READ: Job 1.1, 2-1-10
In the 1998 blockbuster film, The Truman Show, the main character, Truman Burbank — played by Jim Carrey — one day discovers that he has been living his entire life in sort of an alternate reality.
He doesn’t know it yet, but his whole life has been part of a TV show
— a live broadcast of Truman’s every move since birth and revealed by hidden cameras controlled by a producer played by Ed Harris.
Everyone and everything in his life — his friends, his family, his wife and even his entire hometown — have all been actors or sets for the sake of entertainment
as millions of people tune in throughout the day to watch this man named Truman live and be manipulated by the producer who adds different problems, challenges and opportunities so that the viewers can see how he reacts.
It makes for great TV…
But one day, Truman notices some weird occurrences and thinks he’s going crazy, but then begins to figure out what’s really been going on.
When Truman discovers the truth, he has to decide how to act on it.
It’s unbelievable to him.
He is completely disoriented, he can’t think clearly, as the line between what is real and what is fake becomes blurry.
Everything he’s believed in and has had faith in — just like Job — seems to have disappeared instantly.
What, then, will he be able to stand on?
We begin a new four-week series today on the Book of Job and will focus on four parts of the story that will help us to not only understand this book that raises so many questions, but understand our own faith in light of the challenges we face in our own lives.
Today, we look at what it’s like to wake up and find some problem, challenge or obstacle has completely blurred our reality, leaving us disoriented.
And we ask “Where is God in these times?”
In the subsequent weeks, we’ll seek to understand:
why we feel so alone through our trials;
why it seems as if God is silent; and finally
how we come to witness restoration in our lives.
So what do we know about Job?
What understanding do we bring with us as we enter this text?
Well, let’s start with “The patience of Job.”
This has become one of the most well-known phrases that we use for a biblical text ever.
Even though we can argue it wasn’t patience that Job had; it was more endurance.
What we know from the story is that Job is a righteous, God-fearing man who has been blessed with a large family, a wonderful business and exemplary life,
but then God and Satan make a wager to see whether Job is as faithful as he’s cracked up to be.
Job loses everything. His family, his livelihood and his health.
His friends judge him harshly and say he must have brought this all on upon himself by sinning — a very Jewish thought in the days of antiquity —
and we know that after he’d endured all that he thinks he could,
he wants to put God on trial, and of course, God puts Job in his place before restoring him to health and material abundance.
That’s the Sunday school version, isn’t it?
Well, we’re going to look at four aspects of this story, as we mentioned, and we begin today seeking to answer the question “What happens when bad things happen to us and what we thought was solid ground seems shaky.
When we’re disoriented.
When our reality becomes blurred.
Job 1.1, 2.1-10
So a little bit about this book.
Did it really happen?
No. It’s wisdom literature — a folktale — designed to show us something about the character of God and God’s children living in the world.
Biblical scholars don’t know who wrote it, and we agree that it was probably written by many hands over a very long period of time — maybe even 800 years — and borrowed heavily upon other ancient stories with very similar themes such as the Babylonian Theodicy and the Mesopotamian “Righteous Sufferer.”
And that’s perfectly fine; the point is to teach us something here, and nothing in the Bible teaches us as much about theodicy than the Book of Job.
Theodicy is merely the conversation around the question of where is God in all this, or why do bad things happen to good people?
As we’ll come to know in the ensuing weeks;
Job raises a whole lot of explanations, but they all seem quite wrong.
There is only one answer, and we’ll get to that down in due time.
We enter the story seeing Job as this righteous and successful family man and losing everything instantly over a bet made between God and Satan, who in the Hebrew is ha-satan, simply meaning “the accuser.”
We shouldn’t necessarily think of the devil here…
Whoever ha-satan is, we clearly see that he reports to God, or at the very least, has to play by God’s rules.
For example, God tells ha-satan, go ahead and make Job’s life miserable; just don’t kill him.
And ha-satan has to respect that.
Ha-satan’s reasoning is in Chapter 2, Verse 4, when he says “Skin for skin…” — Job will curse you, God, to your face for doing this.
And the bet is on…
Suffering already from the loss of his sons and daughters and his livelihood,
worse, he’s covered from head to toe in painful boils.
And as he’s sitting on an ash heap — which is how you mourned in those days — his wife yells to Job in Verse 9 “Do you still persist in your integrity? Curse God and die!”
Talk about kicking a guy when he’s down!
But Job answers his wife in Verse 10:
“You are talking like a foolish woman. Will we receive good from God but not also receive bad?”
We see that in all that Job is enduring, he never curses God with his words.
What is Job feeling at this moment?
Sitting on the ash heap, scraping his wounds with a pottery shard.
What words describe Job’s state of mind?
Well, how would we feel?
Job is righteous, we see.
But we need to note here that Job is no Jew.
He’s most likely not one of the chosen children of Israel.
He’s living in Uz — in the east.
We have the hindsight and knowledge today of knowing the full story.
We know Jesus Christ.
We know so much more about God than the Jehovah that Job might have known.
We live — for the most part — in a culture that predominantly believes in and worships God.
Job did not have any of that.
Yet still, Job understands — even in great suffering — that God is present in both good and bad times.
The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away.
We need to be careful of that saying.
First off, God didn’t say those words, Job did in his suffering.
And by the end of the story, we see the authors criticizing that statement as well.
This sets up that argument.
Nevertheless, here’s Job doing everything in his power to remain righteous before God.
This is Job giving everything over to his faith rather than caring for his self.
John Wesley might have called that sanctifying grace:
that is, the power that helps us become more Christlike and that helps us move closer toward perfection through the power of the Holy Spirit.
This is given to us from God; it’s not something that we’ve earned or accumulated along this path called life.
And it is employed in our lives only through the power of God’s Spirit.
It is through God’s grace that we are able to understand not only this text, but our own texts of suffering today.
We have many challenges in our lives, and it’s sanctifying grace that helps us in light of our weakness and suffering.
Job is calling on this grace to help him!
The authors of Job posit — at least for now — that we must take the good with the bad.
Does God bring the bad?
Is God somewhere “up” there moving us around like chess pieces or using our very own lives for God’s own amusement or to see what we would do?
If God is omniscient, then God already knows the outcome.
If God knew us before we were born, God already knows who we are.
But this is a good way for the authors of Job to set up an argument about that very omniscience (all knowing), omnipotence (all powerful) and omnipresence (always present).
When we get to the end of Job, we will see God’s response.
Remember: It’s a story with characters, a plot, conflict and resolution;
we can’t just take one piece of it at the beginning and sum up the entire book with that one great sentence or thought.
Through it all…
Poor, devastated Job on the ash heap with the sores and a wife that tells him he’s better off dead.
Have we been there before?
Job’s example is extreme, and it has to be so that we can see that, generally speaking, most of us haven’t had it that bad.
Not all of us. Some of us certainly have, but I pray not all.
Remember that first diagnosis of cancer?
The heart attack?
The stinging loss of a loved one?
The divorce or breakup?
The financial ruin?
The failed exam?
The loss of that job and the stability it provided?
Through it all, God never left us.
And God never will leave us.
Despite the sense of confusion — that blur — we may feel.
Being alienated. Maybe even despised or hated…
Is God not still in control when our lives seem so out of control?
Listen: It’s in seeking God that we find strength.
It’s in seeking God that we find strength.
We only lose strength when we stop seeking God.
Or when we turn away from God.
In the story, Job’s wife tells him in so many words, “You still believing in that God?”
Or maybe this:
“Are you still seeking your God to help you? Curse him and die!”
Here’s what Job knows and what Job is telling us:
If I curse God, I will surely die.
Because what other hope is there in my life?
What else would I have?
When I know in my heart of hearts that God is always there.
God is always there in good times and in bad times, too.
And if I stop seeking God at any time, I simply stop living.
If we trust God in our suffering, we are seeking God.
No matter what the world throws at us, God’s presence never leaves us.
The only way we can withstand these challenges is by the grace of God.
Forsaking God is sinning.
God doesn’t honor that.
Job doesn’t sin.
And God will honor that.
What is it that you’re facing today?
We can look around this room, and we know so much about what we face.
We’ve confided in others; we’ve spoken our prayers out loud week after week…
We’re safe in here.
This place where we don’t have to keep up appearances.
This place where we are allowed to be weak, we are allowed to be human.
We are allowed to sit on our own ash heaps and tend to our wounds.
And struggle — I mean really struggle — with our faith.
What are we going to do when that happens?
What are we going to do when the reality we were living in gets blurry?
When we become disoriented?
When we discover that it will never, ever be the same way it once was?
I don’t want to spoil the ending of the movie The Truman Show if you’ve never seen it.
But Truman has to make a choice.
He’s caught out there alone and suffering on a stormy sea of life, and he has to decide whether to remain drowning in it, or to move forward in the faith that something Bigger, something Real is out there.
Job is discerning that very same thing as well.
Do I just curl up and let life take me now, or do I go on in faith?
We all get weak.
We all get stuck sometimes.
But by the grace of God, and only by the grace of God, can we not only endure, but come out on the other side of whatever it is stronger than we were before.
Oh, it might not be the outcome that we want, but we all will be changed.
Our prayer is that through it all, we remain faithful.
That through it all, we will be transformed — and become more like Christ.
That through it all, we trust that God is present
in both good times and bad.