his prosperity and happiness (42:10-17).
Job is a wisdom book whose message marks a revolution in religious thought.
The schools of wisdom in the ancient east taught that the world is governed by an inflexible divine order linking conduct to consequences; the righteous are rewarded with prosperity whilst the wicked suffer catastrophe in this life (cf. Ps 73; Jer 12:1; Hab 1:13).
God’s justice would not allow the righteous to suffer.
God’s justice would not allow the righteous to suffer.
Before his afflictions this had been Job’s view of the world too, but in the third chapter of the book something snaps in his conscience, the anguished cry “Why” (am I suffering) breaks out ten times (vv.11, 12, 16 etc.). Unlike his childish know-it-all friends Job dares to question the justice of God.
This self-righteousness is too much for Job’s mates who insist more and more intensely that Job MUST be a sinner.
Religious experts always know the answers in advance, but people like Job cry out to God for answers (14:13-17; 16:19-21; 17:3; 19:25-27).
The answers of Job’s friends are worth nothing because they cost nothing (Job 42:7).
Job however is an entirely different sort of man.
Not once does he complain about the loss of his possessions, the death of his children, or the breakdown of his health as such; his complaint has to do with the fact that God has taken all these things from him without just cause (9:17; 19:6ff; 29:1 ff).
What he protests about is the loss of his honour with God.
He feels utterly helpless and crushed before his Maker and his inability to prove that he is in a right relationship with his God is driving him out of his mind (40:8).
Job does not think God has left him but that he is persecuting him; “16 I hate my life…Oh, leave me alone for my few remaining days 17 “What are people, that you should make so much of us, that you should think of us so often? 18 For you examine us every morning and test us every moment. 19 Why won’t you leave me alone, at least long enough for me to swallow!” (Job 7:16-19).
Job’s complaint about the uncomfortable presence of God reminds me of a time when I was having an argument with the Lord about something in my life and his presence tormented me day and night. When I woke up my conscience before God was stressed, at 1 a.m. in the laboratory I knew he was there and I just wanted, not to die, and face judgement, but like Job, to never have been born (cf. 3:3ff; 10:18-19; Jer 20:14-18).
Despite all of Job’s defiant claims that God should vindicate him because he is righteous (32:1; 33:9; 40:8), he never curses the Lord.
Whatever his pains, confusions and arrogance he never denies that he belongs to God he maintains this witness to the very end.
Rebuke and Restoration
The friends of Job hid behind their spiritual traditions, but in taking the argument up to God Job received a greater vision of the Lord.
Suddenly God appears to Job out of the whirlwind and begins to rebuke Job him in the face to face encounter he had longed for (13:15ff; 38:2-3; 40:7; 42:3, 6).
Unlike Job’s friends the Lord does not accuse him of sinful acts (29:12-17; 31:35-37), but appears with a display of majesty that makes Job feel stupid.
God humbles Job by drawing attention to the fine tuning and order of the world, his wisdom displayed in creating the wonders of nature from the depths of the sea to the reaches of the stars and the fearsome beasts that no man can master (38-41 cf. 28).
Seeing the signature of God’s presence in the beauty and harmony of the natural world Job is left speechless; ““Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth.” (40:4) and confesses his ignorance, “I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know….I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes” (42:3, 6).
Having met God in person Job is now filled with the foundation of all true spiritual knowledge, the fear of the Lord (42:1-6).
At the end of the book the Lord describes Job in the same way he spoke of him in the beginning, he is proudly identified as “my servant Job” (1:8; 2:3; 42:7-8).
Most readers of Job miss something at the very end of the story which is profoundly significant.
The restored Job has 7 sons and 3 daughters, and only the daughters are named by Job; their names mean Dove, Cinnamon and Face-Paint i.e. cosmetics; “And in all the land there were no women so beautiful as Job’s daughters.” (42:15).
Job’s final word is not that God is all powerful and all knowing, but that the fruit of God’s wisdom is beauty.
Job’s faith however has come through a trial of dereliction, of feeling that the God he encountered in his senseless suffering was different from the God he had always known, he has learned to walk in naked faith and to love God for God’s sake. “He does not say in the end, “Now I see it all.” He never sees it all. He sees God (Job 42: 5).” (F. Andersen).
Like Job, countless men and women have cried out “Why?” in the midst of their anguish; but unlike Job most do not feel they have received an answer.
Here is an Australian example stimulated by in the Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria which took 179 lives:
Can you tell us why they’re dying and the rest of us are crying as the raging flames of hell light up the sky? Will we ever find a reason for this tragic summer season? Can you hear a shattered nation asking ‘Why?’ There can be no consolation Can they live within their sorrow? What is left of their tomorrow?
as we view the desolation
for we know we’ll never understand their pain.
But we see their strength and courage
as they drift throughout the wreckage
of the peaceful lives they’ll never know again.
Will there come a time when they’ll no longer cry?
Let our loving thoughts surround them,
wrap a nation’s arms around them
as we hear these shattered people asking
Can you tell us why they’re dying and the rest of us are crying as the raging flames of hell light up the sky?
Will we ever find a reason for this tragic summer season?
Can you hear a shattered nation asking ‘Why?’
There can be no consolation
Can they live within their sorrow? What is left of their tomorrow?
For everyone who has asked “Why?” of God Job is important to us because Job points us to Jesus.
The parallels between Job and Jesus are outstanding.
Both are righteous, tempted, impoverished, afflicted, rejected, faithful, and restored.
Job is a seeker after the Lord from beginning to end and as such is his faithful witness (Ezek 14:14; James 5:11).
All this points us to Jesus, the one true and faithful witness to God’s faithfulness, the sinless one who leads us back to the Father whatever our measure of suffering in this world (Rev 3:14).
In Job’s vow from excruciating pain, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him” (Job13:15) we hear echoes of Christ’s commitment in the garden of Gethsemane, “Not My will, but yours, be done” (Luke22:24).
In Job’s “Why” to a God who is experienced as strange and disturbing we sense an echo of Christ’s terrible cry from the cross; ““My God, my God why have you forsaken me?”” (Mark 15:34).
At the moment when Jesus is plunged into the darkness of meaningless evil he receives no answer, no explanation, because his sufferings are infinitely more intense than Job’s, he cannot see the face of his Father.
Unlike an unbelieving humanity for whom suffering is a cause to turn away from God Jesus will not let go of God and ends his life with the utmost confidence, ““Father, into your hands I commit my spirit”” (Luke 23:46).
However much he was crushed under the senseless suffering sin brings on our world Jesus spoke truly to his disciples; “you will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me.” (John 16:32).
This promise of God’s undying presence is true for us all in Christ. The signature of God’s beautiful wisdom has been indelibly stamped on the world through the triumph of the cross (1 Cor 1:17ff.).
Hard as it may be, every follower of Jesus has to endure times when their suffering seems senseless.
The mystery of the story of Job, brought into full light through the suffering of the cross, is that the path to the closest presence of God is found through unjust suffering (Job 42:7-8; Matt 12:18; 2 Pet 1:1).
The afflictions of God’s servants are not signs of God’s wrath, nor necessarily acts of his fatherly discipline, sometimes bad things happen to good people without explanation.
If men “hated (Jesus) without a cause” we too must be exposed to senseless suffering so that we may give pure witness to the undying love of God (John 15:18, 25).
If the answer to the torments of Job was not an intellectual one but a closer assurance of God’s loving presence so it must be with us.
Even the bushfire poem I read recognizes that caring presence is what people need. “Let our loving thoughts surround them, wrap a nation’s arms around them as we hear these shattered people asking ‘Why?’” This is a wonderful sentiment, but it is not enough to deal with the cruelties of this world. (Terrorist attacks Paris few days ago.)
Christians know the presence of Jesus is more powerful than anything this evil world can throw at us; this is our undying testimony whatever the injustices of life.
I have a young friend who suffers from bipolar disorder, what they used to call “manic depression”.
At various times in his life he has been involuntarily consigned to a locked psychiatric ward, drugged, restrained and roughly treated.
I said to him not long ago that he has a very special gift, which he affirmed, and he spoke of how even in the darkest places he has sensed that Jesus was with him and had never abandoned him, even in his place of madness. Jesus and Jesus alone can transform the sorts of useless suffering that people experience into a witness of his faithful presence.
Application and Conclusion
Some years ago I had a traumatic-and-liberating experience of Christ overseas.
Flying back I had to take one of our regular services in a nursing home in the parish. The residents were as you might expect; frail, toothless and often demented. Suddenly I could see in them all an incredible beauty; the signature of God’s presence penetrated everything in an overwhelming way. (I am sure that’s how the Lord always sees his own image in people.)
Do you believe that the signature of God’s loving presence has sustained your life through all the seemingly senseless turmoil you have endured?
Can you see that his wisdom is beautiful beyond description and is all around you?
No one will ever sense this beautiful presence by asking about life’s unfairness, “Why has this happened to my family my fortunes my friends and my health?”
The presence of God in a senseless world is fully and finally found ONLY in the crucified Christ.
The mystery pointed to in the book of Job and brought fully into the light through the cross of Jesus is that the innocent sufferer who turns to Christ is the closest companion of God.
This is the wisdom that the world can never give and which the world can never take away (1 Cor 1:17ff.).
The worse life becomes the more this wisdom fills our souls and frees our consciences to praise the Lord; not for what he does but for who he is.
But I can testify that all who turn away from useless questioning and complaining to the true wisdom of the cross will know the Lord’s beautiful presence in a way that is beyond questioning (Luke 22:31-32cf. Luke 21:16; Rev 13:7ff.).