Toorak Uniting Church

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Obedience through suffering

Job 42     Hebrews 5: 1 – 10
Rev. Anneke Oppewal
22 October 2006

Two weeks ago we looked at Job mainly from the perspective of the first two chapters. We saw how the story of Job begins with a fable, the fable about God laying a bet on Job’s righteousness and Satan getting permission to take everything away from Job, except his life, to prove it.
We heard how Job loses everything: his wealth, his children, and finally his health. And how his friends come to comfort him when he has ended up on a dung heap scratching his sores. We looked at their answers…….. and decided with Job that they were, in the end, not satisfactory. We heard how Job kept confronting his friends, and God, with his questions: "Why?" And: "Why me?" Protesting his innocence and the fact that the suffering that had been visited upon him was wholly undeserved.

By the time we get to chapter 38 all human answers to undeserved and pointless suffering have been explored to great detail and still Job is not prepared to accept any of them. He does not bend to the exhortations of his friends, but stands up, straight, before his friends and before God, demanding an answer that will satisfy him.

I don’t know if you have ever felt like that. Angry, desperate and unable to accept whatever suffering you had witnessed or experienced.
Wanting an answer.

I imagine the parents of the teenagers who died in the car crash in Mildura might have felt that way, or some of the farmers who are losing everything they lived and worked for because of the drought. I imagine some of those who survived the Tsunami and are now battling bureaucracy and corruption may feel like that, or the mother that watches her children die of starvation in some refugee camp or other where displaced people congregate in a desperate attempt to survive calamity or war. You may have felt that way when death, loss or misfortune found its way into your life.
That it was not fair, that it made no sense, that all the answers you had helped you to cope with the calamities of life before did no longer satisfy.

Lost, confused and utterly lonely with even his friends unable to give comfort and support, Job has not many options left to gain the answer he demands. God is the only one who has remained silent. Only at the end of the book, in chapter 38, after everybody else has spoken it is that God begins to speak and that we hear some sort of an answer from Him.

As far as I am concerned it is no answer.

God throws all his majesty at Job, all his power, all his might. Three chapters long he bombards Job with the awesome splendour of creation and the profound mystery of his reign.

Job answers twice to this overwhelming barrage of imagery: The first time by acknowledging his insignificance when compared with the cosmic greatness of God and the second time by bowing before the unfathomable depth of God’s counsel.

He says: "I did not know, I have heard you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes".

Does Job capitulate? Repentance seems to imply that.

I am not so sure. My experience, and the experience of some others I know, is that the awesomeness of creation and God’s power will not, in the end, take the questions away. They may put them in perspective, and that may provide some sort of comfort, but it does, in the end, not give an answer to the why and whereto of the suffering.

Where God answers Job encounters God in all his majesty, where God answers Job is made to realise that the world and what goes on in it, are beyond his understanding, that he is, in the end, dust and ashes, in an ordainment that is beyond his comprehension.
But there is no answer!

And perhaps that is the whole point of the book: There is no answer to some of man’s sufferings. It doesn’t make sense and it is not going anywhere. And as far as God’s role in it all is concerned: We don’t know and are probably better off not knowing. The only thing we can say perhaps is that God is not always who we would want Him to be, that there are aspects to Him we don’t understand and at times even don’t like. That he does seem to let us down at times and that that might well be for no good reason at all.

Community is restored at the end of the book of Job. Job and his friends make up as Job is invited by the Lord to pray for them. They have all let me down says God, but you, you have spoken of me what is right.

Job receives back double of what he had in the first place, and as we said two weeks ago, that may be a way of God offering at least some apology for what has happened. But we don’t know. Job gets some recompense, more than some of us can ever hope for, but did three most beautiful daughters make up for the ones he had lost, and 7 most able sons for the 7 that died before?

Some of the Jewish interpretation after the Shoah says that in the end, when Job has received his life back twofold, the only thing for him is to live well and be righteous. Because after we have lost everything, and done battle with Satan, after we have faced the inadequacy and insufficiency of our answers and the insignificance of our existence in the cosmic scheme of things, there are only two choices left: To live well and prove Satan wrong, or to give up and die.

Hebrews 5 tells us Jesus learned obedience through suffering and perhaps that is talking about the same thing: Only after everything has been taken away we learn that commitment to a life of righteousness is a choice made not because we can expect to be rewarded or because a life of righteousness will protect us from harm, but because righteousness in itself is worth living for. To defy Satan and prove we can be faithful and righteous and worthy companions and allies of God.

There is another aspect to this. Job says in his answer:
"I had heard of you, but now my eyes see you….."
As if, at the end of the book, at the end of all the questioning and protest, at the end of feeling left, abandoned and being done grave injustice, after being confronted with God’s majesty and power, Job finally discovers who God really is, for him. A discovery that leaves him breathless and wordless and somehow helps him to let go and go on. Job and God become friends by the end of the book, who have know each other on a much deeper level than before. Disappointment, abandonment, confusion and angry protest are all part of the holding on to each other. And they end up with a much more mature and realistic relationship than they started with:
The story begins with Job the righteous man who believed in, and depended on, God as a child depends upon a parent. Who counted on being rewarded for good and punished for bad. At the end Job is still a righteous man but his righteousness is now chosen for its own sake rather than from some external motivation. He has discovered that being righteous does not protect anybody from the lures and snares of Satan, that it does not necessarily result in prosperity and wealth. Job has discovered that he can hold his own before God, and that God appreciates being taken seriously as a partner and being held to account for his side of the relationship. Job, through the whole process enters in a covenant with God which is more like a friendship than like the dependency of a child upon a father. A friendship where some issues remain unresolved and the two parties learn to live with each others inconsistencies.

There is one more intriguing thing in this last chapter of Job I’d like to draw your attention to.
The brothers and sisters of Job. They aren’t around when it all happens at the beginning of the story, and while Job’s friends sit with him on the dung heap looking for answers, they are still nowhere in sight.
Job’s healing and recovery is not only the restoration of his wealth. It is also the restoration of community and the acknowledgement, by that community, of his suffering and of the evil that had been visited upon him. Only when he is restored to his community with all he has and has been is the healing complete. Some of us may know from experience how true this is: healing can only be completed in community, where people care for each other, recognise each other’s story and give sympathy and comfort. Faith, God, the restoration of the material and the love and care of community the three things that will be able to heal where Satan has wounded and deep scars have appeared.

While I was preparing this sermon an image of the suffering Jesus kept entering my mind every time I tried to imagine Job on his dung heap.
Jesus suffered, as Job did. Jesus protested and felt abandoned, like Job did. And after all seemed lost both received back life and future.
Hebrews tells us through this Jesus learned obedience, learned to let go of everything and only put his trust in living his life righteously and according to God’s will. In the face of death he had to let go of every certainty he may have had about God and his care for him.
Perhaps that, in the end, is what remains: Even where there are no answers, even where everything is lost, even where the depth of our suffering cries out in anger and confusion, even where life itself is under threat, there is only this: to live life well, stand up before God and hold him to His righteousness, and accept the mystery and unresolvedness of much we encounter in the process.

But only after 40 chapters of arguing!

© Rev. Anneke Oppewal, 2006

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