The World’s Job – October 7, 2018
The World’s Job
A Communion Meditation by Rev. Karen A. Mendes
Job 1:1, 2:10
Oct. 7, 2018
Main Idea: Why?
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen
“Why?” is perhaps the shortest and most difficult question to ponder. “Why?” is the question with which young children pester their parents. “Why?” is the question that wakes us up in the night and refuses to let us return to sleep. “Why?” is the impetus for wisdom. “Why?” is the question that impels us to learn and “Why?” is the question that haunts our sorrows.
The Book of Job is a parable which requires us to deal with deeply important questions such as “Why do the good suffer? and “Why do we believe?”. It also asks us to consider “Who” is God. Like the parables of Jesus, the Book of Job is a jewel with many facets, many points of entry, and many truths to be considered. Today and for the next two weeks we will be exploring this book and the questions it raises. Starting with a simple folk tale, Job’s author leads us to move beyond simplistic understandings to wrestle with mystery and meaning, with who and why.
The Book of Job was most likely written during the Exile of Israel in Babylon. During the Exile, which lasted two generations, the people had to wrestle with the big questions of WHY?. Why was their land, their king, their temple, all that they knew taken away from them. Some thought that their suffering was punishment for their evil behavior, just as their prophets had warned them for centuries. Some thought that their god YHWH, had turned out to be not as powerful as the Babylonian god Marduk. Some thought that there were no gods at all, only human striving and so they might as well just make their home in Babylon. Some, like the prophet we know as 2nd Isaiah, thought that their suffering was part of a grander plan that YHWH and the people were still to accomplish. “And then there was Job’s author, a probing mind who simply refused to accept any easy answers, any responses that partook of old ideas that to him had been forever made foolish and impossible by the horrifying shock of exile.” (John Holbert, Sept. 29, 2015, patheos.com).
These various ideas or theories, that Job’s author rejected, are still held and debated today. Some people believe that sin brings punishment from God and good behavior brings rewards. The “Prosperity Gospel” holds a lot of power by appealing to an innate sense of fairness. Those who believe this way can make judgements about themselves and others, just as Job’s so-called friends made judgements about him. “If you are blessed, you must have earned it. If you are suffering, you must deserve it.”
Some people have rejected God to embrace a different philosophy or way of life. They find the God of the Bible to be a weak projection of a specific group of people and so they worship a different deity or the divine within themselves. This gives power to the self-help movement; “I will harness the power of the divine for my own needs or desires”.
Some people have decided that there is nothing beyond this life and that all ideas about the divine are simply wishes or projections. These folks are pragmatic and they have no time or energy to consider the mystery which connects us all.
Some people look for meaning within their suffering. They wonder about “God’s plan” and how suffering can be redemptive. This view can be very powerful when affirmed within one’s own life and very destructive when imposed on others. Second Isaiah beautifully explores this idea and Jesus, in his life, powerfully models it.
But the author of Job pushes us to look beyond our suffering to delve more deeply into the nature of God. Job asks us to look beyond the dichotomy of good versus bad, sin versus blessing to recognize our relationship with our God who has created us and everything that is.
Today’s text is troubling, there is no way to get around it. The description of God making a wager about Job’s faithfulness and allowing his horrific suffering is abhorrent to us. This is not the God that we know. This is not the God with whom we are in relation. Although it is fascinating to notice that God trusts Job to be faithful. And the questions the Accuser raises about why we behave and why we believe also challenge us. Today’s text sets the scene for the rest of the book in which Job challenges God and God responds. There are no easy answers and I encourage you to find some time this week to read the book in its entirety. Next week we will explore Job’s response to his suffering (He does not have “the patience of Job”) and the following week we will hear God’s response.
But this week as we prepare to celebrate the Lord’s Supper along with congregations around the world on this World Communion Sunday, we recognize that the questions raised by the Book of Job are universal questions with which we all must wrestle. Why do the innocent suffer? Why do the wicked prosper? Why? Why? Why?
And in the face of these questions we gather around the Communion Table to remember Jesus our Christ and his revelation of God’s love. We gather to affirm with the Apostle Paul; [that we are] convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).
Let us pray,
O God, we are troubled by the presence of suffering in the world and we struggle to make sense of it. Help us to move to a deeper understanding of your love and presence with us at all times and in all circumstances. Amen.
Our hymn of preparation is 405(KH) 428(BH) When Peace Like a River
Tell the story
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. There were born to him seven sons and three daughters. He had seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen, five hundred donkeys, and very many servants; so that this man was the greatest of all the people of the east.
His children used to go and hold feasts in one another’s houses in turn; And when the feast days had run their course, Job would rise early in the morning and go to the temple in order to offer burnt offerings for them all; for Job said, “It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts. so I will offer sacrifices on their behalf.” This is what Job always did.
One day the heavenly beings came to present themselves before the Lord, and the angel known as the Accuser also came among them. The Lord said to the Accuser, “Where have you come from?” The Accuser answered the Lord, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” The Lord said to the Accuser, “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.” Then the Accuser answered the Lord, “Does Job fear God for nothing? Have you not put a fence around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand now, and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” The Lord said to the Accuser, “Very well, all that he has is in your power; only do not stretch out your hand against him!” So the Accuser went out from the presence of the Lord. Within days Job’s sheep and oxen and donkeys and servants were killed. His children also perished. Then Job arose, tore his robe, shaved his head, and fell on the ground and worshiped God. 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.” In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong-doing.
Then one day the heavenly beings came again to present themselves before the Lord, and the Accuser also came among them to present himself before the Lord. The Lord said to the Accuser, “Where have you come from?” The Accuser answered the Lord, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” The Lord said to the Accuser, “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.” Then the Accuser answered the Lord, “Skin for skin! All that people have they will give to save their lives. But stretch out your hand now and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face.” The Lord said to the Accuser, “Very well, he is in your power; only spare his life.”
So the Accuser 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. Job took a broken piece of pottery with which to scrape himself, and sat among the ashes. Then his wife said to him, “Do you still persist in your integrity? Curse God, and die.” But he said to her, “You speak as any fool 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.