Today we look at Job. On the surface we might simply ask the question why? We may dig deeper and ask the classic question why do bad things happen to good people? However, I think the question Job needs us to ask is why faith?
Scripture: Job 1:1; 2:1-10
I have experienced loss in my life. Difficulties and hardships. As a teenager I was diagnosed with cancer and a short decade later my younger sister would pass away. As those events were playing out around me I asked the question why. Sometimes, I still ask that question. About those events and others which have transpired.
I imagine that each of you, like me, might have similar stories. Stories of loss, hurt and pain that we attempt to find explanations for. The book of Job asks these questions. Today is the first of five weeks that deals with Job. It comes up every three years in the lectionary cycle. As I reflected on the passage this week I felt that perhaps it was time to dive into it again.
As a nation we have just observed the first National Day of Truth and Reconciliation. In light of the many unmarked graves at Residential Schools this day was highly appropriate and timely. The Presbyterian Church in Canada played a part in the Residential School system and we continue to walk with and listen to our Indigenous partners.
We have also walked with one another this past year and half through a global pandemic and it has left us with many questions. Questions about how we live, treat one another, care for one another in the midst of a global health crisis. Perhaps asking questions about why are appropriate. Though I have found that asking the question why often doesn’t lead to answers that satisfy.
Death and loss, disaster and suffering are difficult things.
In his commentary on this passage Scott Hoezee writes, “whatever we make of the cause behind the disasters that befell Job, what we cannot deny or forget is that something very like the scenario sketched here does happen all the time on this planet. Parents do lose children—sometimes all of them at once. Disaster and disease come to people who are as lovely and precious of folks as you could hope to meet. And such chaos is pretty indiscriminate, too.” (Scott Hoezee)
So let’s dig into the passage we have today with Job. It’s the setup and I’m going to be really honest with you. I hope and pray this isn’t how heaven and God operate.
The story deals with Job. He’s the one we hear about. He is the one we are told is upright and righteous. He is the one who is afflicted with sores. He is the one who has lost his children. Well, no, not just him his wife too. I’ll talk about Job’s wife in a moment. But Job holds his faith, he holds God blameless.
Yet, we as the readers know that God is not blameless. God called attention to Job and God consented to this treatment of Job. Yet, Job holds to his integrity and faith in God, the very source of his suffering. Please don’t read into the book of Job that Satan represented here is the same as the Devil or the tempter. The Hebrew is ha-Satan, and should be read as adversary. In modern terms think prosecuting attorney. Remember the adversary has free access to walk around in heaven, I’m not sure Satan as we think of Satan has that power. Remember from last week, we read our own understanding into the book and sometimes that isn’t what scripture is trying to tell us. Sometimes we attach meaning to a word which was never intended to be implied.
Job says to his wife, “You speak as any fool would speak. Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?” For a long time that was my favourite piece of scripture. It helped explain things to me, but it is a terrible theology about God.
We have certain sayings at church. I say ‘the word of the Lord’, and you say ‘thanks be to God.’
I say, ‘God is good’ and you say ‘All the time.’
But if that’s true then Job is wrong. Because if God is good then why is God doling out bad?
Eventually Job’s friends show up. That happens in the next chapter and their conversation takes up the majority of the book. When those friends show up, they largely focus on the idea that Job must have done something wrong for this suffering to have befallen him. Cameron Howard writes, “But Job’s wife has seen it all unfold. She does not doubt his righteousness; she marvels at it. When she asks, “Do you still persist in your integrity?” I hear some scorn, yes, but also wonder (Job 2:9). After all, she herself has not been untouched by this anthropological experiment God and the adversary have going on, and she is powerless to offer her husband relief. Death would seem to be the only way out. How could Job keep going? What kind of God is this to whom Job has committed himself?” (Cameron Howard)
She continues, “I am drawn to Job’s wife’s willingness to name the suffering she sees and to question aloud both Job’s response to it and, implicitly, God’s role in it.” (Cameron Howard) At this point in the book of Job, Job’s wife might be the most honest character.
As a book, Job is commenting on or interrogating the Deuternomic doctrine of retribution. In Deuteronomy 28 we read, “all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the Lord your God … But if you will not obey the Lord your God by diligently observing all his commandments and decrees, which I am commanding you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you” (Deuteronomy 28:2,15).
About this Rev. Henry Sun writes, “the book of Job is challenging one of the core theological convictions of God’s covenant with the ancestors. Job’s story and the book that bears his name will stake the claim that a simplistic view of Deuteronomic reward and retribution is theologically inadequate.” (Henry Sun).
What happens to Job in this book is not a result of his disobedience, as his friends try to tell him in the chapters which follow. It is actually Job’s obedience and faithfulness which has resulted in this situation. A direct contradiction to how Deuteronomy tells us things are supposed to work.
The question that derives out of this, isn’t a quest for answers. There is no answer to the question why do bad things happen to good people. At least as I said earlier, there is no answer that satisfies. Instead, the question is this: why have faith? Why believe in God? Why believe in Jesus Christ? Why faith?
Is our faith just another transactional relationship? Believe in God, be rewarded, get eternal life. Why faith? Is this what we believe God, the creator of all, intended? Simply to enter into a transactional relationship with us? Is this why I was wonderfully made? I’ll behave and follow these rules as you God have laid them out and in return I get to go to the good place?
Do we accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour simply to guarantee our place in heaven? If so, we’ve replaced the Deuteronomic texts and their codes of blessings and curses to a simple acceptance of Christ. We’ve made a bargain. The idea of salvation, renewal, forgiveness and grace don’t enter into this type of transaction faith. It’s hollow and lacks substance.
Job doesn’t accept the argument that his friends pose, that he’s done something wrong and therefore deserves this punishment. That’s the “Everything happens for a reason” argument and I don’t think that is true. And Job agrees. Scott Hoezee writes, “Job knew better. Job knew that the way things are bear no necessary resemblance to the way God may well want them to be. So Job stood up for creation, he stood up for God, he stood up for what should be but what all-too-often is not.” Even though God is the one who set Job up.
Except I don’t believe that’s how it works either. That’s just the mechanic that sets up the story that allows us to ask the question. If God’s just going to set us up and allow harm to behalf us, then why Jesus?
Except, as usual we’ve got the focus wrong. We’re thinking about ourselves, as if we are the center of the story. Of course, within our own lives we are. But Job isn’t about us or our trust in God. It’s about God’s trust in us. Because throughout it all, though he doesn’t understand what has happened, Job chooses to trust God. He questions God, wants to know why, but maintains his trust. And in our desire to know why, to explain away a horrific thing we forget that Job continued to trust God just as God trusted Job.
Because God’s faith in us allowed God’s son to come down and dwell among us and show us a better way, all the way to the cross.
That’s why faith. Not our faith in God, but God’s faith in us. Amen.
St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church
St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Cobourg is part of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. The congregation was established in 1833 and continues to serve the community.
St. Andrew’s supports the gathering of community agencies, providing space for the Affordable Housing Committee. Rev. Ellis’ voice is key in advocating for improvements in awareness, empathy and action on key determinants such as housing, income and food security.
Donate to St. Andrew's
Thank you for visiting St. Andrew’s. It’s our prayer that this sermon was helpful to your walk of faith. We would ask you to prayerful consider donating to the mission of St. Andrew’s. You can make an online donation through our website.