Text: Job 19: 23-27a
The Rev. Dr. D. William Faupel
Nov. 6, 2016
Why me? What did I do to deserve this? This is the question that almost everyone asks when faced with great tragedy or suffering. I know that half of the United States will feel this way when they wake up Wednesday morning no matter who wins the election! Throughout our lives, in circumstances large and small, all of us face anguished questions about why God allows pain and suffering.
When confronted with undeserved suffering it has not been unusual for Christians to turn to the book of Job, the source of our Old Testament reading this morning. Here we find Job sitting in his misery, on an ash heap, the place where outcastes were required to go. He had lost his cattle, his servants, his children, his house, and his health. We find him afflicted from head to foot with loathsome sores. He has lost everything, his wealth, his standing in the community, his family He is asking the question: “Why?”
Over the years, as I have reflected on this book, I have felt Job’s anguish as he wrestled with his external pain and his internal dilemma. I have listened to the speeches of his friends and heard the pronouncements of God when He finally broke His silence. I have come to several conclusions. For whatever they may be worth, I would like to share some of them with you this morning.
A. First, God really never answered Job’s question. If He didn’t do it for Job, He probably won’t do it for any of us either. But this won’t stop us from asking the question when we find ourselves in such a situation. Nor should it. The question will be there. The anguish will be there and the question will be asked. The question must be asked. God will not condemn us for asking.
B. Secondly, however, it is equally important to recognize that God did not directly cause Job’s problems. He permitted them, but he did not cause them. Satan acted as the causal agent.
C. Third, it is also important to realize that nowhere does the book of Job suggest that God did not act to stop Job's pain because He lacked the ability. One of the problems I have with Rabbi’s Kushner’s otherwise very helpful book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People, is that he believes God is powerless to prevent human suffering. But in the Book of Job, God’s ability is never questioned, only His fairness.
D. Fourth, Job refuses to accept the prevailing belief that is articulated by his friends. They state flat out that Job must have sinned. Surely a just God would not allow the innocent to suffer. How many times have I witnessed variations of this claim. If only you have enough faith you will be healed. If you are not healed, you must have sin in your life. Job would have none of it. He knew his heart; he knew he was upright before God. There had to be some other reason.
E. Fifth, God did not condemn Job’s doubt and despair, only his ignorance. The cliché, “the patience of Job” hardly fits the torrent of emotion which poured forth from his lips. Job did not take his pain meekly, he cried out in protest to God. His strong remarks scandalized his friends, but not God. Need we worry about insulting God by our outbursts in time of stress or pain? Not according to this book.
F. Sixth, no human has all the facts about suffering. Job concluded that he was righteous and God was unfair. His friends insisted on the opposite: God was righteous and Job was being justly punished. Ultimately, all of them learned that they had been viewing the situation from a very limited perspective. They were blind to the real struggle being waged in heaven.
G. Seven. Well-intentioned advice may at times do more harm than good. Job’s friends meant well. They repeated pious phrases and argued prevailing theological understanding with Job. But all the while Job was screaming inside, why don’t you just shut up.
Finally, it was not Job, not his wife, not his friends, not even God’s friends, but God himself. He is the One that human suffering implicates. He is the One who allows it. He is the One who stands accused. He is the One who must speak! And so, He did and so He does. God has said two things to the world of Jobs, those persons that are made to suffer without what seems to be sufficient cause.
A. The first, according to this book, is: “Yes, I regularly let these things happen, but you can’t explain my ways. “Look up into the heavens Job. “Can you explain the formation of all that? “And what about the creatures I have made, like the ostrich? “She lays hers eggs on the ground, then walks away unconcerned, not seeming to care if some heavy foot will crush them. “Or have you considered the hippopotamus lately, that massive bulk of strength, with muscles in his belly, bones like tubes of bronze, and limbs like bars of iron. “What purpose does he serve? An absurd waste of power? I made him. “Job, you cannot explain why certain men suffer any more than you can explain the ostrich, or the hippopotamus. This is just the way it is.
You cannot with your finite mind understand my ways. And if you could, you would be “less than a person really, for then you would never need to trust me.” For Job this was enough. God had refocused Job’s question from “why” to “whom”. Job found peace in the presence of God.
B. But for us God has spoken another word. Job had complained that since God was not a man, how could He really understand Job’s situation. But I can say to us today, that the Almighty does understand. He knows what it is to feel alone. He knows what it means to live by faith. From a throne of wood built by men, from a cross to which his hands and feet are nailed, he speaks this other word, “Elo-i, Elo-i, lama sabach-thani.” “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”
From the cross He says: “You suffer, Job, I know; but look at me, I suffer too. “I suffer here for you, not because they make me, but because I choose to. “Won’t you therefore trust me when I cannot give you answers. “I suffer too, for you.”
It is because of this word, that we can say with Job, “I know that my Redeemer lives and that at last He will stand upon the earth and after my skin has been destroyed, then from my flesh I shall see God. Amen.