God with us in our pain

A very thoughtful sermon this morning from David Whillis who began a summer series on the Old Testament Book of Job which raises fundamental questions about why bad things happen to good people, and how faith responds to tragedy.

David began with a wee bit of background. He reminded us that Job is one of the books of ‘Wisdom literature’ in the Bible, books which probe the meaning of human existence. Unlike literature of other cultures of their time, the thinking of the Wisdom books is centred on God.

The book of Job was probably written down about 500BC, but it is set much earlier – possibly around 2,000 BC, the time of Abraham. We deduce this from Job’s circumstances, and from the fact that he offers sacrifices which was forbidden in the law given to Moses. We assume the story was passed down orally from generation to generation until it was finally written down.

The book begins with 2 chapters in prose, describing Job’s situation and the problems he faced. The bulk of the book is in poetry, with many chapters is which Job dialogues with friends, and ultimately meets God. The final section, describing Job’s ‘after story’ reverts to prose.

The question for us, David said is

‘What is God saying to us through this ancient book?’

David talked us through today’s passage.

A good man enjoying the good life

Job is described as ‘blameless and upright’, a mean who ‘feared God and shunned evil.’ (v1) No one else in the Old Testament, said David, is described in such positive terms.

We’re told that Job’s life was complete and fulfilled, as v2 demonstrates what David called Job’s ‘family shalom.’ The numbers – 7 sons and 3 daughters; 7000 sheep and 3000 camels – are numbers which, in Jewish tradition, signified ‘completeness’.

Job’s life, said David, was ‘the good life.’

And so the stage is set to demonstrate that, as David put it, ‘the man who has everything has everything to lose.’ And the book raises the fundamental question: Does Job believe only because of what belief brings him? If all he has is taken away, will his faith remain?

Job’s motives (and ours) questioned

The scene changes in v6 – as this fundamental question is raised by ‘The Accuser’ (which is what ‘Satan’ means here), the one who questions human motives. This accuser puts the book’s fundamental question in these words:

‘Does Job fear God for nothing?’ (v9)

The book of Job asks what is the basis of our relationship with God. Is God inherently worthy of our worship, or does God as it were buy our allegiance by the stuff God gives us?

So the book of Job is not about one man – it’s about all of us.

And it challenges each of us. Is my faith focused on God for God’s sake, or is it conditional on what I receive from God?

And when calamities strike – how does our faith respond?

A tsunami of catastrophe

Job’s life is disrupted by dreadful tragedy (vv13-19) But his response to it in this chapter is one of worship (v20-21)  As the book goes on, and Job’s troubles increase he will react differently, but for the moment all we see is this astonishing profession of faith (v21):

The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.

How true to life this book is! The innocent suffer.

It begs the question ‘Why do bad things happen to good people?’

But the book of Job doesn’t answer this questions.

Instead it focuses on what our faith means to us when bad stuff happens. How do we react when our faith is tested?

The suffering of Job – and the suffering of Jesus

David shared his conviction that the book of Job makes no sense apart from the cross of Christ, which it anticipates in a couple of ways.

Firstly, Job never doubts throughout the book that he will have a personal encounter with God as he does in its closing chapters. Old Testament believers considered this wasn’t possible – to catch a glimpse of God was to die. Christians, blessed with God’s further revelation, believe that God came among us in Jesus; that in Jesus we meet God face to face – and live.

Secondly, David pointed out that Job had a glimpse of the reality of life after death. Most Old Testament believers thought only of Sheol, the shadowy place of the dead. In contrast Job saw in moments of clarity that his relationship with God will survive death – and this is precisely our conviction as Christians, that beyond death, we will live.

And there’s more, David said.

Job suffered – but so did Jesus.  And because of, and through the suffering of Jesus we, in our times of suffering, can find hope for the future. Jesus who died for us, who suffered on our behalf brings us comfort strength and healing.

God – present in our pain

Job is a sad story of suffering. And yet God remains present with Job throughout his long days of pain.

Being Christian does not protect us from bad stuff. But God is with us, and we can therefore be strong and courageous, for God holds us safe, wrapped in God’s everlasting love.