First Mennonite Church
May 12, 2019
God in the Book of Job (Part I)
Text: Job 1:1-2:10
In my last two sermons I spoke about our need to seek God and of the power of his presence. For today, I could have chosen to speak about God’s sovereignty or righteousness or wisdom and there would be a whole lot to know about those aspects of God’s character. Knowledge about the character of God not only would make us grow closer to the Lord, but would also help transform our lives into the likeness of Jesus. Throughout the Bible we find stories of God’s work that reveal to us various aspects of his character. But in the book of Job, God’s character becomes more complex to understand. The God in the book of Job makes us pause and to reconsider our understanding of God. Therefore, let us start by reading the entire first chapter and part of the second.
The image of God or the character of God, as portrayed in the book of Job, makes us question some deeply held assumptions we have about God. Among those are: that God is on the side of the righteous, that God protects and blesses the one who walks blamelessly before God. On the other hand, we also have the assumption that if God is pleased with the righteous he certainly is against the unrighteous and that he punishes all unrighteousness. Simply put, God rewards and protects those who do what is good and God punishes those who do what is evil. Consequently, things go well for those who do well and things go bad for those who do bad things. But for us who know what the book of Job is all about, we discover the first challenge to that assumption from the very first verse of the book. If God is just, why would he allow innocent Job to suffer? If God is almighty, why do bad things happen to good or innocent people today? If God is sovereign, why would he bother to know what Satan thinks of those who are under the care of God? Or, is it the practice of God to bet on those who walk uprightly before his eyes? Does he use the righteous to make bets with the devil? In the case of Job, it seems as if God wanted to prove Job’s faithfulness to Satan, despite everything that would befall Job. If that were the case, is that the reason why the innocent suffer? Why would Darrell, the only son of some acquaintance of mine, had to die so tragically in a car wreck? If God is all loving and almighty, why would two children, a boy and girl of my neighbor be born autistic? As for that matter, why was my first child born deaf? If God is in control, why did he not interrupt the forces of nature that left thousands of families homeless due to the fires in Paradise, or the thousands for farmers who lost their livelihood to the flooding in Nebraska and Missouri this past spring? All of these questions about the nature and character of God are not only for philosophical exercise, but are existential questions, which sooner or later confront us in life. Therefore, today and in the next two Sundays, I would like for us to consider the images of God as presented in the book of Job.
Job’s perfect moral character is stated three times in our passage today (1:1, 8, 2:3). That man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil. Job’s blamelessness and fear of God is illustrated in the way he cared for his children. After every party Job’s children had, Job would offer sacrifices of atonement, maybe, to clear his children from any possibility of having blasphemed against God, even if just in their heart. In the introductory part of the story we are not given further examples of Job’s righteous life. But there are windows into his acts of mercy and consideration. Later in the book, Job claims:
I delivered the poor who cried,
and the orphan who had no helper.
13 The blessing of the wretched came upon me,
and I caused the widow’s heart to sing for joy.
14 I put on righteousness, and it clothed me;
my justice was like a robe and a turban.
15 I was eyes to the blind,
and feet to the lame.
16 I was a father to the needy,
and I championed the cause of the stranger (29:12-16).
In chapter 31, Job speaks about his acts of kindness towards the widow, the orphan, the oppressed, and how he guarded his tongue from speaking evil against his neighbor. Job recounts how he treated justly his servants and all of these he said, because, “I was in terror of calamity from God,
and I could not have faced his majesty (31:23).
Job seems to be the pride of God. When the angels came to present themselves before God, the Satan, or the Accuser, came along. And the Lord asks Satan about his whereabouts. The Satan answers that he has been roaming up and down the earth. At this point of the conversation, God inquires whether or not Satan had noticed Job. Satan replies, he has and then accuses God that he buys or barters loyalty in exchange for blessings and wellbeing. Satan expresses his confidence that if God were to retrieve his blessing from Job, Job would certainly curse God at his face.
The Evil One says, “You have put a hedge around him, but if you take away that hedge and he loses all your blessings, he will curse you to your face.” In chapter two, Satan repeats his malicious accusation. It is here where God seems to use Job as a betting chip. God bets on Job that he will remain faithful even if he loses everything, which he does indeed. Job loses all his livestock and even his children. But despite all his loss, we read: Then Job arose, tore his robe, shaved his head, and fell on the ground and worshiped. 21 He said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”
22 In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrongdoing.
And once again there was another meeting between God and his angels and Satan was in attendance again. God once again calls Satan’s attention on Job. This time, Satan bets that if Job’s health was touched, he would certainly curse God to his face. And God allows Satan to touch Job’s skin, but to spare his life. Even Job’s wife seems upset that Job keeps his integrity and would not accuse God of neglect or wrongdoing.
At this stage of the story, Job is all the opposite to the American mentality of from rags to riches. Job goes the opposite road, from riches to ashes and still yet utters with integrity and calmness, “Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?”
Let me close here for today, but let us for a minute search our heart about the reason we serve God. Why do you persist in your attempt of serving God? Do you do so because you feel obliged to somehow show gratitude for the ways God has been good to you? Do you do so because you’ve come to the realization of God’s great love with which he has loved and continues to love you that you are responding in love? If you would lose the most precious thing in life, which could be one of your loved ones, would you still serve the Lord without questioning? On the other hand, would it be wrong to question God for the things that you simply cannot understand?
The book of Job, in part, raises some very difficult question about our faith in God. Do both things, good and bad, come from God’s hand? Does God allow Satan to tempt us? If so, would it mean that Satan can play or plays an active role in our spiritual growth, which God alone cannot bring about to happen?
The book of Job also questions the simplistic claims about Christianity. The claim that if you pray enough, believe enough, have enough faith—if you do all the right things, and give the right amount of money—then you will have all the riches and comfort and health you could ever want. If you pray the right little prayer then God will increase your property and your fortune.
The book of Job speaks about a kind of trust that clings to God when there is plenty or when there is nothing, but a heap of ashes to sit on and to writhe in pain. It is a kind of faith in a God who is not offended if we sing with joy or if we cry out tears of anger due to our troubles. Or as we find later in the book of Job, God is a God who no one can fathom the mysteries there is to him and no one can probe the limits of his wisdom and power. In other words, God is awesome and a wondrous God and he offers to be our God. Amen.