The book of Job isn’t an easy read. also not easy to preach on – there are no easy answers. Not only is the language difficult to understand (sometimes it is hard figure out what’s happening), the book of Job also evokes a lot of discomfort and dissonance.
Let me give you a condensed version of the Book of Job .
The book begins with “There was once a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job.” This clues us as what kind of story this is – a fable, a myth. God and Satan discusses about Job – and Satan tells God that Job is only good because God has blessed him. If all these blessings were taken away from him, Job would surely “curse you to your face” (1:11). God accepts the challenge and gives Satan permission to destroy Job’s life.
Job loses everything – his children, his house, his possession. Hearing all this (Job 1:20-21) Job arose, tore his robe, shaved his head, and fell on the ground and worshiped. He said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”
Apparently this wasn’t enough to prove Job’s integrity. Satan says “Skin for skin! All that people have they will give to save their lives.[g] 5 But stretch out your hand now and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face.” God gives Satan permission, and Job is afflicted with sores all over his body. Job’s wife says to him, “Do you still persist in your integrity? Curse[k] God, and die.” (2:9), but Job remains faithful and replies, “Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?”
Then the poetry section of the book of Job begins – Job’s friends Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar show up to console and comfort him, sitting with him for seven days and seven nights in silence and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.”
Job breaks the silence after seven days and seven nights and cursed the day of his birth, and wishes that he was not born at all.
The three friends Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar, each in turn, saying that all reward and punishment comes from God. God is just. Job was punished. Therefore, Job must have sinned. Elihu shows up in chapter 32 who also accuses Job as well. (aside – Elihu appears to be a later addition to the book, because the first three friends are mentioned in the introduction, Elihu appears out of the blue)
Job continues to maintain his innocence and denied he has sinned and calls on the heavens to vindicate him. God speaks from the whirlwind and (38:1) answers Job’s explicit implication that God is unjust.
God’s answer to Job’s question contains even more questions – “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings[a] shouted for joy?”
God’s explanation is that Job is not God, and cannot understand God’s actions.
The book then concludes with God restoring Job – giving Job twice as much as he had before, and had another ten children.
How do you feel about this ending? I want to invite you to type you answers in the Q&A
At the heart of the book of Job is the question “why do bad things happen to good people?” and the book of Job doesn’t give us a satisfactory answer. Many of us would have asked that question before. We may have experienced suffering, or witnessed suffering and asked “why?”
Like Job’s three friends, we want to make sense of suffering. There must be a reason to it. What they are saying, is what Satan said – that God and human beings have a transactional relationship. Human beings are good, only because they are rewarded or they want to avoid punishment. God only inflict suffering when human beings sin, and only blesses human beings when they are good.
But at the end God refutes what Job’s friends said. – 7After the LORD had spoken these words to Job, God said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “My wrath is kindled against you and your two friends. For you have not spoken about Me accurately, as My servant Job has. 8So now, take seven bulls and seven rams, go to My servant Job, and sacrifice a burnt offering for yourselves. Then My servant Job will pray for you, for I will accept his prayer and not deal with you according to your folly. For you have not spoken accurately about Me, as My servant Job has.”
We struggle to make sense of the ending. And while there is restoration, there remain questions – what about Job’s dead children? Also we struggle to make sense of what this says of God. Does God really allow evil to happen?
When bad things happen to good people, it is not that they have sinned.
In Luke 13 – when people told Jesus that Pontius Pilate killed some Galileans when they were worshiping God by offering sacrifices, they were asking the same question – why did God allow that to happen? Why, when all they were doing, was worshipping God?
Jesus reply to them was telling them to repent. He refers to the collapse of the tower of Siloam that killed eighteen people – and said, “Do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem?”
In his reply, Jesus also breaks the cause and effect relationship of what happened.
When we witness or experience suffering we want answers and explanations. We want to know why? Is it God’s will? Is it just bad luck or chance or just random? Is this some sort of divine judgment or punishment?
Some of us have experienced this in life – asking God why? Why the suffering? Why bad things happen to good people?
I would like to invite u to participate and share your experiences. I know it can be painful to revisit them, and I hope we can wrestle with a painful encounter with God together.
In God’s answer to Job, God says:
“Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct God? Let him who accuses God answer God!”
Then Job answered the LORD…
“I am unworthy—how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth.
I spoke once, but I have no answer—twice, but I will say no more.”
Job rails at God. In our experiences, in moments of deep suffering, sometimes the honest, healthy, human thing is to lament. It is to cry out to God in pain, in anger. I believe God is able to hold your pain, your anger, and all your emotions. I believe God understands. There are lamentations in the book of Psalms. Even Jesus, when he was hanging on the cross, cried out Psalm 22 – “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Psalm 22 continues: Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?”
I know some of you have experienced such moments. Moments of loss, grief, suffering. Moments where you asked, “WHY GOD?” And while people around you, like Job’s friends, try to comfort you, they do both you and God injustice when they try to offer explanations.
Job’s friends turned out to be the ones who were wrong when they tried to provide answers about Job’s suffering. We sometimes can turn out to be like Job’s friends when we offer hollow answers like “All things happen for a reason.” Job’s friends were not really listening to what he was saying. They were trying to fit his suffering into a neat theological box that keeps them comfortable – thinking to themselves that the same thing won’t happen to them because they did not sin.
True wisdom is what Job discovered – that some things are unknowable and unexplainable. There are times there are no reasons or explanations. Job learned that there are times to speak and times to remain silent – “I am unworthy—how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth. I spoke once, but I have no answer—twice, but I will say no more.”
We have to learn to live with not having the answers and live in the mystery. And through it all, we learn to keep the faith like Job – who even when he lost everything, he shaved his head, and fell on the ground and worshiped – “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”
Even when tormented by suffering, and his friends accusing him of sinning, Job remained steadfast and will not curse God: “Though God slay me, yet will I trust in God.” Job didn’t see his relationship with God as a transaction.
This is the lesson – that through our suffering, we do not lose faith. Even when we don’t have the answers, we do not lose faith. Through it all – keep our eyes on God, and trust in God, and know
The waves and wind still know God’s name. We declare the Lord gives, and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord.
Today’s worship set, we opened with the Goodness of God. Are we able to sing of the goodness of God in good times and in bad times? Are we able to declare that God is good all the time?
I have chosen the closing song today to be Highlands (A song of ascent). We have sang it earlier in the worship set, but I want to invite you to meditate on the words when close the service with this song. It invites us to praise God on the mountain, and also when the mountain is in our way, to praise God in the valleys, in the shadows, in the night because God is all things – good and bad, in the highlands and heartaches all the same.
So may we be able to be like Job, willing to weep, rail, lament in his suffering and still remain faithful.