READ: Job 42.1-6, 10-17
For 27 years, Nelson Mandela suffered in a host of South African prisons.
He was sent to prison for treason.
His crime was fighting to overthrow apartheid — a system of racial segregation that privileged whites.
And Nelson Mandela suffered severely.
The conditions in the prisons were deplorable.
Beatings and abuse were regular.
Having to work in the lyme quarry caused permanent damage to his eyes.
He wasn’t able to attend his mother’s funeral.
Nor was he able to attend the funeral of his firstborn son, who died in a car accident.
He wasn’t able to see his wife, who also had been imprisoned for continuing her husband’s fight for freedom,
and his own daughters weren’t allowed to visit him for many years.
Many people don’t know that Nelson Mandela was actually born into royalty in his family.
His great-grandfather was a tribal king.
And Mandela’s grandfather and father held prominent positions.
Nelson Mandela was baptized a Methodist and attended Methodist schools.
As a young adult, he had the opportunity to study at the University of Fort Hare, an elite black university in South Africa; the University of London; the University of South Africa; and the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.
Nelson Mandela was a well educated man.
He had prominence in his culture.
He had a wonderful wife and family and clan.
He was a somebody.
But when he used those God-given gifts to fight for freedom in a harshly segregated society, it was all taken away from him.
He lost everything.
For 27 years, he suffered.
Well, for the last four weeks, we’ve been working through key parts of this Book of Job to understand where God is in suffering —- what we call Theodicy —
and why bad things happen to good people — what we call divine justice.
We found that, like Job, it is in seeking God in our suffering that we gain strength.
We understand that we’re not simply set adrift in our lives.
and that new strength results in increased faith, in which we begin seeing God in and around us.
We understand that we’re not alone.
and that when we gain that strength and faith, we need to listen to hear God speak.
We understand that we are not God, and we need to stop telling God what God should do.
In this folktale called the Book of Job, we see the righteous Job — who has lost everything and is suffering horribly for no good reason — going through these steps;
fighting to maintain his faith;
challenging God to speak, but not sinning;
and finally being ready to hear from God.
Now that God has spoken — and it wasn’t the response that Job wanted from God —
Job understands that he is not God;
only God is God, and Job faithfully accepts his life — whether it’s ashes or dust or something else.
And God doesn’t make Job suffer or apologize for Job’s questioning of God’s justice.
It’s OK to do that, this story suggests.
Who defines ‘righteous’?
Can one be righteous but still lacking in following God’s will?
You know, Job’s three friends accuse the suffering — but righteous — Job with having offended God or having sinned against God in some way that caused God to inflict such harsh punishment against him.
Job refuses to accept those affronts,
and God affirms Job’s righteousness.
In fact, if we were to read a few more verses tucked in here, God addresses the three friends harshly for their false accusations against Job.
And while Job has accepted his lot in life —
that is, God’s justice is different from human justice —
Job receives much at the end of the story.
Now, it’s tough to call it reward:
Job lost his 10 children, his livelihood, his status and his health.
And although God never comes right out and says “I was wrong…,”
God does not only restore Job’s life, but God increases — even doubles — it.
Job has even more money and land, his extended family comes to help him, his health is fully restored (and he lives to be 140), and he has 10 new children.
Now, I don’t know about you, but — God forbid — if I lost one child of mine, there is nothing in this world that could ever replace him or her.
But God gives Job a new perspective, a new understanding and a new appreciation.
Now, I’m not going to rewrite the Book of Job here,
and I’m not going to argue that maybe Job had to suffer because he lacked this very thing;
I’m not doing that, and I’m not going to say that Job deserved to suffer or that the reason for his suffering was to be blessed with this new appreciation and understanding.
I’m not saying that.
What I am suggesting, though, is what we’ve been saying all along:
We probably will suffer in our lives at some time.
If anyone here hasn’t suffered, that is amazing, and definitely count your blessings.
But if you have suffered — once, or many times, or are suffering here today —
God surely will use whatever that suffering that you’ve experienced to make something beautiful with.
And no, it’s not always supposed to be a consolation…
I have friends who have suffered the losses of children who befriend and minister to those who are going through the same pain;
I know many people who have been abused in various ways, and are using those experiences to help others, to fight for justice, and raise awareness and break stigmas in our society;
I know people who have suffered greatly in a host of different ways,
and although they may never recover fully, they — at least in some way — uphold that what they’ve gone through has made them stronger in some way.
I am one of those people.
And we here are among those people.
Each of us with a story,
Each of us with a testimony.
And those who are in the midst of some sort of suffering can look to his or her brothers and sisters,
and they can look to this story of Job,
and maybe find comfort that God will use whatever it is that you’ve suffered to make something beautiful.
Must we suffer?
Do we have to suffer to earn that blessing?
If anything, Jesus paints a wonderfully clear picture of the way we are to respond to those suffering around us.
Jesus’s ministry as recorded in the Gospels shows us this;
and Jesus’s altruism as he suffered on the cross to give us eternal love and life shows us this.
And we are to be reminded daily — whether it’s in our own lives, in someone else’s or even the stories found in the Bible like Job —
that there is always room for God’s blessings in our lives,
and endless opportunities to bless others who are enduring a painful experience both here and around the world today.
Job never gets back his first 10 children;
but it’s interesting to see what he does with his new 10 children.
In a culture in which women have no real place,
and in a very Jewish reading in the Old Testament,
it’s incredibly rare to see that among Job’s restored blessings,
the daughters are named in this book:
Jemimah, which means “dove”;
Keziah, which means “perfume”;
and Keren-happuch, which basically translates to “beautiful eyes.”
Women are rarely named in the Old Testament.
And when they are named, they aren’t always so significant as this.
The authors tell us that they were beautiful — no one more beautiful than they.
They were given an inheritance.
That’s a big deal.
Only sons were ever given inheritances in those days, and for many years to come.
Something changed in Job, and those couple of verses in this epilogue, say a lot about who Job has become.
How Job has been changed through this all.
Again, we look at restoration as restitution sometimes in our culture and our lives.
God’s justice — even though Job challenges it — is not human justice.
Restoration, we think, is a legal term and action.
We are injured by someone, and we want them to pay for our restoration.
At least in a monetary and physical sense, God recompenses Job’s life — and even goes above and beyond….
But the restoration is a bit different.
Job celebrates a long and wonderful life;
he has a new appreciation for the people in his life — all people;
and Job is satisfied for better understanding his and our Creator.
That’s what restoration is.
Don’t confuse restitution with restoration, as we’re so apt to do, especially when we read this story.
Because it’s not restoration on human terms or in human ways;
just like the restoration that Jesus gave to us wasn’t on human terms or in human ways…
It was so much more, and it is so much more in our lives.
We won’t all die, but we will all be changed, the Apostle Paul tells us in 1st Corinthians.
It’s that change — that transformation — that is true restoration.
It’s a new and closer understanding of what it means to live in the shadow of God’s wings.
We may suffer, but we will be changed.
On February 11, 1990, Nelson Mandela was released from prison after 27 years of confinement and abuse.
Was he the same man that he was 27 years before?
Were the life he knew and the people he loved given back to him?
Was he changed?
And we probably know the rest of the story:
He helped lead the South African anti-apartheid revolution and end segregation in his country;
he became the first black head of state and the first elected in a fully representative democratic election.
He became president of South Africa from 1994-1999.
And he not only worked tirelessly against institutionalized racism in his country, but full racial reconciliation.
All that Mandela suffered gave birth to something so much bigger than himself.
He truly saved lives.
God used his experiences and his faith to provide a kind of restoration that was so much bigger than himself.
We might not be able to change our situations, but we can change our perspectives — if we’re looking in the right direction.
Job didn’t give up, and neither did Nelson Mandela.
The person who says: “I will conquer this … and live a happy life is already halfway through to victory,” Mandela once wrote.
Job finally prays to God — Job stops demanding justice from God; he stops telling God what God should do —
and it is only then that God answers Job.
And that answer comes through faith:
* It is Job’s faith in God that that heals him.
And it is our faith in God that that heals us.
* It is Job’s faith in God that makes him whole.
It is our faith in God that makes us whole.
* And it is Job’s faith in God that restores him.
And it is our faith in God that restores us.