Let’s reset the story of Job we began with last week. Job’s story is told in 42 chapters in the Old Testament. He is engaged by and engages with several other characters. He is presented to us as, "blameless, upright; feared God and turned away from evil.”
He is also depicted as one of the richest, most successful men in the world. He had a family of 10 that seemingly got along unlike almost any family you or I have heard of or seen. Job went daily to the synagogue to pray for his kids just in case they would have in any way acted up or cursed God.
So we are introduced at the beginning to a good guy in as many respects as we can understand.
After we are introduced to Job, he becomes the subject of a conversation between God and the satan. Actually a conversation in the heavenly precinct. I think it would not be farfetched to say God and the satan make a deal. The text is pretty clear. Job, the righteous man, gets tested as a result of the deal.
Disasters of all sorts ensue. Of course Job, his family, and all of the so-called friends know nothing about the test of the righteous one. We, as readers, know about it but those participating never mention the conversations between the satan and God. This fact is one of the elements that makes the story so intriguing.
Job’s reaction at first seems remarkably restrained, even silent until his wife, to whom we had not been introduced becomes what some people think is the satan’s advocate. She urges her husband to curse God and die. Now remember she does this knowing that Job has been going to synagogue every day to protect his children just in case they had cursed God. She must have known her husband and had gotten tired of his taking so much time to do that. She must have thought the kids were really pretty good.
Job does have a response to his wife. He wonders if we should receive good at the hand of God and not evil.
Then when the friends first come they and Job sit silently for 7 days and 7 nights. Can you imagine that? Are these friends?
Then in chapter 3 the silent Job turns into a long winded, complaining Job and they all beginning talking. We find out Job is very unhappy, "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I will depart.
Now that is a down and dirty summary through the first 3 chapters.
Now I asked you, have you ever felt depressed and that the world is collapsing around you? If you did, I hope you had friends who offered comfort and counsel, but I hope they did a better job than Job's friends.
First, Eliphaz courteously suggests, "Consider now: Who, being innocent, has ever perished? I think we could answer that question. When were the upright ever destroyed? I think we could answer that question. Eliphaz goes on to say to Job, “As I have observed, those who plow evil and those who sow trouble reap it.” In other words, "Job, you must have brought this on yourself."
Then comes the second friend, Bildad. He suggests that perhaps Job is suffering because of the sin of his children; so if Job will only pray, God will intervene and make everything right. Of course Job had already tried to pray for his children before they were killed. Have you ever tried to right a wrong for someone you loved and it seemed to do nothing? Have you ever worried about guilt by association?
Then along comes friend number three, Zophar. He says to Job, your misery your response to a guilty verdict. Essentially, “Get over it, you are guilty, just accept it.”
Each friend, and in sometimes eloquent Hebrew, explain Job's suffering on the grounds of the justice and righteousness of God and the orderliness of the universe. They all say this could not have just happened. Job had to have done something or someone near and dear had to have done something wrong given his misery and pain.
Now to be fair haven’t you thought that way sometimes? The evil and the misery that people receive is of their own making or deserved in some way.
Some kinds of suffering and anguish can be understood. We often think people brought the problems on themselves. We can think, of course smokers get lung cancer; people who drink in excess get cirrhosis of the liver; people who work long hours in the sun unprotected get skin cancer; even deaths on the highway are caused by drunk drivers. Everything seems logical, even if it seems unfortunate.
This is what got me thinking about the God Mode. (Look at the cover of the screen on our order of worship.) If you have a Windows PC I’ll bet you have never enabled the hidden feature that is often called the God Mode? The last three Windows Versions including Windows 10 contains a link to all of the settings available in Windows. You will get over 40 categories of Windows settings and customizations. It is in some sense a super control panel in one location. There are a few things you will need to do. But just think of it, you can have everything in the palm of your hand. Everything can be controlled, and maybe more importantly we can control it ourselves. Job suggests that it might be good for him to have more control!
Extreme order is the kind of world many of us wish for. The God Mode on your Windows machine may give you the impression that finally you can get everything in order. But I warn you it is an illusion. Maybe the God Mode on your computer mode should be called the Satan Mode or the Mode of the Great Deal?!
You see in the midst of all that assumed order there is another side to what we see around us. People who have never smoked get lung cancer; people who have never touched alcohol get liver disease, drunk drivers kill the innocent along with themselves, and natural disasters take their toll on all of us.
Who can explain why a young man comes on a community college campus and kills students and one professor? Or what about the person who came into a church basement, acted as though he was interested in the Bible and he killed those innocent people. Or what about Nick Reardon, experienced arborist, no, a tree artist and an arborist. Look how he was killed (in a wood chopper). It is not right. He was a fine man.
For Job’s part, he is not satisfied with his friends' explanations. However, it should be said Job is just as much convinced of the justice of God as his friends. He is convinced that God has made a mistake, that's all. What he wants is his day in court. He wants to state his case before a righteous judge and get the sentence overturned.
Job says the problem is this: “I cannot find him (God)….an upright person like me (says Job) cannot find him. Later in this two chapter speech (chapters 23 and 24) of Job he says, "if I go to the east, he is not there; if I go to the west, I do not find him. When he is at work in the north, I do not see him; when he turns to the south, I catch no glimpse of him."
God is gone. How can you present your case when the judge is nowhere to be found? Did you ever feel that God was gone?
Let me conclude with this borrowed story.
A nicely dressed, dignified woman came to see her pastor. She told her pastor about another woman in her Sunday School class, a bank employee, who was always talking about how wonderful it was to walk and talk with Jesus. She would tell how everything she asked Jesus for she received. She prayed that her blueberry muffins would be perfect and they always were.
Jesus, she would say, is wonderful to have around. She told of rushing somewhere to do the Lord's work and she would say, "Lord you know that I am coming down here to do your work and I am running late so I need a parking space and always someone would be pulling out of the space at exactly the right time." Jesus was so good to have around, she would say!
But the woman who had come in on her lunch hour did not know whether to be angry at God or crushed because God never answered her prayers.
She admitted she had never pestered God for tasty muffins or parking spaces, but for ten years she had been praying for just one thing, a baby. She and her husband wanted a baby. She wondered about this strange kind of God who was always there for the silly requests of one person but who was never around for the really serious deeply-felt requests of another.
I can tell you I am somewhat impatient with the woman that always thought Jesus helped her with her muffins and parking places.
Also, I wonder about anyone who thinks they can go to the God Mode on their PC and think everything will be made sense of in regard to the computer. There really are no God Modes that are simple because our relationships with God, are that, relationships. I also think that finding parking places or making your muffins tasty is probably not on God’s calendar. Do I know for sure? Absolutely not.
What I do know is that God is here with us. And God comes into our midst. And God does see what this world is like.
On one occasion God came down, entered humanity and saw and felt it all. He was lonely, tired, hungry, besieged by demanding crowds, persecuted by powerful political figures. His friends and family questioned him. Those who followed him were a motley crew of fishermen and peasants and women and children.
Then at the end, death on a cross. Death that must have lingered for hours. Deserted...by family, by friends. He even is reported to have cried, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
The cross of Jesus is a common image in the Christian faith. That cross is a way, however unreasonable, that shows God cares about our suffering and pain. Christ died on it. Now that is the authentic God Mode.
Today the image of the crosses we carry are often coated with gold or silver. Just look on that altar. Perhaps our problem lives right ther. We wonder where is God in a shiny golden cross not on a rugged cross stained with blood.
There are indeed times when God seems gone, totally absent. There were those times for Job. They occur for you and me as well. All the "Why?" questions remain.
But the good news this morning is more than God knows and understands pain and suffering. The good news is that the cross is not the last word. Even our anguished Job earlier in his story said (19:25), “I know that my redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth; and ….then in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see on my side.
Our anguished Job, just like us on many occasions, keep wanting the easy God Mode, fixing the muffins and the parking places. We want to control God. We want God present when we want God present. And who doesn’t. We are told that after the cross there is a new life, a resurrection. Are you playing your part in your relationship with God? Increase your playing time as you are engaged by God and God engages you. Amen.
*Thanks to many interpreters, commentators, writers, preachers, students, friends, and others in countless settings whose ideas have shaped my reflections. This sermon was preached on 11 October 2015.