Sermon for June 20th, 2021
Job has been severely tested.
Job was a good man. Righteous, honest, worshipped God, did all the right things. Followed the rules, obeyed the laws. Job did everything right, and yet what we find in scripture is a man suffering beyond belief. Job has lost his wealth, his health and his family. The only thing that Job has left are three friends, and you know the old saying that “with friends like these, who needs enemies?” Well that pretty much describes Job’s friends. Because at first when Job is suffering they just sit with him and mourn with him, and if they could have just left it at that they would have been good friends indeed, but they don’t. They can’t keep their mouths shut.
Incidentally, as an aside, I spent years in hospice and hospital chaplaincy, and I have spent a lot of time doing what we call Clinical Pastoral Education, reflecting and learning about ministry to the sick and dying, and I think I can sum up all the wisdom I gained from that experience and those years in ministry in four words: KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT. When you encounter someone who is in pain, who is sick, suffering or grieving, the best thing that you can do is just be there with them. Stand beside them, sit beside them, bring them a casserole if you want, but just be with them. Obviously, if their suffering is something simple, and you have the power to do something to help them you do that. But a lot of the time suffering isn’t simple, and helping them isn’t as simple as fetching someone a pill or a glass of water. There is no pill that will make the pain of death or grief go away. And sometimes sickness isn’t easily diagnosed or treated either. Some things are chronic, and some pain, especially emotional pain, goes deep. The best thing you can do is just be with people that are suffering. Be with them. Don’t let them suffer alone. Listen to their cries; listen to their story. If you try to explain or explain away someone’s suffering you are likely just to cause more pain. There are not magic words in ministry, but there is presence. You can just be with people, and that is a powerful thing.
If Job’s friends had just sat with this poor, suffering man, listened to his cries and his stories, and witnessed his pain, they would have done a good job. That would have helped him. But they couldn’t keep their mouths shut. They had to come up with or explain a reason for his pain. So one by one, Job’s friends each suggest that Job must have done something wrong. If God is a God of justice, if God is fair, then you Job must have done something along the way to deserve this. Some friends right?
Job knows that he is innocent of all that his friends accuse him of, but their constant prodding, and their constant insistence that God is a just God and that therefore Job must be guilty of something, this leads Job to the point of despair and he starts to question God and God’s goodness, and that is when God speaks to Job out of the whirlwind and that is where our first reading begins this morning. And God begins by saying that all of this talk is “words without knowledge.” Words without knowledge. And maybe Job hoped in that moment that God would lay the knowledge on him and answer his questions, but God doesn’t do that. Instead God asks Job a question:
Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Where were you Job, when I created the world?
The response stings a little bit, but maybe it needs to. Because we should never approach God with anything but humility. God certainly isn’t threatened by our anger and he isn’t hurt by our questions, but we need to remember, whenever we approach God, whether it is in joy, or in suffering and anger, we need to remember that God is God and we are not. We NEVER, never know the whole story. We are prone to using words without knowledge. If that phrase doesn’t sum up the age we are living in right now, I don’t know what does. Words without knowledge. Talking without listening.
God doesn’t give Job a simple answer. We may wish that he had. We might want God to give us simple answers about all the suffering in the world, but God doesn’t do that for Job, and he doesn’t do it for us either. Instead, God shows Job the whole majestic world: he shows him mountains and oceans and clouds and stars and little goats and deer giving birth and giant creatures in the sea. And God says, I made all that. I run this.
And Job says, you’re right. I spoke too soon. I don’t understand how all this works.
And then God says to him: oh and by the way, your friends are stupid and they don’t know what they are talking about. God isn’t nearly as upset by Job’s complaint as he is by the nonsense Job’s friends have been spouting. And Job’s health and wealth and family are restored, and Job lived to see his grand-children and he died old and full of days.
You know the Book of Job is one of the oldest books of the Bible. We actually have no real idea when it was written, and maybe that is as it should be, because it is a reminder that there are real limits to human knowledge, and that is a truth in every age. There is so much about this world we live in that we just don’t know. The Book of Job asks the quintessential human question: why do bad things happen to good people? It asks God the big question, and God doesn’t give a simple answer. The reality of the universe is just too much for us to grasp. The Book of Job doesn’t give us a simple answer to a complex question, but the story of Job presents us with a difficult question instead: when you encounter a suffering person, when you see someone who is grieving or in pain or sick or down on their luck, when you encounter a suffering person how do you respond? Are you quick to look for someone to blame? Do you shell out cheap advice to the suffering person? Do you try and help them figure out where they went wrong or what mistakes they must have made? Are you quick to open your mouth or can you just sit and listen? Can you listen to someone cry and just let them cry? Can you sit in dust and ashes with someone?
The lesson that I take from the Book of Job is that it is not up to us lowly humans to determine who deserves what in this life. That question is way above our paygrade. To tell the truth, I’m not sure that anyone deserves anything. At least, not in the way that we often use that word. Deserve is a loaded word. Justice is another word that I think we misuse. Human justice and divine justice are very different things, and we need to remember that whenever we start throwing the word Justice around. Maybe it isn’t possible for us to know who deserves what in this life, but what we can do, what we have the power to do is to identify the people that are suffering and to go and be with them. Just do that: when you encounter someone that is suffering, go and be with them. Listen to them. Cry with them. Hear their story.
The Book of Job is 42 chapters long, and most of that is taken up with Job’s friends trying to convince him that he must have done something wrong, but in chapter 2 we read that: “when Job’s three friends heard of all these troubles that had come upon him, each of them set out from his home. They met together to go and comfort and console him…..
They should have just left it there. They should have just kept their mouths shut.