Emmanuel Baptist Church

275 State St.  Albany, NY 12210
(518) 465-5161

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A Welcoming and Affirming Congregation

Minister:  Rev. Kathy J. Donley

The Impatience of Job

Sermon 2 in the Book of Job Series

Rev. Kathy Donley

07/31/16

 

Scripture Lesson:  Job 19:1-29

 

Last Sunday, we began a 4-part look at the book of Job.   For anyone who was not here last Sunday, I left a few printed copies of last week’s sermon on the witness table, in case you are interested in some of the framework this book.  Some of you have asked why I thought the book of Job was a good choice for a summer sermon series. I have been asking that myself.  I don’t have a good answer. 

A Peanuts cartoon from years ago summarizes the trouble with Job:  In the first frame, Charlie Brown stands on the pitching mound with his catcher saying, “Nine home runs in a row.  Good grief!  We’re getting slaughtered again, Schroeder.  I don’t know what to do. Why do we have to suffer like this?"

Schroeder responds, "Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward."

An incredulous looking Charlie Brown says: "What?"

Linus joins them on the mound and chimes in: "He’s quoting from the Book of Job, Charlie Brown, seventh verse, fifth chapter.

Linus continues, “Actually the problem of suffering is a profound one and…."

Lucy cuts him off: "If a person has bad luck, it’s because he has done something wrong, that’s what I always say."

Schroeder comes back at her: "That’s what Job’s friends told him, but I doubt if…."

Lucy interrupts again: "What about Job’s wife. I don’t think she gets enough credit!"

Now the whole team gathers around the pitching mound. Schroeder says, "I think a person who never suffers never matures."

Lucy responds: "Who wants to suffer? Don’t be ridiculous!"

Another player says, "But pain is a part of life…."

Linus jumps in: "A person who speaks of the ‘patience’ of Job reveals that he knows very little of the Book! Now the way I see it…."

In the last frame, Charlie Brown stands alone: "I don’t have a ball team, I have a theological seminary."

 

We last saw Job in chapter 2.  He was covered in sores, sitting in an ash heap.  Three friends had come to be with him.  The chapter ends this way, “When they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him, and they raised their voices and wept aloud; they tore their robes and threw dust in the air upon their heads. They sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.”

For a week, Job’s friends share his pain, providing just the comfort of their presence.  But then, they become like Charlie’s Brown’s baseball team, each offering their own theological spin on suffering.  Between chapter 2 and chapter 19, where we picked up today, each friend has offered a long opinion on why Job is suffering the way he is and Job has responded.  Chapter 19 is Job’s response to the second’s friend’s second speech.

Charlie Brown’s baseball team seem to have a few different ideas about suffering.  But Job’s friends mostly have one idea, which they repeat chapter after chapter after chapter.   They know how the world works, how God works.  They are very confident of what they believe.  Perhaps they are so firmly entrenched in their convictions that they can’t even imagine any other possibilities.

What they keep telling Job is that God is fair, that God rewards good people and punishes bad ones.  Everyone can see that Job is being punished, therefore, the logical conclusion is that he has done something bad.  This is an ancient idea that is unfortunately still with us.  Even though Jesus said that the rain falls and the sun shines on everyone, the good and the bad, a lot of people still believe that suffering is a sign of God’s displeasure. 

Job’s friends keep telling him that God is fair and only punishes wrong-doing.  What Job keeps telling them is that he hasn’t anything wrong, certainly nothing to deserve the suffering he is enduing.  We know that he is telling the truth, because that’s what God and Ha-Satan agreed on in the set-up of the story.  But his friends can only see through the lens of their bad theology.

I am probably being too hard on them.  They probably think that they are speaking as compassionately and as wisely as they can.  Their friend is in pain, and they really can’t help, but they want to make it better. Most of us have probably been there – a friend is in crisis and we feel helpless, so we try to say something that sounds good.

Adam Hamilton is a Methodist pastor with a strong teaching and preaching ministry.  His most recent book is called Half Truths.[1]  It is a short take on five popular clichés, which he suggests contain some element of truth, but are damaging in other ways.  His five half truths are:

1. Everything happens for a reason. 

2. God helps those who help themselves.

3. God won’t give you more than you can handle.

4. God said it, I believe it, that settles it.

5.  Love the sinner, hate the sin.

I shared Hamilton’s Half Truths on a preaching list-serv which is used by preachers all over the world.  I asked them to share examples of bumper sticker theology that ranged from inadequate to downright hurtful.  Within a couple of hours, I had more responses than I could use.  Here are some:

*When God closes a door, God opens a window. 

*Pray harder.

*There but for the grace of God, go I.

*Forgive and forget.

*JesUSAves

*And the worst one was something said to a fifteen- year-old girl when her mother died, “God needed her more than you did.”

You might like some of these ideas.  You might be wondering what is objectionable about some of them. I can’t answer that, because my colleagues just offered the statements without explanation.  But I expect they could tell you precisely when and why and how it wounded someone they know.  But we have all heard some variation of these sayings.  We may even say them on occasion, without understanding that they might be hurtful.  Like Job’s friends, we reside within a theological world view that we may not even be aware of. 

Job’s children have died tragically.  His livestock, his net worth has been wiped out.  He is miserably ill. He probably thinks he is dying.  He is repulsive to everyone in his household, including his wife.  And now his friends tell him that it is all his fault.  We have been hearing the story of a suffering man,  but at this point it becomes the story of someone unjustly accused.  Like a woman who endures sexual assault and then is accused of making it up.  Or people who peacefully protest police brutality and then are labelled criminals themselves.  It is the kind of compounding of injury and insult that might make a person just give up.

That’s one of Job’s options, isn’t it?  His wife even suggests it – Just curse God and die, she says.  Give it up.  Abandon the faith. 

His friends offer another choice – internalize it.  You know you deserve this.  Just admit that it’s your fault.

Many of us know someone who chose one of those options in the midst of great pain.  After taking in all the inadequate, unhelpful, and downright wrong theology they could stomach, they gave up on God.  Or they believed the lie that it was their fault and gave up on themselves. 

But Job doesn’t accept those options.  Instead, he demands a better answer from God.  And when God is silent, he keeps on demanding it. 

He is angry with God now, but even in his anger, he believes that he will be vindicated.  And somehow, I think, that is evidence of his faith.  He and God are not on speaking terms, but still he believes in something more, something beyond, some ultimate justice or vindication.  He offers us a very important model of faithful suffering.  He doesn’t have an answer to the why questions yet, and neither do we, but he doesn’t give up on God and he doesn’t give up on himself.

He probably thinks that he is going to die without getting an answer, so he wants this story to be written down, etched into a rock to last a long time.  He wants his story to be heard.  In earlier chapters, he laid out a legal case against God.  Now he speaks of a redeemer, someone who will advocate for him after he is gone. 

Verse 25 says “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth.”

Those of us who have heard Handel’s Messiah year after year now have his music ringing in our ears.  Handel used these words to describe Jesus, but Job could not have meant them that way. 

The Redeemer Job refers to was a family member who had the legal job of protecting and preserving his relative.  The Redeemer’s responsibilities included buying back family property that had fallen into the hands of outsiders, redeeming a relative from slavery, marrying a widow to provide an heir for her dead husband and avenging a relative’s murder.[2]  Job claims that sometime in the future, some kinsman-redeemer is going to be his advocate in his case against God.

The question is, “who is that advocate?”  That is the kind of question that keeps scholars and book publishers in business.  The most interesting answers have to do with the role of the wider community.  Dr. David Garber is a professor of Old Testament and Hebrew at Mercer University.  Here are his words:

“Could it be that those who read and tell Job’s story are actually Job’s vindicators? Part of Job’s hope has been realized. The author of the book has recorded his testimony, the traditions of the church and synagogue have preserved it, and those who turn to its pages for wisdom during existential crises are attempting to hear it.

Perhaps, then, those of us attending to Job’s stories have, in a small sense, become his vindicators. In so doing, perhaps we are also learning how to hear not only the traumatic testimony of an ancient patriarch, but also the voices of those who suffer around us.

We vindicate Job by hearing his story. We vindicate Job by attending to the suffering around us. Perhaps we vindicate Job by refusing to blame the poor for their poverty, by proclaiming the story of a mother who lost her child to a random act of gun violence, or by listening to the suffering of refugees in war-torn countries such as Syria. The book of Job challenges us theologically and existentially. It provides hope to the afflicted and an example of how one victim expressed his pain in the face of radical suffering. For those of us not currently in the midst of healing from such suffering, maybe it challenges us not only to allow space for the suffering in our communities, but also to advocate on their behalf.”[3]

Job’s story is not over.  We will pick this up again at chapter 23 in two weeks.   Job’s story is also not over because the experience of human suffering is not over.  May Job be for us a model of faith in the hardest of times, refusing to give up on God, on himself, on hope.  May we stay open to what our experience has to teach us, even when it challenges our most deeply held beliefs.   And may we hear Job’s plea for vindication, even now,  in the cries for justice of our own time. 

 


[1] Adam Hamilton, Half Truths:  God Helps Those Who Help Themselves and Other Things the Bible Doesn’t Say, Nashville:  Abingdon Press, 2016

[2]  Samuel E. Balentine, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary: Job, (Macon, GA:  Smyth& Helwys Publishing, 2006),  p. 297.    

 

 

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