Questions from Suffering series (#6)
Job 42:7-17; Luke 6:20-23
A sermon preached August 7, 2016 for Brookmeade Congregational UCC
We finally get to the ending of the story of Job.
It’s a story that began with a wager of sorts between God and the taunting Accuser about a certain man: Job. Job was the poster boy for a God-blessed life: a big family, a thriving business, lucrative bottom line — also “blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.” (Job 1:1b) The Accuser’s accusation: If all that went away, Job would curse God.
Then, Job was overcome with hardship and suffering. He lost his children, his servants, his livestock, his health, and his status. Then he had to endure his friends’ taunting and his wife’s badgering. Job threw himself at God with anger, with lament, with questions — but Job never cursed God.
In the end — the story goes — “the Lord restored the fortunes of Job” giving him “twice as much as he had before.” (Job 42:10)
It feels good to get to the “happily ever after” after such a difficult and sad story.
We recognize this final victory from classic fairy tales we have heard:
After the big bad wolf …
After the mean step-sisters …
After the poisoned apple …
… there comes, finally, a “happily ever after.”
We look for the moral of the story in the fables we’ve been told:
“Slow and steady wins the race.”
“An act of kindness is a good investment.”
“Look before you leap.”
Paying attention to these words of wisdom might make help us avoid suffering. We can make our lives richer or easier.
The story of Job is, after all, the closest thing to a fairy tale or fable that we have in our Bible. Unlike every other book in the Bible, the story of Job has no connection with any known persons or places or time in history.
What the story of Job does have is God as a main character. That’s kind of a big deal — a story with God as the main character.
From the beginning, Job and God are together, in relationship, in the same story.
The question posed by the Accuser — the question will get answered — “What kind of relationship does this human really have with God?”
In this tale, God and the Accuser are both anthropomorphized — which is a fancy way of saying that this story describes God and the Accuser by giving them human characteristics. In this story, God and the Accuser are present in time and in a location. They are approachable. They speak and converse and interact. They spar with each other. They even make a wager.
These are things that human listeners of this story can understand because these are things that we humans do. When we humans talk about God, we use human words because that is what we have. When we humans attempt to fathom God, we use human ideas and understandings because that is what we have.
We attempt to describe our humanoid God as truly THE God by describing God as bigger and better than humans ever can be.
This God description can become a God prescription. That is, God can not only be described by employing human language understandings — but God can then become — an extension of the self — bigger and better and more righteous —
[I heard someone say this week that] Karl Barth said: “When we talk about God, we talk about ourselves with a megaphone.” Our God likes the things we like, blesses the things we adore, gives us the things we want. God — like us — only bigger and better.
Imaging God as extension of self and personal values is how we end up asking God to bless our battleships and expecting God to keep *my* family safe. God as extension of self is comfortable when we are comfortable, angry when we are angry, on the side of my political party.
The Accuser, then, could accuse any of us: If God is no longer a projection of our best world and our highest values, how easy would it be to give up on God altogether? Put another way: Would there still be a God at all?
What if God is not a projection; rather, God is a projectile.
God as projectile breaks open understanding
God as projectile shatters the usual ways we look at the world
God as projectile cracks through ideas of who is right and who is wrong; who is pure and who is bad.
We’ve heard God’s projectile self from Rabbi Jesus: To welcome the one with the strange political views, to love the terrorist enemy, to boldly declare and live out Black Lives Matter — is to open the door to good news. (Matthew 25) In today’s politically divided, fear-filled world, Jesus might say the good-news potential is very great indeed.
We’ve heard God as projectile from the apostle Paul: Anyone in Christ is a new creation. The old is gone. The new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:17)
If ever there was a life in which the old is all gone, Job’s life is it. Not that Job wanted the old to go away. Job had it all — before. Job even gave God the credit.
Seen from a human point of view — with God as projection of ourselves — this is a story of a man who received suffering he didn’t deserve. Job endured it all without cursing God. He was faithful to the end. God rewarded Job’s faithfulness with what he had before — times two — except the children — only the seven sons and three daughters — again. God does what we would do if we could: reward good behavior, reward those who are loyal to us, keep our friends happy. If we could, there might be times when we might accept the offer to witness a test of someone’s loyalty and faithfulness to us and our cause.
From a human point of view, the story reads that God rewards faithfulness to God, especially through the most awful of circumstances.
If God is that projectile God — unpredictable, unsettling, re-ordering, re-creating — then this story is all about Job’s life — not the things in Job’s life — his accomplishments, his possessions, his dynasty or his legacy — this story is about how Job himself was changed by staying in relationship to the God he no longer knew, the God he no longer trusted, the God he no longer believed in. God wasn’t who Job thought God was.
There is nothing in the story that tells us that God restored Job’s fortune *because* — and that’s hard for us.
We know that circumstances change. All. The. Time. We bring it on ourselves sometimes — the good and the awful — and sometimes we get what we don’t deserve — the good and the awful.
The book of Job gives a very unsatisfying answer to the problem of undeserved suffering. No one who has suffered loss gets the kind of two-fold restitution that Job got. And even with that extravagant settlement, the old Job was not reinstated.
The old Job was smashed to unrecognizable. His old life gone, Job persistently turned toward the God he hadn’t met until then. Job followed a new way, guided by this God who was saying new things. Job reconciled with his friends and took a risk to embrace new life, changed circumstances.
Children can get God and Santa confused, and we let them. The one is a projection of human goodness and kindness. The other is God.
God who revealed in Christ Jesus is not in the business of changed circumstances or life upgrades. Circumstances — upgrades and downgrades — are milestones and opportunities to embrace more of the unique human creation that has been begun in each of us.
We are shedding old skin all the time — literally — a sign that we constantly live in the sacred story that is not found in any fable or fairy tale — no matter how good — the Paschal mystery — the movement that is sacred life itself — life — death — resurrection. Resurrection is God’s grace and gift on the other side of suffering, loss and death.
Is resurrection real?
Let us say “yes”
Let us show “yes”
Let us be “yes” to resurrection.
Resurrection happens when God takes us, blesses us, breaks us and shares us in new ways. No fairy tale endings for us. We are the real deal — new creations, risking life to love, yet again. Amen.
The parts of this sermon about ways to think about God were heavily influenced and liberally borrowed from The RobCast Episode #111 (July 25, 2016) “Pete Rollins on God, Part 1.”