The following are excerpts from my sermon yesterday at Highlands Presbyterian Church. The subject was the Book of Job
Kurt Vonnegut once wrote, “We know so little about life that we really don’t know the good news from the bad.” It is like an automatic reply I received this week to a mass email I sent to local pastors. I had asked for an automated response. It read, “Your message has been displayed to the user. There is no guarantee that the message was read or understood.”
Think about that for a moment. Think about that as you listen to Job’s story. Ask yourself what it was that caused most of Job’s suffering…the death of his children and grandchildren, the infliction of bodily pain or was it something else…was it Job’s expectation of the nature of God or was it indeed the nature of God?
Once upon a time, there was man named Job, one of the wisest and richest men who had ever lived, a very good and fine man. Job walked with God, was blameless and upright and did everything to avoid evil. He was truly a man of God. Job understood the rules of scripture. Follow all of the commands of God and you can expect to live a good and prosperous life.
One day, an angel, standing before the council was asked by God, “Where have you been lately Satan?” Satan replied, “I have been out there, roaming around the earth.” God said, “Yes, I know. In your wanderings, did you see my servant Job? A man who loves me, is upright and does everything to avoid evil.” Satan said, “O yes, I have seen your servant, Job. You protect Job from all the disasters and if you, God, did not protect him from all those disasters, he would not be so obedient to you. He is obedient to you because he knows that you will protect him. If you take all his protection away, he will curse you.” God said, “Go ahead. We’ll see what happens.”
The next day, it all came crashing down. Have you ever had that happen where you thought life was going along smoothly and in one day, your house of cards came crashing down, a total disaster. That is what happened to Job.
Three friends come to visit him. Job was sitting there in the dump and these three friends see the disasters that have happened to Job. For seven days, the friends say nothing. Meanwhile, Job was simmering and simmering and simmering and on the seventh day, Job’s anger explodes when he said, “Curse be the day that I was born. Curse by the night that I was born. My pain is so great that I want to die. God has been miserable to me.”
Now, the three friends had carefully read Moses, Samuel, David, Solomon and the prophets. These three friends knew the rules. They knew that if Job was suffering, it was his fault, his parent’s fault, or his children’s fault. Somebody has to be blamed. And so, for the next thirty chapters, these three friends stick it to him, trying to convince Job that he is at fault.
Which brings us full circle back to Kurt Vonnegut who said, “We know so little about life that we really don’t know the good news from the bad.” Certainly the deal struck between God and Satan to test Job was bad news for Job…or was it? Certainly Job coming to an understanding that he understood nothing about God and was ashamed for having questioned God was good news…or was it?
The Bible clearly teaches from Genesis through Deuteronomy, the Kings and the Psalms, the Proverbs and the prophets that if you walk in God’s ways, God will bless you. Surely that’s good news? But it wasn’t for Job and is often not for us.
The one thing humans have learned about suffering is that if someone has to suffer do everything you can to make sure it’s someone else. We see that in negative attitudes toward immigrants. We see it in support for war anywhere else on the grounds that if we don’t fight them THERE, we will have to fight them HERE.
We see the efforts to shift the threat of suffering from ourselves to others in our stinginess toward the poor, in attitudes about race, in the unwillingness to provide universal health care. We see it in the total disregard for how we impact the rest of the world when Americans use most of its resources, leaving relatively little food, energy, clean water to the billions living in poverty in other undeveloped nations.
Too much public policy in America starts with protecting our own security, comfort and safety with little regard for how it affects others. If someone has to suffer, we want to make sure it is someone else. But suffering cannot be avoided. It comes all too often in all too many forms. It is a part of the world God created, thus the dialogue of the Book of Job.
Even the Son of God could not avoid suffering…so why would we think we should be exempt.
Where then does that leave us? Uncertain. Uncertain about ourselves and God. Is that good news??? Or bad? Our fears make it bad news but it is our faith that creates an opportunity to transform suffering into good news. I am not saying we should roll over and accept suffering. But I am saying we should, where we can, take our fair share of it and use the experience to change that which creates suffering in our homes, lives and communities. If we can trust God and ourselves enough to abandon expectations about how things should become more aware of the way things actually are…I think we can come to know that the news is not either good or bad. It is simply the news.