Questions from Suffering series (#3)
Job 14:7-15; 19:23-27; John 12:24
A Sermon preached July 17, 2016 for Brookmeade Congregational Church UCC
This weekend, there was tragic news from an amusement park in Pennsylvania. An 8 year old boy drowned in some shallow water there. When I see that news, my heart goes out to his family.
And, I confess, I prayed it wasn’t Jack. I think Jack is about eight years old, the grandson and great-grandson of beloved friends, son of a kid in a youth group I once hung out with. The whole family was vacationing some days around this weekend at that amusement park. Yes, I prayed it wasn’t Jack.
Is that where I look for God when a child dies tragically?
That God is answering my prayer to let it not be Jack?
Where is God for the family who child did drown?
The child’s name was nowhere. I searched the comments of the news article about the drowning to see if there were any clues to his identity. No clues there, but lots of blame.
It was the parents’ fault, some said. “If they had been doing everything right, their son would still be alive.”
It’s the fault of the amusement park, others said. “It’s always too crowded there. There have been other child deaths there.”
Who is to blame? Whose fault is it?
When a 20 ton truck rolls through a holiday celebration, killing 84 and injuring 200 in Nice, France — our first thought is “Who would do such a thing? Whose fault is this?” When the 31 year old driver of the truck is killed and can’t answer for himself — then we wonder:
“Who made him do that?”
“What radical group?”
“Who were his parents, anyway?”
This weekend’s coup in Turkey left 90 dead — or 267 dead, depending on your news source. Turkey’s president Ergogan blames a Sunni cleric who is living in exile in Pennsylvania. And the Sunni cleric deflects blame by suggesting that the coup was staged.
While everyone is asking “Whose fault is this?” there are a lot of hurting people out there. A whole lot of grieving people. Each person was someone’s loved one.
There is no shortage of blame to spread around for what ails us, for what is dealing us pain and death all around. We don’t need to elaborate further on that. But simply notice, in every news story about pain and death, every story about something that is out of control or seems beyond our control — notice how often pain relief is sought in “Who is to blame?” “Whose fault is this?”
If we don’t talk about who is at fault, we are left to sit with the pain. And that’s hard.
And you may be wondering why we have to talk about all of that pain and suffering. In church, for six whole weeks of a sermon series on the book of Job. Whose fault is that, you may wonder? Fair question. And that answer is: me.
The buck stops right here. The blame, fault, responsibility and fall-out for this six-week sermon series on Job is on me. As the pastor and teacher of our congregation at the moment, I am the one who made that call.
I can, however, place the blame for my decision on two things: the Holy Spirit’s nudging me and the Narrative Lectionary that presented us the Book of Job for these weeks in the good ole summertime. I could have said “no” to the Narrative Lectionary. I do not knowingly say no when the Holy Spirit pushes in ways that I can perceive. I tend to go with the Spirit’s whispers, even when that means we receive the Book of Job for a six week sermon series that looks like it’s such a downer.
And yet, we all read the news — or watch the news — or follow news links on the internet — the Facebook — the Twitter. We know what’s going on in the world. It’s not all bad out there, but there’s some seriously messed up stuff going on that gets live streamed into our heads. And the things that make the news tend to be the things that are tragic and problematic and not easily remedied.
Job’s tragedy would have made great fodder for the news cycle:
Wealthy businessman loses it all! — the headline would go. And the story would tell about the plague that wiped out all of his donkeys and sheep and oxen and camels — Job’s inventory a complete loss. It would continue with the murders of all of his servants, his employees — Job’s business a complete loss. And the story would then reveal that all of Job’s 10 children had been killed — Job’s very life a complete loss.
Who is to blame for that?
What we know that Job doesn’t know is that all of this is God’s fault, sort of. The very set up of the story is that God allowed the Accuser — the satan — to mess with Job’s life. The accusation — by the accusing one — is that anyone can love God and be a God-oriented person when things are going as well as they were going for Job — before. What would happen, though, if Job lost a good chunk of what he praised God for?
In today’s part of the story, Job is looking in the God direction: Job is having a word with God about his loss and his grief. Job has some accusations of his own: “Hey, God, you know those trees over there? When they die back, they come back from the roots. You did that for trees. All of those trees all around us, ordinary trees. What about humans, huh, God? What happens to us when we are cut down? Why didn’t you make us like the trees?”
There is no good answer to that. There is no good remedy for Job’s suffering.
But — because we assume there is good news to find in God’s Bible Word — even in the Old Testament Hebrew Scripture — and even in the Book of Job — here is a little piece of good news that Job embodies:
Job is looking for God. He is asking where God is in all of this.
There are other bad news options for someone in distress, someone depressed, someone who has lost it all. If he had a 20 ton truck or an assault weapon . . . well, you know . . . While he is drowning in loss and grief, Job could have been doing a lot of things besides asking where God is.
Job had other “good” options:
Job could have accepted defeat stoically, relying on himself, not imposing on anyone, even God.
Job could have gotten busy doing things, solving his problems, reconstructing his business.
These are not bad responses to loss and grief — turning inward when that is needed — rebuilding when it is time.
If those were the only things that Job did …
If Job’s only concerns were for himself and his job and his family …
If Job’s only question was “What am I going to do next?” or “What are we going to do next?” …
… Then the Accuser wins. Because where is God?
There is nothing inherently wrong with self-sufficiency, nothing wrong with some self-focus, nothing wrong with personal responsibility.
The question is: “Where is God in all of that?”
The good news that Job gives us today is his example to be ALL OUT LOUD about asking the question: “Where is God in this?”
Because either God. Or not.
We are here. So, God.
When problems or challenges come — or tragedy, even — we may not always be asking: “Whose fault is it?” for we are not the blaming kind, are we?
Our questions are more like:
What do I do next?
Who is going to do it?
Why don’t we do it this way?
Where is my calendar and why is it so full?
How can we get everyone together?
And sometimes: “Will this ever end?”
Job gives us a better question:
“Where is God in this situation?”
“Where is God in this moment?”
“Where is God in my life?”
Job expected an answer. A real answer with verbs in the sentence.
“Where is God in this?” moved Job along.
“Where is God in this?” can move us forward, too.
What if we asked one another — regularly — “Where is God in this?” — “Where is God in your life?” and then listened — to God and to each other.
Because, God. Or not. That’s the question.
As we continue to journey with Job, we might be asking the question: “When is Job ever going to get on with his life? How long will this go on?”
What if we asked, instead, “Where is God in this?” — this day — in these circumstances.
The good news of Job today is that it is possible — no matter what the circumstances — to stay with God in God’s story of our lives. What that looks like is asking — honestly and energetically —
“Where is God in this?”
And — staying with that question with the persistence of Job — expecting — sooner or later — very good news. Amen.