Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Pentecost 6/21

True or false?  God is good.

True or false?  God is all powerful.

True or false?  Bad things happen to good people.

You perhaps answered true to all three statements even though you know you can’t answer true to all of them, at least not without a lot of backpedaling and trying to explain things away.  You can reconcile two of the statements, but you can’t reconcile all three.  If God is good and God is all powerful then bad things don’t happen to good people.  If God is good and bad things do happen to good people then God is not all powerful.  If God is all powerful and bad things happen to good people, then God is not good.

And there you have it.  You can reconcile two statements but never all three; and the Bible never reconciles them all either.  Of all the books of the Bible, the book of Job takes on this problem more directly and more extensively than any other book.  But it still doesn’t answer the question instead leaving you with a God that seems something like Michael Corleone at the end of the first Godfather movie when he says to his wife, “Don’t ever ask me about my business,” because that’s about what God’s response to Job from the whirlwind in today’s first lesson amounts to.  The question then becomes, is God’s response adequate?   

As we try to understand God and life, the why do bad things happen to good people question is the one we want to ask as all of us have been there.  In the face of some unexplainable illness or tragedy I hear people say, “When I get to heaven, God is going to have some explaining to do.”  This sense that God is either unable or unwilling to prevent bad things from happening, along with the inability to come up with an adequate explanation is troubling and it can become a source of skepticism and unbelief and distance from God.   Many have lost their faith when the experience of unexplainable tragedy hits home.   

In light of that, in some ways it’s amazing that the book of Job made the cut of the books to be included in the Bible; it’s definitely on the edges. If you want the Bible to be a bunch of moral niceties and feel good stories, Job doesn’t fit as it does raise the tough questions, perhaps also acknowledging that it’s OK for us to ask the tough questions.

Job just wanted the system to work; he wanted God to behave in predictable ways which meant that the good are rewarded and the bad are punished.  That was the prevailing moral calculus of the day and in many ways it still is.  Job was a good person, so he should have come down on the reward side of this equation and he did, for awhile.  The gist of the story is that Job, because of his righteousness, was blessed by God until he basically became a pawn in a wager between God and Satan.  Satan tells God that the only reason Job worships you is because he is so well off.  Take all that away from him, he says, bring down harsh suffering on him and then let’s see.  I bet that he won’t worship you then.

God in essence says to Satan, “You’re on.  Do with Job what you will and we’ll see what happens.”  So everything is taken away from Job, his children, his property, his possessions and his health.  Faced with this change of affairs, Job is anything but patient.  He complains bitterly about this injustice because he knows he’s innocent.  He just wants the system to work.  His friends try to convince him that the system does work, that he has to be at fault, that he must have done something, something to deserve all this.  But Job says no.  He knows he’s innocent.

At one point Job is ready to throw in the towel, to give up and say that the system doesn’t work, that God isn’t just after all.  He’s ready to reject it all because then what happened to him would at least make some sense.  Then he calms down and backs off a little and just demands a fair trial.  He’s convinced that given a fair hearing he will be acquitted.  He’s convinced that he can prove himself to his friends and to God.  But there is no trial; there is no response at all from God, at least not for a long time.

So Job waits and when God does respond we get the verses from today’s first lesson and it’s pretty much, “Who do you think you are?  I’ll question you, you won’t question me.”  There’s no empathy toward Job.  God doesn’t feel Job’s pain as we say; he doesn’t acknowledge it at all.  This God doesn’t address Job’s questions and concerns but effectively changes the subject, asserting his power and grandeur as creator, aloof and above Job’s pain and his moral confusion.  God becomes the questioner and he leaves Job little room to respond.  It’s as if Job’s complaints are of no interest to God.

It’s harsh.  It certainly wasn’t what Job was expecting.  It isn’t what any of us expects when we pray to God out of real pain and an honest desire for healing and an honest desire to understand.  We’re more comfortable with the response of God in the Psalm, “In their trouble they cried to the Lord, and you delivered them from their distress.”  We’re more comfortable with Jesus in the gospel when he wakes up and calms the storm.  We’re more comfortable with that but we also know from experience that it doesn’t always happen that way.  The scenario in Job may be extreme, but we can identify with his complaint. 

Is God’s response adequate to the situation?  Is it appropriate?  Does it serve any purpose at all?  I’m pretty sure that this is just a story, it doesn’t describe actual historical events; but even as a story, even existing on the edges of the Bible, it was thought to say something about God, something that we need to hear.  Or maybe more accurately it raises questions about the nature of God that we need to wrestle with and I think we’re supposed to wrestle with them before the final verses of the book where you perhaps know that everything is restored to Job (and then some.)  Many think those verses were added later anyway because someone wanted to give it a happily ever after ending.  It is a nice ending but I think we need to resist the temptation to dismiss the previous 39 chapters because of it. 

Is God’s response to Job from the whirlwind adequate?  I don’t know.  Sometimes I think it is, God has every right to assert his power and the fact that “I’m God and you’re not;” sometimes I think it isn’t, that Job deserved a more sympathetic hearing because after all what happened to him wasn’t fair.  I don’t know.  The conversation about this has been going on for a long time and it would be presumptuous of me to claim that I can settle it.  I’m thankful that there are other texts and other voices that say other things, thankful that this isn’t the only divine response we get, but perhaps it will give you something to think about or talk about on a lovely summer afternoon.

Regardless of how adequate God’s response to Job was, I do think that there are a couple of things that can be said.  First of all, I think the story of Job cautions us about trying to neatly fit God into a box.  It’s in our nature to want to understand and tie up the loose ends but the God Job dealt with, the God we deal with will resist any easy formulations we come up with; the three questions I started with witness to that.  There is a degree of mystery about God and with that comes the recognition that we may not get all the answers we want…

…but that doesn’t mean we stop asking the questions.  That’s another thing we can learn from Job.  Near the beginning of the story after everything is taken away from him, Job’s wife tells him to curse God and die, be done with it.  That however, is one thing Job won’t do.  Despite all that happened he won’t give up on God so he continues in the relationship and by doing so I think he proves Satan wrong.  Satan wagered that Job would not worship God if everything was taken away, but Job stays in the relationship; it’s a somewhat tortured relationship, but it’s not going to end from Job’s side because Job really did have faith.  It’s not going to end from God’s side either, because as inadequate as we may find his response to Job, he did respond and that’s important. 

Faith is staying in the relationship.  Faith is continuing to pray, continuing to ask the tough questions even when you’re not getting the answers you want, even when the evidence you’re looking for is pretty thin.  Faith is knowing that Jesus is still in the boat with you even in the middle of the storms.  Faith is trust that he will get you to the other side and when you get there, no matter what you find there, he’ll still be with you and he will respond.
 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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“Whoever
welcomes
one such child in my name
welcomes me, and whoever
welcomes me welcomes
not me
but the
one who
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