-Part one in a series on JOB. This one sets the stage and examines what the book of Job can teach us: We can accept suffering caused by evil with an attitude of gratitude.
Today we begin a deep, four-week sermon series on of the book of Job. Arguably one of the oldest pieces of writing in all of scripture. Job is perhaps one of the most important pieces of wisdom literature in the Bible. If you dig deep into this book, it can change you into the kind of person that God wants you to be. If you can accept the message of the book of Job, then your faith will grow deep spiritual roots that can resist any drought you can experience in your life. So listen carefully and see what message God puts on your heart as I attempt to teach the lessons about God from the book of Job.
Before we go deep into the scripture, let us begin by discussing what the book of Job is not. First. the book of Job is not a history book. Any Hebrew Scholar will tell you that the text itself indicates that this particular book is to be separated from actual history. Second, the book of Job is most likely not about actual people. Job is a parable, much like the parables that Jesus Himself uses to teach. It is possible that Job could have been real person, but it is unlikely. For starters, no one knows where the land of UZ is. And Job being a person isn’t the point. This parable teaches us about God and Humanity. Third, Job does not explain why evil exists in the world. Job does not answer the question: why would a good God allow suffering in the universe? That is because, there is absolutely no reasoning that explains evil in a way that human beings can understand. To use a military term, the answer is way above our pay grade.
For some of you, these things about the book of Job may be challenging to hear. But don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. Don’t dismiss what I am saying about God because we disagree on the type of book that Job is.
To recap, Job is not a history book, Job is no about actual people, and Job does not explain why evil exists in the world. Job teaches us how we should RESPOND to the evil that we face in the world. Like Job, we should respond to God in every situation by having an attitude of gratitude.
We should behave like Job because Job is a stand-in for each one of us. Some would call this kind of writing an allegory. Allegory means that the main characters are symbols meant to represent any person, you can fill in the blank. These symbolic people teach deep lessons about life through story. By telling us what happens to Job, and how Job responds to God, God is teaching all of us how we should respond to evil things in our life. Things that run contrary to what we know a kind, and compassionate God desires for us.
Evil exists, and it is mysterious, but the main point of this sermon, is that an attitude of gratitude is the proper way to approach God, no matter how good, or bad our life gets. An attitude of gratitude is a mark of a mature Christian. Job can show us how to be real, and maintain our faith no matter what. Nothing tests our faith more than Evil.
The issue of Evil, is one of the problems that all of us will face in our lives. When this happens, many people get hung up on how a loving God could cause evil to exist in the world. This can be made worse when reading difficult scriptures like Job. At first read, the Book of Job seems to make God out to be the bad guy.
The lectionary skips some important parts of Job that I want to read it to you, so you can see how God may look like a bad guy.
“In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil. He had seven sons and three daughters, and he owned seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen and five hundred donkeys, and had a large number of servants. He was the greatest man among all the people of the East.
His sons used to hold feasts in their homes on their birthdays, and they would invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. When a period of feasting had run its course, Job would make arrangements for them to be purified. Early in the morning he would sacrifice a burnt offering for each of them, thinking, “Perhaps
my children have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.” This was Job’s regular custom.
One day the angels came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with them. The Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?”
Satan answered the Lord, “From roaming throughout the earth, going back and forth on it.”
Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.”
“Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied. “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. But now stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.”
The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your power, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.”
Then Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.
One day when Job’s sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother’s house, a messenger came to Job and said, “The oxen were plowing and the donkeys were grazing nearby, and the Sabeans attacked and made off with them. They put the servants to the sword, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”
While he was still speaking, another messenger came and said, “The fire of God fell from the heavens and burned up the sheep and the servants, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”
While he was still speaking, another messenger came and said, “The Chaldeans formed three raiding parties and swept down on your camels and made off with them. They put the servants to the sword, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”
While he was still speaking, yet another messenger came and said, “Your sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother’s house, when suddenly a mighty wind swept in from the desert and struck the four corners of the
house. It collapsed on them and they are dead, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”
At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said:
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart.
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.”
In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.”
Why would a loving, compassionate God treat JOB so poorly? God doesn’t have anything to prove. Also, even though Satan is the one challenging God, God is the one who first brags to Satan! In this story, God is the cause of Job’s suffering both directly and indirectly through Satan.
If this were a factual story meant to record history, this would be inconsistent with the God we know from most of the scripture. Our God is a redeemer, a provider, a refuge, and a savior. Our God is not a mean old man who likes to mess with people for fun.
The key to making sense of God in Job is to remember that this story is a teaching tool. The dialogue between God and Satan in Job is meant to show that the suffering of Job is not caused by any fault of Job. The point here for us, the readers, is to see if Job’s faith and good behavior are really faithful, or if he just acts like he loves God because his life is easy and blessed.
Evil is a mystery. No matter how much we think about it, we can’t grasp why it exists. Even John Calvin, one of the greatest, most compassionate minds in religious history agrees that we cannot understand why evil exists. Calvin wrote about this in the Institutes, book 3, ch. 23. This is my paraphrase of what he wrote,
“the Lord had declared that “everything that he had made . . . was exceedingly good” [Genesis 1:31]. Where then, does wickedness come to mankind from, that we should fall away from God? Not from Creation, God had put His stamp of approval on creation. By mankind’s own evil intention, we corrupted the pure nature we received from the Lord; So, we should think that the cause of the corruption of evil lies in the corrupt nature of humanity-which we can understand-rather than seek a hidden and utterly incomprehensible cause in God’s predestination, which we cannot understand.” [Institutes, 3:23:8]
God is all powerful, and God can do anything. But God’s character is good. God created all things to be good. Even when we are faced with EVIL, we know that God is good.
Job’s life was destroyed in an instant, by no fault of his own. Something was happening in the Spiritual Realm that was out of Job’s control.
What was Job’s immediate response? He flipped out. HE tore his robe, shaved his head, and fell on his face. Still, he praised God. He did not blame God. And the scripture says that he did not sin. Even in Job’s mind numbing pain and despair, he was thankful for the things that God has given him!
Even after God allows Job to be afflicted with sores, Job is still able to say, “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”
Remember, the dialogue between God and Satan is in the story to show that Job was not at fault in any way for the evil that happened to him. It was put there for the readers. In the story, Job has no idea what is going on in Heaven. Yet he responds with an attitude of gratitude. In our lives, we have no idea what is going on in heaven. But, do we respond with an attitude of gratitude when we face EVIL in our lives?
Just think about the evil things that have happened this week, the shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon. How would you respond to this blatant evil?
Just think about what has happened in our congregation over the past few months, we lost Dyllan Botti to a long battle with cancer? How did you respond to this blatant evil?
We know that God can use EVIL in this world for Good. From Romans Chapter 8, “we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose”
God does not want us to suffer. Look at the story of Joseph in Genesis chapter 50. Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery out of Jealousy. Eventually, they beg Joseph for forgiveness. Here is what we read in scripture. “And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him. His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in
the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”
God intends all things for Good. This is a loud message in the Scriptures beginning in Genesis, continuing until Revelation.
So God, is not at fault for Evil. In fact, God suffers along with us. That is the good news of Jesus! Not just a pie in the sky when we die. No God suffers right along with us. God’s heart was the first to break.
And even in Jesus’s horrible death on the cross – which is God’s ultimate suffering along with us, God uses this horrible tragedy for good. In Isaiah 53 we read, “He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed.”
That’s why we call Good Friday Good. Even though it was awful that Jesus died, God intended it for Good.
Job, understands all this. Job’s faith is mature. He does not love God only because God blessed him with an easy life. Job responds in the face of Evil with an attitude of Gratitude. And that is how all who believe in God, who have been saved by Jesus Christ should respond to evil. With an attitude of gratitude.
But what do we do when we feel no comfort in knowing God is good? How do we maintain our attitude of gratitude when we suffer? Next week we will see how Job shows us how this is possible.