Living in an Unjust World
Job 1:1, 2:1-10
In many ways, the book of Job is an anomaly. The book appears in the Bible just before Psalms, yet it may be one of the earliest of the biblical texts. Scholars think it could date anywhere from 200 to 1800 BCE. Job is the first of the poetic books in the Hebrew Bible. The book is also considered part of the Wisdom literature along with Proverbs and Ecclesiastes.
Job is described as a wealthy and upright man. He had prestige, possessions, and many servants. He was well-liked and had many close friends. Most importantly, he was a man who loved God.
The book of Job is about suffering. Specifically, how humans deal with suffering or don’t. Throughout the story, Job’s friends offer a variety of reasons for the suffering Job experiences. They try to figure out the sins Job must have committed to be so greatly punished. They try to explain to Job what God is doing and to tell Job how to make things right with God.
The book, though, is truly about God and God’s sovereignty.
New Revised Standard Version
1 There was once a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job. That man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.
2 One day the heavenly beings came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them to present himself before the Lord. 2 The Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the Lord, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” 3 The Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil. He still persists in his integrity, although you incited me against him, to destroy him for no reason.” 4 Then Satan answered the Lord, “Skin for skin! All that people have they will give to save their lives. 5 But stretch out your hand now and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face.” 6 The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, he is in your power; only spare his life.”
7 So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord, and inflicted loathsome sores on Job from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. 8 Job took a potsherd with which to scrape himself, and sat among the ashes.
9 Then his wife said to him, “Do you still persist in your integrity? Curse God, and die.” 10 But he said to her, “You speak as any foolish woman would speak. Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.
· What is the relationship between blessing and faith?
· Do we have to believe in God to be blessed?
· Is faith an expression of gratitude because we have been blessed?
· What is blessing anyway?
· How is faith impacted when blessings don’t seem to be there?
· Why is there suffering in the world?
· What effect does suffering have on our faith?
All weighty questions. The type a scholar might ponder and write pages about. When these questions manifest themselves in our own lives that they become our questions.
· Why does our neighbor or friend who conscientiously lives a healthy life get cancer or have a heart attack?
· How can a person who worked and saved for a lifetime lose everything in a Ponzi scheme or because of the illegal actions of a corporation?
· With the abundance in our world, why do people starve to death every day?
· In our own community will all its resources, why are there families who have to rely on a soup kitchen to have one or two hot meals a week?
· Why is one family blessed with all they need and most of what they want when their faithful neighbor has to work two or three jobs to barely survive?
These are the types of questions that weave themselves in and out of the book of Job. These questions remind us of the complexities of faith. No matter how much we might want to analyze the cause and effect of our experiences of life or try to create a flow chart for our choices, life is just not that simple.
Bad things do happen to good people. Innocent children suffer. People who don’t deserve the good things in life get them anyway. The world is unjust.
Today’s reading is a snippet of the story of Job. This first section lays the foundation for the rest of the story.
You may be put off by the idea of the Lord and Satan sitting side-by-side in some sort of heavenly council. Such a meeting doesn’t fit in with our standard understanding of the relationship between God and the devil. They are enemies. One is always trying to defeat the other. Sitting together discussing the fate of one of God’s faithful isn’t a picture we would paint.
Let’s think of ourselves as Old Testament scholars for a moment. We are translating the book of Job into English from the ancient Hebrew it was written in. At the beginning of chapter 2 we encounter a word: ha-satan. Turning to our Hebrew concordance we find that the word is often translated as “the adversary.” Our Hebrew dictionary says that, in Job, the word is used of a member of the heavenly council who serves as the official adversary or accuser.
Not that this understanding makes it any easier to fathom that God would sanction the calamities that befall Job. But it does provide a clue for challenging the simplistic idea that righteousness is rewarded, and sin is punished.
A pastor once told a story of a couple that seemed to everyone to be blameless and upright people who feared God. Everyone in the congregation considered them to be saints. People who were just like the Job we encounter at the beginning of his story.
Ed and Millie were at the church every time the doors were open – actually they had their own key. They were the parents of a good Christian family of ten wonderful children. No one could imagine that either of them had ever had an evil thought. They were so faithful to the church.
That was the outward picture. But Pastor John knew Ed and Millie in a different way. Ed had been in Pastor John’s office many times to set him straight in no uncertain terms about “how we do things around here.”
Millie was constantly troubled by the long-buried pain in her life. Pain that showed in subtle ways like the lines in her face and the way her eyes were instinctively cast down in the company of others.
The whole story of their lives never came out. The most anyone knew was that there had been a little trouble with a couple of their kids. There was a bit of whispering around town about how Ed had treated some of his employees.
Pastor John always thought it odd that the congregation did not ever seem interested in more of their story. In whom Ed and Millie were when not at the church. It didn’t matter. Ed and Millie were saints. Everybody said so.
One day Pastor John realized that the congregation needed Ed and Millie to be saints. They were the designated holy ones, unblemished by evil. The “blameless and upright” members. They could be the stand-ins for everything the rest of the congregation would never be – or maybe never want to be. Ed and Millie’s iconic status enabled the rest of the congregation to avoid facing their own conflicts and failings or ever having to speak with each other plainly. In short, Ed and Millie served as the poster children of all the church could or should be.
Maybe putting people like Ed and Millie on a pedestal, of having them stand in for us gives us an out. Since they represent all that the church believes and does, since they are the upright and blameless Christians we can never hope to be, we can be content to be church members who come on Sunday morning, possibly serve on a committee, and do things that make the church internally function. Ed and Mille will handle the rest.
But is that what God calls us to do? To keep the institution of the church going primarily within the walls of the building? I don’t think so.
The story of Job brings us face to face with human suffering. It reminds us that there are no easy answers or quick fixes to the injustice of the world. So, what, then, is the point of Job’s story?
The point is that the struggles we experience in attempting to explain why suffering happens are struggles that belong before God. They are ones that we wrestle with with the Creator, seeking to understand God’s perspective. Seeking to understand more about God and God’s relationship with humankind.
The story of Job also asks us to ponder why we believe in God anyway. Is God an all-knowing, all-seeing deity who is waiting to punish people for doing bad things? Or a commodities broker who barters faith for the good in life?
Since we know that no amount of faith guarantees a good life without suffering, there must be more to faith than just believing in God. The good news is that there is more – lots more!
God may not give us all we want or think we need. God gives us something better – Jesus Christ. Knowing that believing in a God we can’t possibly understand, one whose methods and presence don’t make sense, God chose to come to us in a form we could see and understand better. Someone like us – Jesus, God’s Son.
Unlike Job and his friends, we have an experience of God that is flesh on the bones rather than what they viewed as a distant deity sending what must have seemed like random blessings and punishments. Through Jesus, we have a picture of the God who is merciful, compassionate, loving, sacrificial, and just. God who holds us in the palm of his hands and knows us completely.
In Jesus we have someone to believe in and trust. To have faith in. Through Jesus, God in the flesh, we see and experience God’s love in action from his miraculous birth, ministry of compassion and justice on earth, his Satan defeating death on the cross to his resurrection from death to life.
Yet faith is more than just believing. Believing isn’t the stopping place. Faith is doing. Faith is something we live. We do faith not just have faith.
When we do faith, act on what we believe to be true, then we enter into the suffering around us. We can’t fix the suffering or explain it away. We can only hope to ease it for a time.
We enter into the suffering of others not to appease our own conscious but to walk alongside and to meet needs as we are able. To be visible reminders of God’s ongoing presence – of the compassion and love of Jesus.