Sermon 18 Pentecost Yr B
October 2, 2009 1 Comment
18 Pentecost Yr B, 4/10/2009
Job 1:1; 2:1-10
Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &
Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s
South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta
Have you ever felt that God was punishing you? Do you think that God tests our love for him? Is faith worth anything if it is not put on trial? What kind of a God do you believe in, worship, and serve? Questions of this nature crop up when we face suffering or when we read the Book of Job.
Many people, even today, look at faith and ask: “What’s in it for me?” Such folks can often reduce God to a cosmic bell hop, and demand that God give them everything they ask for. Do you need a parking spot close to the bank? No problem, ask God in prayer for one, and viola, an empty space is waiting for you when you arrive. Do you need an A+ on your final exam? No matter that you didn’t study the material, just pray the night before and magically God will give you that A+. Do you have cancer? Pray for healing and God will heal you. Such a view of God and prayer operates with the ages-old belief that: If you are a righteous person, God will protect and reward you throughout your lifetime. If you are a sinner and a wicked person, then God will punish you and afflict you with all kinds of sufferings. Is such a belief-system true though? Does it stand up to real life situations?
Listen to what one pastor had to say about such beliefs: I remember reading an article by Chaplain Stephen Webster, who was in Europe with the American Forces during the Second World War. It was an angry article called “Who Gets the Breaks in Prayer?” He told his readers that he was fed up with all the stories of miraculous rescues at sea and deliverances from rafts adrift in the North Atlantic; deliverances attributed by people to God in response to their great faith. Such incidents foster the idea that if only we are good and say our prayers, God will never let us down. He will look after us and do precisely what we ask Him to do. Chaplain Webster wanted to tell of the good men and women he knew who were not rescued. They prayed and they had faith, but they were not miraculously plucked from danger, but died, undelivered, yet still full of faith and trust.1
Contrary to “the health and wealth gospel” of our day and of every age, God is not our cosmic bell hop. A religion, a faith that is rooted in selfishness cannot stand the tests of time. Oh yes, it keeps cropping up all right, but that’s because of who we are as human beings—we are sinners. Sinners shall always want to be God in God’s place. Sinners shall always be turned in upon themselves. In our old sinful nature, we shall always ask: “What’s in this for me?” We shall always be tempted to oversimplify God and our faith into the formula that: “The good and righteous people shall prosper, be blessed and protected by God; while the wicked and sinful people shall be punished by God and suffer.”
The Book of Job was, I think, written to debunk such an oversimplified view of God and faith. God is far more complicated than that, and so is faith. God, in addition to being closer to us than we ourselves is also the Wholly Other God, the Transcendent One who is shrouded in mystery and far beyond human comprehension. Our faith is very complex too. Faithful folks like you and I know that life is full of vicissitudes—we have ups and we have downs. Yes, there are mountaintop experiences that fill us with joy and hope. However, there are also journeys into dark valleys of despair, doubt and suffering. Life is full of paradoxes—when we go through sufferings and illnesses we are not necessarily being punished for them. Rather, the sufferings and illnesses strengthen our faith and trust in the LORD; draw us closer to Christ and his sufferings; and give us compassion towards others who face sufferings and illnesses.
In today’s first lesson from the Book of Job, we are given a helpful example of how to handle the sufferings of life. The story starts off with the narrator telling us that Job was: “blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.” The Good News Bible puts it like this, Job: “worshipped God and was faithful to him.” In other words, Job was a man of integrity and honesty, and highly ethical, practicing mercy and justice in his relations with others.
For several years, God blessed Job with happiness, health and wealth. He and his wife gave birth to 7 sons and 3 daughters. He possessed 500 oxen and 500 donkeys; 7,000 sheep and 3,000 camels. Job also employed many workers. So, for several years, life was good for Job, his wife and their family.
However, that situation changes with the blink of an eye! Satan, here a member of God’s heavenly court, before he was cast down from heaven; is sceptical about Job and his motives of faithfulness. Satan says to God that it’s easy for a person to be faithful to God if he or she is doing well in life. What would happen though if all of their possessions and wealth were taken away? Satan, whose name means “the accuser,” challenges God and says that Job will curse God to his face if Job’s possessions and wealth were taken away. God accepts the challenge and allows Satan to wreak havoc with Job’s possessions and wealth, with the condition that he does not kill Job. So, in the blink of an eye, everything is taken away from Job. Job’s oxen and donkeys; sheep and camels; his many servants; even his sons and daughters perished, not one of them survived—all in one day! What tragedy! How could Job not reach his breaking point in the face of such tragedy? Yet, he does not reach breaking point. God obviously created him and graced him with the capacity to endure all of these sufferings.
However, Satan, not happy with Job’s integrity and uprightness, pushes the envelope further. Now he challenges God to let him afflict Job’s person. According to Satan, if Job’s own bone and flesh were struck, he would curse God to God’s face. God, again obviously trusting that Job could endure such a test, gives Satan the go-ahead, with the limitation that he must spare Job’s life. Job is then attacked with “loathsome sores…from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head.” For relief from these irritable sores, Job picks up a piece of pottery and scratches himself, sitting among the ashes, which may be the town’s garbage dump. The ashes may be a sign of Job’s humility before God in the face of his suffering.
Watching all of this suffering is too much for Job’s wife, she finally cries out: “Do you still persist in your integrity? Curse God, and die.” Actually the Hebrew word for curse is ambiguous here, it can also mean bless. Job’s wife, perhaps out of love for her husband, feels helpless in the face of Job’s suffering. Perhaps she can see no alternative than for Job to die—whether this is a death wish on her part as a consequence to Job’s illness or whether she is counselling Job to commit suicide as a way out of his suffering, is not clear from the text. At any rate, we should not likely be too judgemental of Job’s wife—rather, her words may well be motivated by her love and care for her husband.
Job, however seems to rebuke her, saying she speaks like “any foolish woman would speak.” He then concludes by understanding his suffering with the following answer in the form of a question: “Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?” The narrator of the story then concludes by praising Job’s faithfulness: “In all this Job did not sin with his lips.”
In other words, Job was tested to see if he could love God for nothing. Would he remain faithful to God in the face of suffering? Was he able to love God without a cause; without payment or reward; without a reason? True love of God is not conditional—we cannot truly love God because of this or because of that. The minute we do so, we’re putting conditions on God. True love of God, is like Job’s love for God. We love God because we love God, for no other reason.
C.S. Lewis was once asked, “Why do the righteous suffer?” “Why not?” he replied. “They’re the only ones who can take it.” Today’s story of Job’s suffering bears faithful witness to C.S. Lewis’ answer. May we, like Job, be able to love God because we love God, for no other reason. Amen.
1 Cited from: R. Maurice Boyd, A Lover’s Quarrel With The World: Sermons by R. Maurice Boyd (Burlington, ON: Welch Publishing Co. Inc., 1985), pp. 119-120.