First Mennonite Church
May 19, 2019
The God in the Book of Job (Part II)
Job 16: 1-22
In 2004, I was in Heredia, Costa Rica, teaching for a week for SEMILLA, the Latin American Anabaptist Seminary. In Costa Rica there is a time in the year when you can almost set your clock at 2 P.M. based on the time the rain begins to fall down. Every day, at around 2 P.M., a thunderstorm would come. One morning during that week, I picked up the newspaper and there was the story of an incident of the day before. The story was about a woman who worked in San Jose, the capital. Shortly before she went home, she got a call that her child, her only one, and her visiting niece had been struck dead by lightning. The woman ran out of the building of her workplace, screaming. On the streets, some pedestrians had to keep her from throwing herself in front of moving cars. “I do not want to live; I don’t want to live anymore,” she screamed. “The only reason I had for living is now dead.” The paper also reported that lightning also killed 11 cattle that were sheltering from the rain under a tree on that same day the children were killed.
We all know of tragedies of one kind or another. And when those tragedies happen, we hear people, and sometimes even Christians say, “There is a reason for everything that happens,” or “It is the will of God,” or “All we know is that God is in control.”
The other day, I was listening to a pastor preaching. I was a little struck by the fact that throughout the sermon this pastor kept making reference to what he called “a liberal preacher” whom he heard preaching at a funeral this pastor attended. And the reason the pastor took offense at the other, was because at a funeral, the “liberal preacher,” said that the death of a young man due to street violence was not the will of God. The young Christian man was, as people would say, “at the wrong place at the wrong time.” So, let me ask you, is every death that happens, the will of God? And by will of God, I mean God was directly involved for it to happen. If that were the case, is it the will of God that my 5-year old nephew should go through life without his mother who died of cancer almost two years ago? It is hard to believe God wills such pain on a child. Was it the will of God that those two children in my earlier story should die and leave a grieving and inconsolable mother?
Here is the question again, is every death, even of the innocent, the will of God? Does God bring or cause suffering in order to teach someone something? Last Wednesday, I attended a pastors gathering in which a going-on 90, former seminary professor and pastor shared with us. Even at this age he still grieves at the pain, hardship, and as he said, “the unspeakable embarrassment” he and his family endured every time his child had an epileptic attack when they were out? Is it the will of God for this child to be born with epilepsy and to cause his family such pain? I recall a conversation I had with a friend whose first child, a daughter, was born with microcephalus—a very small head and brain. He told me, “Pastor, someone told me that Emily was born that way because God knows that Mary and I are good parents.” I believe my friend’s answer would be like Harold Kushner’s (the one who wrote the book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People) who was told fairly the same thing for having a child with progeria, the rare, progressive genetic disorder that causes children to age rapidly. Harold said, “If it was because I am a good father, and therefor God gave me a child with such awful genetic disorder, I’d rather be an average father, but to have a normal child.” Harold goes on to say that some people tell him, “You see, God had a purpose for giving you a child with progeria. See the millions of books you have sold and the comfort or understanding into the mysteries of God you have brought to millions of families.” Harold says, “How terrible it is of God if he has to beat down someone in order to teach others a lessons or to give them comfort. It is like Mrs. Clark who said to the teacher, ‘Teacher, Jimmy learns by example, if he misbehaves, hit the child next to him and he will learn his lesson to behave well.’”
We should remember that when people or when we ourselves tell someone who has suffered tragedy or is suffering because of someone in his or her family has a life-long challenge, “God knows what he is doing,” or worse, “God does not give you a burden he knows you cannot bear,” or “God might want to teach you something,” or God might be using you to teach others about grace or patience,” that those words are not helpful and much less comforting. As we will see next week, that was the problem with Job’s three friends. They said to Job, “Job, God finally caught you in your sin and has made it public. Your suffering is the result of your sin.” We know why Job suffered but he did not know why. He did know he was innocent of any wrongdoing. That is why Job kept insisting he is innocent and that God must be the one who aimed his arrow against the Job, his livelihood, his children and then his health.
The question as to why the innocent suffers is not fully answered in the book of Job. It does, however, illustrate the puzzlement the psalmist expresses in Psalm 10. There he says that it seems as if the wicked thrive and prosper, regardless of their lies, greed, abuse and even murder of the innocent.
In the later chapters of the book of Job, we are told that God finally comes to meet with Job, who had been challenging God to face Job’s charges. When God comes to Job, the Lord asks Job, “Why do you confuse the issue?
Why do you talk without knowing what you’re talking about?
Pull yourself together, Job!
Up on your feet! Stand tall!
I have some questions for you,
and I want some straight answers.
Where were you when I created the earth?
Tell me, since you know so much!
Who decided on its size? Certainly you’ll know that!
Who came up with the blueprints and measurements?
How was its foundation poured,
and who set the cornerstone,
While the morning stars sang in chorus
and all the angels shouted praise?
And who took charge of the ocean
when it gushed forth like a baby from the womb?
That was me! I wrapped it in soft clouds,
and tucked it in safely at night.
Then I made a playpen for it,
a strong playpen so it couldn’t run loose,
And said, ‘Stay here, this is your place.
Your wild tantrums are confined to this place.’ (The Message Bible)
In chapters 38-42 God asks Job more than 70 questions. Among them are these:
Have the gates of death been revealed to you? Have you seen the gates of deepest darkness? (38:17).
In what direction is lightning dispersed, or the east winds scattered over the earth? (38:24)
Does the rain have a father, or who has fathered the drops of the dew? (38:28).
What is revealing about the questions God asked Job is that despite Job’s exemplary moral character and absolute fear of the Lord, Job did not know everything there is about God or the way the creation works. When God confronted Job, he not only realized his smallness within the universe he lived, but also the limited knowledge he had about the deep mysteries of God. In order words, through those questions, God wanted to remind Job about the very basic order of creation. For a believing Job in a Creator God, he should have remembered that embedded in creation is an order established by its Creator. The sun would rise whether Job wakes up at six in the morning or not. And if Job wanted rise at 4:30 A.M., he could not command the sun to rise at that time. Embedded in the nature of creation is that if we have a cold and if someone comes around us, the germs would not say, “Oh, this is a believer, I should not infect him or her.” Or if lightning were to strike, it would not refrain from striking on a spot if the atmospheric conditions are ripe for it, only to spare the only child of that young mother as the one in Costa Rica. Embedded in the order of creation is that our physiological development during the gestation period can be affected by a genetic or environmental factor. If there is any mutation or multiple genes of the same kind, then there is a likelihood that the baby to be born will have some kind of birth defect. The genes in the chromosome, do not distinguish whether or not the baby in formation will be of Christian parents, loving parents or not.
So it is with what people call “freak accidents.” The falling tree or rock obeys the laws of gravity. If the roots of the tree are damaged and the wind is blowing strong, the tree will fall to the ground. Or if the rock on the cliff is loose, it will begin tumbling down. Neither the tree nor the rock has the capacity to discern upon whom it’s falling. It will not say, “Stop; child of God.” Or, “Hit it; unbeliever!”
We should remember that there is an order in the created world. We should know why hurricanes form and how the define their trajectories. Everything in nature acts or reacts to the order God embedded into it the day the world was created. If we chopped down all the trees, we affect the process of precipitation. If we lite a fire in the California’s dry grasslands, devastation will follow. If we do not take care of our body, we can get ill. If someone drives carelessly, accidents will happen.
Humans are the only ones who often fail to be what God intended them to be. God created humans for his joy and glory, but humans can choose to fulfill God’s purpose or not. But, have you ever heard a carrot say, “I’d rather be a lemon?” Or, a cat to say, “I am a horse?”
As for us, let us remember that God created us for a purpose. Let us seek to fulfill God’s purpose for our lives. Next Sunday, I will be speaking about how to respond when there is suffering.
May the Lord bless his word in our heart. Amen.