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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Pentecost 10/21/2012

Job may not be one of the best known books of the Bible, but I think it’s a book that a lot of people at least know a little about because Job is the Bible’s poster boy for “bad things happen to good people.”  He is the classic case along with all the resulting “Why?” questions associated with that.  Job is a good and righteous man whose world falls apart all around him, he loses everything.  Troubling to some is the fact that Job finds himself in this situation as a result of being a pawn in a wager between God and Satan, the Adversary, but I would suggest that we not get too hung up on that because I don’t think the book of Job is meant to be an historical account. 

What we’re dealing with is an imaginative literary engagement with life’s most difficult questions.   So the wager between God and Satan is mostly a way of setting up the story.  With that set up and the subsequent misery of Job, who God himself calls blameless and upright, the book of Job becomes the Bible’s most daring probe into the problem of evil, the question of “Why do bad things happen to good people?”

So I think a lot of people are at least loosely familiar with the situation Job finds himself in and then the other thing that might come to mind relative to Job is the phrase, “the patience of Job.”  “He has the patience of Job,” we say about people who remain remarkably calm in the face of situations that would cause most of us to completely lose it.  It’s a phrase however, that pertains only to the Job of chapters 1 and 2 where despite his wife’s urgings to curse God and die, Job, with the patience of Job, calmly responds, “Shall we receive the good at the hand of God and not the bad?”  That’s chapter 2.  Starting with chapter 3 though, Job curses the day he was born and spends the next 35 chapters vigorously defending his innocence before his friends who assume that he must have done something and also demanding a response, an explanation from God.  In all of that Job is anything but patient.

We’ve had readings from Job for the past couple of Sundays.  If you follow the daily lectionary there have been larger chunks of Job each day and to be honest it does get a bit tedious after awhile.  It is mostly a lot of back and forth starting with Job’s friends who continue to say that Job is foolish to assert his innocence and that he might as well just admit that he did something to deserve what has happened to him, with that being countered by Job himself who won’t relent on his claim of innocence or his demand for a response from God.  It goes on and on. 

That response Job wants does finally come though, after what seems like an awfully long time, but when it comes it’s as if God hadn’t been paying attention.  Rather than engage Job’s pain, God pretty much changes the subject apparently seeing no need to respond to his concerns, instead just flexing his divine muscles.  There’s indifference to Job’s anguish, indifference to the moral questions that have haunted him for so long. 

The God Job expected doesn’t show up.  In last Sunday’s reading Job said, “Would he contend with me in the greatness of his power?  No; but he would give heed to me.”  So Job expected a compassionate God who cares about human suffering but the God who speaks is anything but that.  The God who speaks is the sovereign creator God, a remote God of power and might, apparently void of any compassion.  It’s not the God Job wanted, not the God we want either.

God’s “response from the whirlwind” as it’s called is troubling.  When you study Job, one of the questions that comes up is “Is God’s response adequate, or should Job have pressed God for more?”  He doesn’t; Job doesn’t press for answers to his concerns.  Job is quiet in the face of this divine response.  But the question remains: is God’s response adequate when he pretty much just says, “I’m God and you’re not.”

I don’t know.  A part of me wishes there was more but then I think that maybe it was enough for the Lord to let Job understand that there are some things that he can’t understand.  I don’t know.  There is a lot written about this because at some point Job’s questions are our questions when undeserved suffering happens on a large or small scale.  We can’t help but ask the why questions, but maybe we do have to finally come to terms with the fact that there are some answers that we’ll never get; we have to accept that that’s just the way it is.

Most of the discussion around Job is about the question of evil and why do bad things happen to good people.  But the beauty of this story and many of the stories of the Bible is that they are endlessly open, always inviting a new angle, a new interpretation and I came across one about Job which I had never thought about before but it’s one which I think is worth thinking about. 

In this story, Job and the “friends” he contends with are examples of moral and ideological certitude.  They all go on and on, chapter after chapter, unwilling to budge, convinced that they’re right, basically talking past one another, not listening to or hearing what the other has to say.  The result is that we’re no further along in chapter 37 than we were in chapter 3;  little or no progress is made.  That’s what happens when people dig in with their certainty.  It’s a phenomena were familiar with, as I could be describing the United States Congress couldn’t I?  Moral and ideological certitude leads nowhere or it leads to gridlock, but no one is better off for it. 

We’re not saved by our virtue or our integrity or our moral certitude.  That’s what Job found out.  At one point he says, “I will hold fast to my integrity until I die,” to which we might say, “Exactly; and just what have you gained then by holding fast?” 

In Job, the certitude of the characters leaves them treading water for all those chapters; the discussion doesn’t go anywhere.  That’s bad enough in itself, but such certitude can also be dangerous.  As I alluded to, in our national political discourse, the common good is being sacrificed for unflinching partisan certitude, neither side paying attention to the other.  On the global scene it gets even worse, often in the name of religious certitude.  How much death and destruction are caused by one religious group being intolerant of another?  It’s in the news every day.  Bishop Skrenes talked the other day of how the Christian/Muslim conflict has hit our companion synod in Tanzania with churches being burned down because a Christian desecrated a Koran.    

One of the things I found when I invited representatives of other religions to speak at the Lay School World Religions class was how pleased all of them were to be asked, how pleased they were to know that someone was offering a class like this.  They all agree that promoting understanding of different beliefs is important and whatever small steps we can take to do that are of value and are certainly more beneficial than just blindly holding fast to our religious certitude and integrity convinced that everyone else is wrong.

In the book of Job, what finally changes the situation is the voice of God from the whirlwind.  As I’ve said, on the surface of it, it can seem that God’s response isn’t adequate because it doesn’t seem very compassionate.  What Job learned though, and what we all need to learn at some point is that our virtue and integrity are not enough.  It’s not that they aren’t important but what we know as Lutherans is that it’s not what justifies us in God’s eyes. 

What Job finally encounters is the awesomeness of God.  Before he could move forward past the misery of his present situation, he had to yield in wonder and amazement to the God of the whirlwind, he had to yield to the fact that in holding fast to his integrity he was making an idol of it.  There is a place for our integrity and virtue and there’s even a place for contending with God regarding our virtue, but not without recognizing that in doing so it’s never an equal relationship; we are invited into the conversation, but we’re still dealing with the sovereign, majesty of God. 

What we find though, is that at the heart of that sovereign majesty is grace.  In Jesus Christ we have seen the heart of God and it is the God described so often as gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.  But can we really appreciate the grace of God without also being in awe and wonder at the majesty and power of God? 

It’s true that Job didn’t get the answers he wanted, but as we say so often because it’s true, maybe he got the answer he needed.

Rev. Warren Geier

 
 

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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