Alone: Job Part 2 of 4

Job 23:1-9,16-17

The Danish existentialist and Christian theologian, Soren Kierkegaard, suffered much in his life. While the Book of Job is a story in which Job loses his family, his status, his livelihood and his health all because God agrees to test Job’s faith, Soren Kierkegaard lived at least a portion of this. His parents died at an early age, five of his six siblings also had died young, his marriage ended as quickly as it began and he suffered from acute depression, anxiety and health issues all of his life. He died when he was only 42 from a pulmonary form of tuberculosis that affected his spine. Through it all, he didn’t blame God for his suffering. He understood — in his typical existentialist way — that suffering was simply a part of life. And rather than trying to convince God that suffering is unjust, he understood that simply seeking God in times of suffering could be a profound blessing. He writes in a prayer: “And at times, O Lord, Thou seemest not to hear my voice, my plaint, my sigh, my thanksgiving, I will even then continue to pray to Thee until Thou hearest my thanksgiving because Thou hast heard me!” What Kierkegaard knew that Job didn’t seem to know was that one doesn’t have to search for God as if God is absent; the very hope that we have a relationship with God and are able to pray to God means God hears our prayers. God is with us in ALL times. Backward, forward Last week, we entered this four-part series on the Book of Job, and we said that the book was written and edited over many centuries; that it was basically a folktale borrowed and tailored through the centuries to better understand why it seems that God is sometimes silent in our suffering, and that it is in seeking God — knowing God better — that we find strength. Kierkegaard posits that it is in seeking God that we not only find strength, but we strengthen our relationship with God in those times. A nuance here, but these ideas both stand true. And this may be exactly why things just aren’t working out for Job and why Job feels so all alone — which is what we’re going to look at today. Now, in the coming weeks, we’ll look at why it seems as if God is silent and, finally, how we come to witness restoration in our lives. But for today, let’s set up the story: Job has now been sitting on a pile of ashes, scraping his wounds and being under attack by first his wife, and now the three people who are supposed to be his friends. Those “friends,” rather than encouraging Job, criticize him, basically telling Job that he must have sinned because it’s the only reason God is now punishing him. Ask for forgiveness and repent and pray that God restores you, they tell Job. But Job knows he’s innocent. He’s been righteous; he has done nothing wrong. And he doesn’t understand why God is making him suffer so much, and more, why God is absent, leaving Job all alone. And, as Job is quickly reaching the end of his rope, he demands God that answers him. He says starting in Verse 8: “Look, I go east; he’s not there; west, and don’t discover him; north in his activity, and I don’t grasp him; he turns south, and I don’t see.” Job believes that if he could just corner God, then Job could prove he’s right and that God is wrong. And he believes God is being elusive because God knows Job is probably right… Job says God would understand me; God would listen to me, and God would not retaliate against me, which we see in verses 1-4; Job says that those who do the right thing — like me — are able to argue with God (Verse 6) — They are, just like Job believes of himself, justified to challenge God! And still, God remains silent. And Job becomes more and more isolated and alone. Job wants to see in two different ways: He wants to visibly see God, so he can question God; and He wants to understand what God is doing and what God is thinking. Making God a god? Faith and hope in God are not taking what we think is right and should be done and making God adhere to those things. In other words, we’re making God into our own image when we do that. Again, Job was righteous and was suffering for no apparent reason other than for God to test Job’s faith. Well, remember, we’re only in the middle of this story, and we don’t have the whole picture yet. In other words, we can’t simply just make a conclusion with what we know halfway through this story. We don’t understand the conflict and call it the resolution. But the authors are pretty clear here: We are not God. But does the fact that we are not God mean we are alone and God will not hear us? Alone? The Book of Job has always brought up really tough questions about how we’re supposed to relate to God. It also brings up questions as to whether we just chalk it up to God’s will and say empty words such as “Well, God has a plan” or “If it’s meant to be, then it will happen” and vice-versa. It’s with these meaningless phrases that we’ve actually given up without realizing it — even when it sounds like we’re simply putting it all in God’s hands. We’re really, actually losing faith in these times when we do that. Because we’re not seeking strength, as we said last week. And we’re not seeking to strengthen our faith, as Soren Kierkegaard teaches us today. You see, what Job shows us — just like a third of the Psalms, which are laments — is that we have to struggle to understand; we have to wrestle with what may seem like God’s absence in order to truly find God; and we have to question God — God is big enough to handle that, I promise. This is how we grow stronger, and this is how we grow more faithful. Because if we just walk away from it and forget about trying to understand it, we’re simply giving up. Job demands this trial with God. He’s not sinning. He’s not cursing God; he is striving with every ounce of strength and faith that he has left to understand God. At the closing of our reading today, those two powerful verses in 16 and 17, we see Job’s resolve: “God has weakened my mind; the Almighty has frightened me. Still I’m not annihilated by darkness; he has hidden deep darkness from me.” Those verses are some of the toughest to translate in the Old Testament. On one hand, we can see that maybe Job wants to just die. But on another, Job sees that God is sustaining him even through these struggles. Job hasn’t given up because God hasn’t given up. We can say that it’s in Job’s continual and relentless searching for God that his faith in God is growing. Job has no doubt that God exists. That’s the problem with us today. When God doesn’t seem to answer our deepest prayers in suffering, we begin to question God’s presence and existence; Not Job! Job knows full well God is there. And, yeah, Job wants a piece of God… That scares him. But he also realizes that darkness hasn’t devoured him. That he still has hope and faith and strength and courage. Why? “Because God has hidden deep darkness — DEATH — from me.” (Verse 17). Where are you! We get to question God, too. We might not have the patience or endurance or faith or righteousness of Job — —Job is the main character here because he’s supposed to be so righteous… …a good example of righteousness. We probably fall short. We probably would have given up, or just dismissed it with trivial words by now. No, Job shows us that we have to seek God earnestly. Intensely. Demand of God “What is happening in my life?” “Where are you, God!?” Job refuses to be passive. And he also refuses to give up his faith. Arguing with God is an act of faith. If there is something in your life or in this world of ours — some struggle or pain or atrocity or suffering — we’re not to be passive about it. Even though we may be frightened — terrified, just as Job is — we must meet it head-on. Look to God, seek God, pray for courage from the very God we are trying to understand and move. Go forward. Do something. Act. Challenge. And never stop believing. Eloi, Eloi… Again, do we even simply finish the Book of Job, let alone only get through half of it, and base everything that we know of our faith upon it? Certainly not. We know so much more. A wise pastor once said you can find the Gospel in any book of the Bible, Old or New Testament. Job is demanding an answer from God. That answer is found in these words: “Eloi, Eloi, Lama Sabachthani!” “My God, My God. Why have you forsaken me!” These are Jesus’s very last words on the cross before he dies: Questioning where God is in his suffering! What does this have to do with Job? Let’s prove that the Gospel can be found right here in Job. Here it is: Job is not alone in his suffering. Because Jesus is God on the cross suffering. God is suffering every sin that we have ever committed and will commit. God knows exactly what its like to suffer. We are not alone in our suffering either. Because Jesus is God on the cross suffering. Suffering every sin that we have ever committed and will commit. The response to Job and the response to us today remains the same: I suffer with you! You are not alone. The depth of any human suffering has been taken into God’s very self. “And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow — not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below — indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom 8.38-39). Emmanuel God is with us. In good times and in bad. God hears us always. Suffering is a part of life. It happens, it does. We wear out our knees praying for help, for justice, for easing the pain, and for prolonging of life or those cherished moments. We cry out, lying on floor in the middle of the night. “My God, My God, have you forsaken me?” All the while, God is suffering right by your side. Job doesn’t give up. Again, it’s the endurance, not the patience, of Job. He endures because he seeks. And he seeks because he believes. And he believes because he seeks. Job grows stronger in his faith. And we, too, grow stronger in our faith in these times. It’s only when we don’t act — whether it’s in our own suffering or the suffering of those halfway around the world — in which we trivialize and weaken our faith. Stand strong. We have the examples of God’s love all around us — here today, in this very room. And a whole lifetime of our own experiences to draw from. And timeless examples from those who walked and suffered before us, too. We are not alone. Emmanuel. God with us. We are not alone. Amen

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