Monday, October 12, 2015

What's It All About, Job?

Job 23:1-9 10 11 15
Upper Rogue UMC
October 11. 2015

I remember the first time I had to prepare a sermon for a child's funeral. “Read Job” my friends told me. “Job explains why bad things happen to good people.” So I read Job, and it didn't help at all. All Job says about the existence of evil is that God's ways are different from ours. So, tell me something I didn't know.

Truth is, Job is not about why evil things happen at all, although a lot of bad things happen to Job. No. Job is a counter-argument to a theology prevalent in ancient Israel, prevalent at the time of Jesus, and still with us today. It's the theology Jesus faced in the Rich Young man who ran up to him. He knelt down, and asked, "Good teacher, what can I do to have eternal life?" (18) Jesus replied, "Why do you call me good? Only God is good. (19) You know the commandments. 'Do not murder. Be faithful in marriage. Do not steal. Do not tell lies about others. Do not cheat. Respect your father and mother.' " (20) The man answered, "Teacher, I have obeyed all these commandments since I was a young man." This young man, we learn, was very rich, and like many Jews of Jesus' time probably believed that his wealth was a reward for his good living. It's what I call the “health and wealth” gospel. This theology, present in many churches, and across the landscape of religious broadcasting, teaches that if you are faithful enough—often defined as sending me enough money--God rewards you with health and prosperity....on the other hand, if bad things are happening to you, it is because you simply do not have enough faith and do not live righteously. It is this teaching that led the disciples to ask in John 9, “Teacher, why was this man born blind? Was it because he or his parents sinned?"

This teaching finds its source in passages such as Psa 58:11 Everyone will say, "It's true! Good people are rewarded. God does rule the earth with justice." Pro 13:13 “Whoever despises God's words will pay the penalty, but the one who fears God's commands will be rewarded.” And Isa 3:10 “The righteous will be happy, and things will go well for them. They will get to enjoy what they have worked for.”
But the teaching twisted the scriptures and taught: Only good people get good things, and bad people only have bad rewards. If you are healthy and wealthy you are a good person; if you are unhealthy or poor, it is obvious that you are a bad person.

The writer of Job realized from experience that not only do good things happen to bad people, but bad things also happen to good people. Good and evil are part and parcel of our lives, regardless of our righteousness. How many multimillionaires have garnered their riches at the pain and expense of others? CEO's outsource jobs, destroy viable companies, and exit with million dollar golden-parachute benefits.
Millions lose their homes to predatory mortgage purveyors who not only escape jail, but keep the millions they've bilked. Meanwhile good people labor 12 hours a day just to keep their families fed, only to be diagnoses with debilitating and deadly diseases.

The story of Job opens with: Job 1:1-3 “Many years ago, a man named Job lived in the land of Uz. He was a truly good person, who respected God and refused to do evil. (2) Job had seven sons and three daughters. (3) He owned seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred pair of oxen, five hundred donkeys, and a large number of servants. He was the richest person in the East.” It would be perfectly clear to the purveyors of the health and wealth theology that only good things will follow Job. But then the writers of Job begin their attack.
Job 1:6-11 One day, when the angels had gathered around the LORD, and Satan was there with them, (7) the LORD asked, "Satan, where have you been?" Satan replied, "I have been going all over the earth." (8) Then the LORD asked, "What do you think of my servant Job? No one on earth is like him--he is a truly good person, who respects me and refuses to do evil." (9) "Why shouldn't he respect you?" Satan remarked. (10) "You are like a wall protecting not only him, but his entire family and all his property. You make him successful in whatever he does, and his flocks and herds are everywhere. (11) Try taking away everything he owns, and he will curse you to your face."

It is important to realize that “Satan,” as used here is not Satan, The Devil, the Evil One, as we use the name. Satan simply means “adversary, and the Satan was a member of the heavenly court whose function was to identify evil persons and accuse them before god. He was, in a sense, the prosecuting attorney. And here, he accuses Job of not being as good a person as God may think...that his righteousness is merely a shallow response to the good things he has received. “Take away what you've given him ans see what he does?” the prosecutor challenges.

And so he does. As more and more suffering is dumped upon poor Job, his friends come to “comfort” him. Beginning with his wife, they all tell him to confess his sin and die with a clean conscience. “But I have done no wrong!” Job replies over and over again. Perhaps his most contemporary plea comes from chapter 19:
Job 19:7-14 Though I pray to be rescued from this torment, no whisper of justice answers me. (8) God has me trapped with a wall of darkness (9) and stripped of respect. (10) God rips me apart, uproots my hopes, (11) and attacks with fierce anger, as though I were his enemy. (12) His entire army advances, then surrounds my tent. (13) God has turned relatives and friends against me, (14) and I am forgotten. But even from the pit of his suffering Job realizes: Job 19:25-27 I know that my Savior lives, and at the end he will stand on this earth. (26) My flesh may be destroyed, yet from this body I will see God. (27) Yes, I will see him for myself, and I long for that moment.

“Of course you have sinned. Why else would all these bad things happen if you were truly righteous?” they respond, spewing out the teachings of the health and wealth movement.

And so it goes, back and forth for 30 some chapters until God speaks from out of the storm:
Job 38:2-6 Why do you talk so much when you know so little? (3) Now get ready to face me! Can you answer the questions I ask? (4) How did I lay the foundation for the earth? Were you there? (5) Doubtless you know who decided its length and width. (6) What supports the foundation? Who placed the cornerstone,
Job 38:12 Did you ever tell the sun to rise? And did it obey?Job 38:28-35 Who is the father of the dew and of the rain? (29) Who gives birth to the sleet and the frost (30) that fall in winter, when streams and lakes freeze solid as a rock? (31) Can you arrange stars in groups such as Orion and the Pleiades? (32) Do you control the stars or set in place the Big Dipper and the Little Dipper? (33) Do you know the laws that govern the heavens, and can you make them rule the earth? (34) Can you order the clouds to send a downpour, (35) or will lightning flash at your command?

In times like this, with the images of Roseburg still haunting us, we cannot help but ask, as did Job: “Why?” Job 21:7-10 Why do evil people live so long and gain such power? (8) Why are they allowed to see their children grow up? (9) They have no worries at home, and God never punishes them. (10) Their cattle have lots of calves without ever losing one;” and, like Job, we seemingly face only silence from God.

If Job doesn't tell us why there is evil, who does? I wish I knew. The only answer we have from scriptures is from Isaiah who tells us: Isa 55:8 "My thoughts are not your thoughts, and my ways are not your ways," declares the LORD.

The truth is, all our righteousness, all our good works, all our ritual cannot and doe not protect us from the attacks of evil. Like the rain, good and evil fall on the righteous and unrighteous alike. There is evil in the world because the world is not, and never has been perfect. In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, .
Gen 1:31”... God saw everything that he had made and that it was very good.” Not perfect, but very good.(the words translated good and perfect are from two different Hebrew words.) Now God could have created a perfect world, one where there is no pain or evil (and, in fact he has, but it isn't this world) but in so doing we would have been robbed of free will...we would be simply automatons worshiping and serving God not from choice, but from genetic demand. In short, like good, evil is part and parcel of our lives, and ourselves. We cannot eliminate evil and violence from our world, but we can, and must, eliminate it from ourselves...and when we eliminate evil and violence from ourselves we weaken the hold of the evil one and strengthen the grip of God. Proverbs reminds us: Pro 25:21-22 If your enemies are hungry, give them something to eat. And if they are thirsty, give them something to drink. (22) This will be the same as piling burning coals on their heads. And the LORD will reward you. A verse cited by Paul when he tells the Romans: Rom 12:19 Dear friends, don't try to get even. Let God take revenge. In the Scriptures the Lord says, "I am the one to take revenge and pay them back."

When faced by seemingly insurmountable evil, the Biblical admonition is to cling to your faith and stand firm...holding tight the promise that in the kingdom to come Rev 21:4 He will wipe all tears from our eyes, and there will be no more death, suffering, crying, or pain. These things of the past are gone forever.

Peace be with you.

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