“Why Have You Forsaken Me?” Job 23:1-9, 16-17

– Last week we looked at Job as a study of how we can respond to God in our suffering: with an attitude of gratitude. Part 2 Examines how this is even possible when God seems to have resigned us to our suffering. The only way out is through – Jesus is our example as well.

Hear the words of Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 27, verse 45: “At noon, darkness fell across the whole land until three o’clock. At about three o’clock, Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
We hear almost the exact same words when we read Mark’s Gospel, chapter 15, verse 33. In Jesus’s darkest hour on earth, he cries out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”
These words sound familiar to us because Nadia just read them to us. They are the opening words of Psalm 22. When Jesus is going through prolonged and sharp suffering, He calls out to God the father, expressing how far he feels from God as he suffers. Jesus, never sinned in his life. He was perfect. And yet at the moment of intense suffering, he feels abandoned by God… and he says it out loud for all to hear. Surely Jesus knows that his suffering is all part of God’s master plan to save humanity from destruction, right? And yet, when the sky is dark, when Jesus is in pain, when he is dying, he feels alone.
Jesus, isn’t the only person in scripture who cries out to God when he feels forsaken. In the whole spectrum of Holy Scripture, we find that people of great faith like Jesus, David, and Job all cry out to God when they suffer. They even cry out when they feel abandoned by God. Job, is one of the oldest examples of this we read about in scripture.
Last week we examined the beginning of the book of Job. We learned that Job is a stand in for any one of us that faces evil in our lives. We learned from Job that the best way to respond to evil that we encounter in life is with an attitude of gratitude. Gratitude to a God that gave us all things. Even the things we sometimes lose because of evil.
Having an attitude of gratitude is one thing. This is how Job responds initially to losing everything he cares about. This is how Job responds to losing his own health. But in today’s scripture passage, Job has been suffering intensely and God seems to be nowhere. Job cries out to God in his pain, in his confusion, and where is God? Job can’t find him.
Today we learn a second major lesson that the book of Job teaches us about how to respond to evil in our life. We learn that when we suffer because of evil, we need to speak our mind to God. This is the only way we can keep hope alive and hopefully avoid sinning. We need to speak our mind to God.
Job is an allegory, that shows us that Job could be any of us. The point of the book of Job is to teach us how to respond when we face evil in the world. We are supposed to think of Job as ourself. He is a stand-in for any one of us. Job suffered because of no fault of his own.
We read in Chapter one that Job lost everything because something strange was happening in Heaven, and God wanted to demonstrate that Job’s faith in God was real. God was demonstrating to the accuser that Job did not believe in God only because God blessed Job with an easy life. So Go allowed Satan to take away everything that Job had, including his children. Job did not take the news well. He was devastated, but he still chose to respond to God with an attitude of gratitude for the things that God gave and then took away.
In Chapter 2, Job himself is afflicted by Satan with a horrible skin disease that causes him anguish. His own wife tells him to curse God and die. But Job says he will take the bad from God along with the Good.
In today’s lectionary passage we fast forward to the twenty third chapter of Job. A lot has happened since we left Job in the ash heap, covered in sores. Job’s friends have come to comfort him in his affliction.
In chapter 2 verse 11 we read, “When Job’s three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him. When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.”
At first, no one said anything because of the sting of the pain that Job was in. Have you ever been with a friend or a family member and the pain they were in was so bad that it hurt you just to see them?
After seven days had passed and the shock wore off, Job speaks to his friends. Now for the next 21 chapters, Job and his friends have conversations. I won’t read all the conversations to you, but I will encourage you to read them yourself when you have a minute. The language is poetic, and full of wisdom. I will do my best to summarize the conversations to you, but I cannot do proper justice to the poetic words of the book. You have to read it to experience the full effect.
Here is a very short summary of what happens in the conversations. Job, in pain, curses the day he was born and tells his friends that he wishes he was dead. His friend Eliphaz tells Job to seek the disciplining God, who is just, so he might be restored. Job says, “death is the only respite for a just person persecuted by God.” Then Bildad tells Job not to be silly because a just God does not punish the innocent. Job says, “Humans cannot win a court case against the creator of all.” Then Zophar tells Job to confess his sin because he is just an ignorant human. Job says, “I am smart and I demand an answer from the almighty, not other people.”
Now again, Eliphaz tells Job to admit his guilt and accept his punishment. Job responds, “No, I will continue to plead my case with God.” Bildad tells Job to admit his guilt. Job says that he waits for the Redeemer since his friends won’t help him plead his case. Zophar says, your short-lived prosperity shows that you are a sinner. And Job replies, “you lying comforters will not help me plead my case before God.”
At this point in the conversation, we encounter our scripture passage from Job this morning. In the third round of dialogue, Eliphaz says to Job, “You are a wicked sinner, please return to God so that you might be restored.”
And we read the response of Job a few minutes ago. Job says emotionally, “I wish I could go to God’s dwelling place. Then he would see me, he would see my pain, and my righteous life, and then he would deliver me. But I feel utterly alone, and I cannot find God anywhere.”
Even in the face of arguments from his wife and his best friends, Job speaks his mind to God. When Job encounters evil that he did not cause by his actions, he cries out what he thinks and feels to his God. This kind of speaking is called, a lament. It is a passionate expression of the grief and sorrow that one feels because they have encountered Evil. And it is a necessary response for, us the people of God, when we encounter evil in our lives.
When we bottle up the feelings and pain we experience when evil hits us, it is not good for us. In fact, it may cause us to sin. We all know someone who has decided to go for revenge instead of reconciliation. Someone who tried to hurt a person who hurt them with actions or words. Remember, we have already read twice now that in Job’s laments and cries he did not sin. So it is important to speak our mind to God out loud where people can hear us. Suffering in silence is not acceptable.
Even quietly praying to God about our woes is not enough. God designed us to speak aloud.
This seems like a simple truth. And yet, we get pressure not to do it. We get pressure from our friends and family to do something to “fix” the problem. Or perhaps we get some platitude or maxim like, “just give it to God.” Or perhaps we hear, “don’t worry, God has a plan.” While these statements are well meant, on a deeper level, what is happening is that the people around us are saying, “your situation is too painful for ME to experience, so buck up.”
Eliphaz was telling Job to repent so that God would restore him. Then, the pain that Eliphaz is seeing in Job would be calmed. Job’s friends were trying to fix Job’s situation partially for their own peace of mind.
There is a common feeling out there that in order to be socially acceptable in life, one should keep a stiff upper lip. Grin and bear it. But as the body of Christ, we are called to lament evil. We know this because there is so much lament in the Bible. There is even a whole book called Lamentations! Psalm 22 that we read this morning is a psalm of lament.
So we must, when we encounter evil, speak our mind to God. We will get pressure from others not to, but we must do this in the presence of other people. There is something about speaking out loud when other people can hear you that allows us to kindle hope in our lives, even when evil seems hopeless. Even Jesus himself knew this when he was on the cross. He spoke his mind to God, using the lament of psalm 22, to express his feelings of being forsaken by God.
We know that God has not forsaken us. God sent Jesus Christ, His only son to die as a perfect sinless sacrifice. Because of this action, if we confess that Jesus is Lord, and believe that God raised him from the dead, we have access to a restored relationship with God. This means that God won’t judge us in our mistakes. It also means that God is with us, even when He seems completely absent. One way God is present to us is through other believers. Our friends that are believers in Jesus, can make God present to us in the power of the Holy Spirit, just by their presence.
So when you encounter evil in your life, seek out your friends and family who have faith in Jesus. Seek out those in your church family. The deeper their faith is, the more they will be able to let you speak your mind to God without pressuring you to bottle it up.
And the flip side of this is that as believers in Jesus, we are called to be there with our brothers and sisters in Christ when they suffer because of evil. We are called to be with them and allow them the space to lament. We are even called to lament with them. This is part of bearing each other’s burdens as Paul commends us to do in Galatians chapter 6. We must help our brothers and sisters speak their mind to God and not hinder the process with instruction, wisdom, or fixes.
Job shows us, that in order to face the suffering caused by evil, we should have an attitude of gratitude towards our God who we KNOW is good. But when we suffer because of the evil in the world, and due in no part to our own actions, we must speak our mind to God. We must let out our laments because sometimes, just knowing that God is good and choosing an attitude of gratitude doesn’t make us FEEL any better. Until we feel that God has heard us and responded to us in our distress, the only way to keep from bottling up our feelings and sinning is to lament in the presence of others.
Next week, we will examine God’s response to Job. We will discuss what it means to “hear from God” Especially after suffering evil and feeling alone for a long time. God’s response to Job can help us to understand why no human wisdom is helpful in times of suffering.