6/20/21 – Pentecost 4 – “Trust Amid Suffering” – Job 38:1-11

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

1. Our text for this morning is the Old Testament Reading from Job 38. This moment in the book of Job occurs toward the end of the book—it’s the beginning of the end, really. So, to fully understand and appreciate today’s text, we need to go back and understand the context of Job’s story. In the book of Job, we are invited into Job’s suffering so that we might learn from it. And, admittedly, this might seem like a bit of an odd time to be discussing suffering because we’ve just coming out of a difficult time of suffering. We pray that for the most part this difficult time is behind us. But Job’s story is important for us to hear right now because it reminds us that on this side of eternity, suffering can come at any time. So, with this in mind, we turn to the story of Job.

2. The book of Job begins, as most stories do, with an introduction to the main character. We’re introduced to Job as a blameless and righteous man. He honors God and is blessed by him because of his faithfulness. Job is the picture of righteousness. Right after this brief introduction, however, the scene shifts. We see a heavenly court room scene where God is depicted as the judge sitting on the judgement seat. He is surrounded by the heavenly host (that is, the angelic beings). And in this scene, God presents Job as the ultimate example and picture of righteousness. However, there’s someone else in the heavenly court room—the accuser (or, Satan, as we would call him). Satan strongly objects to God’s presentation of Job as the picture of righteousness. In effect, Satan says to God, “Job is only righteous because you reward him. Let him suffer, then see how righteous he is.” And so, in one of the strangest moments in all of the biblical story, God says to Satan, “Okay. Go ahead and afflict Job with suffering and we’ll see how he reacts.” So, we as readers and hearers of this story are left wondering, “What just happened? Why is God allowing Job to suffer?” And so, we assume that the rest of the the story will answer why God allows suffering…but it doesn’t. The book is actually concerned with answering two different questions related to God’s justice: 1.) Is God just? and 2.) Does God run the world according to justice? As we witness these questions being explored, we’ll also learn something about suffering.

3. So, immediately after the heavenly court room scene, Job is inflicted with incredible suffering. His family is taken away, his possessions and wealth are destroyed, and he is in an incredibly painful place. And so, the bulk of the rest of the book is an interaction between Job and three (and eventually a fourth) of his friends. They go back and forth with long speeches, but let me summarize the essence of what’s going on. Job’s basic argument is this: 1.) “I am innocent.” and 2.) “My suffering isn’t divine justice—I haven’t done anything to deserve this.” Now, from that heavenly court room scene, we know that both of these things are true. What’s problematic is Job’s conclusion. Job says that based on these two assertions, one of two things must be true as a result: either A.) God does not run the world according to justice, or B.) God in his very character is unjust. That’s Job’s argument. His three friends, however, have a different argument which is the opposite of Job’s. They claim: 1.) God is just, and 2.) God does run the world according to justice. Of course, we know that both of these assertions are true. The issue, once again, comes in their conclusion. So, they say that what must be true as a result of this is “Job must have sinned.” Finally, at the end of the exchange between Job and these three friends, Job continues to protest his innocence. He continues to insist that he has done nothing to deserve this suffering. And finally, after this long, incredible emotional rollercoaster that he’s been on, Job finally accuses God of wrong-doing and he demands an explanation from God, which, of course, he’s going to get, as we know from our reading. But before God enters the scene, one more friend shows up—a man named Elihu. And Elihu has a more nuanced perspective on the situation that he wants to share. He says, “Job, you were wrong to accuse God. God is just and God does run the world according to justice. But at the same time, Job might not have sinned or done anything to deserve divine justice. Maybe, his suffering is a warning to avoid future sin and to build character.” This response from Elihu sheds some light on the arguments of Job and his other three friends, and it reveals how overly simplistic their conclusions were. But ultimately Elihu’s conclusion falls into the same problematic trap that the other four men’s conclusions did. The problem is they all assume they can understand God and his ways. And, as God will make quite clear to Job, they simply can’t understand him.

4. So, it’s at this point that God shows up on the scene, as we heard in our text for today. And he shows up in this mighty whirlwind. You can almost picture the booming voice coming out of the cloud as Job cowers like a scared little child. But God doesn’t primary come to scare Job. He comes to remind him that he has his eyes on details in the universe that Job can’t even begin to comprehend. And so the first main point that God makes to Job is that the universe is a complex place. Job has a limited vantage point—he exists for only a short time in a small, specific place in the world. There’s no way from Job’s limited perspective that he can understand the complexities of the universe. The second point that God makes is that carrying out justice in the world is also complex. It’s not as simple as rewarding every good deed and punishing every bad deed. Carrying out justice in a sin-filled world is complex. And finally, in the last point that God makes to Job, he uses that infamous illustration of the behemoth and leviathan to illustrate how the world is an incredible, amazing place, but it’s not perfect or safe. We live in an amazing world, but while it is filled with sin, it is not designed to prevent suffering. And then, God just disappears and leaves Job to ponder the point of all this. And the point is this: God invites Job to trust in his wisdom and character through his suffering rather than trying to figure out the reasons for it. And interestingly, God actually commends Job for the way he handled this situation. Even though Job said some things he shouldn’t have. Even though Job accused God of wrong-doing, at the very end of the book, God actually commends Job, which reveals to us that God wants his children to bring their pain and suffering to him.

5. And so, for you and me, this book is an invitation to bring our pain and grief to God in our darkest moments. It’s an invitation to trust that God cares deeply for us and he knows what he is doing, even when we can’t see it. And there is so much suffering in this world that we can’t understand the reason for. So, when we go through those moments of suffering, we look to the one place where God definitively demonstrated his care and love for us—we look to the cross of Jesus. Because in Jesus God entered into our sin, suffering, and pain and he allowed himself to be overcome by it so that we might be forgiven and given new life in him. See, the world is a complex place that is filled with pain and suffering. But rather than trying in vain to understand it, we trust the one who does and who invites us to bring our suffering and pain to him. And we also know and trust that in his good time he will graciously take us from this valley of sorrow to himself in heaven.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

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