First Mennonite Church
May 26, 2019
God in the Book of Job (Part III)
Text: Job 2:11-13; 3:1-3, 11-13, 20-26; 4:1-9
Today, I will conclude our three-part series on Job. As I said last Sunday, the story of Job does not respond to the question of why the innocent suffers. But the story allows us to begin to see a bigger picture about God, the world, and especially about us humans. God cannot be relegated or limited to our definitions of who he is and how he should act or how he should not act. As for the created world and universe, there is more than we can ever comprehend. Even today, with all the advances in science and technology, the universe is still being explored and many mysteries are still being discovered. With respect of humanity, the book of Job points out to our fallacies and short sightedness, not only regarding God and the world around us, but even about ourselves, our purpose in life. Can we hold God beholden to our moral standards, that is, can we oblige God to reciprocate with us? What is the purpose of life? Who am I? Should living the good life be the highest goal in life? Do I have an obligation before God, the world and my fellow neighbor? With respect of suffering, do we offend God if we dare to ask him why?
According to our passage, when Job got stricken with a skin disease, and when his three friends learned about it, they came to comfort Job. Their eyes could not believe Job for what he had become. Job’s three friend showed great empathy; they raised their voices and wept aloud; they tore their robes and threw dust in the air upon their heads. They sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great. What amazing signs of empathy and compassion. Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar for seven days proved to be exemplary friends, genuinely reaching out to their friend Job. But the silence of seven days and seven nights was broken when Job opened his mouth. Our text seem to suggest that he entered into a state of depression, bordering self-loathing. Job goes at length to argue his innocence. He even accuses God for his evil that has befallen him.
So what was the problem with Job’s friends? What was it that they did wrong? Eliphaz could hardly wait for Job to stop moaning about his pain when he started talking. Eliphaz seems to have the right, not only to express his ideas about why people suffer, but even more so of defending God against anyone who would dare challenge the righteousness of God. Eliphaz’s rebuke of Job was then followed by that of his two other friends. The three of them accused Job of wrongdoing. They insisted that Job’s plight was the result of his deeds, for God would not punish the innocent. They accused Job of being indifferent to the needy and the weak. They accused Job greed and arrogance. God would not leave the righteous childless, they claimed. Both Eliphaz and Bildad insinuated that Job’s children died because of their sins, as well. Therefore, when God finally comes to meet Job, he rebukes Eliphaz and his two friends. In Job 42, verse seven, God said to Eliphaz, “I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has.
So, what can we learn about suffering in the book of Job? First, that the book does not answer the question of why people suffer. For if the story of Job was intended to be our guide and example of what God does or will do when people suffer, why did my friend Olive who lost her two children to a fatal accident has not gotten four lovely children? Why do so many people who lost all their retirement savings during the financial crash are still scraping by a living, somehow, even as they near the end of their lives? These people have not gotten back what they lost and much less double their loss as Job did. I believe that in part the book of Job is not intended to be the road map for us to understand why there is suffering in the world, but to guide us how not to respond to suffering.
Job’s friends started off very well when they came to see Job. They took the time to go visit and comfort their suffering friend. That in itself was a miracle and when that happens today, it becomes a greater miracle, because the excuse is that we are so busy. I am guilty of making that excuse sometimes. You see, the miracle that happens when someone is sick and suffering might not be that the person would recover and regain two-fold his or her loss, but that God would change someone’s heart to take the time to go visit that person, to write a letter or card of sympathy, to help give a ride when the person needs to go to the doctor, or to take her or him a bowl of delicious soup.
When Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar were still a distance away, they raised their voices and wept because they could not recognize their dear friend for what he had become. They sat beside Job silently for seven days. This reminds me of Lenny, one young lady who came to visit Arsi, my sister when she was fighting cancer. Lenny and her mom to see my sister. When Lenny saw the one who just a couple of week before had taught her in Sunday school, she just broke sobbing. She sobbed the entire time she during her visit. She did not say a word, but my sister and my family knew how much Lenny loved Arsi.
Had Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar left and not spoken a word to Job, I believe God would have given each of them a golden trophy for being the ultimate example of love, of empathy, and of comforters. But they opened their mouths for too long and even worse, they blamed the victim. Eliphaz’s and his two friends’ attitude is common even today. A black man is killed by cops and the explanation given is that he had something in his hand—the ubiquitous cell phone. He should not have anything in his hand. People are trying to enter into this country and their dignity and rights are violated. Why? “Because they broke the law. It is their fault,” is the reply. Allow me to be clear on this. I am not advocating for all people to come into the country and to do it illegally. What I am saying is that for you and me, as followers of Jesus and who do not have the power make the decision to allow them in or to deny their entry, to not repeat or echo the excuses being made for their being abused and violated. When people suffer and if we try to explain why, we become legalistic, theological, or even biblical, but are not loving neighbors.
The story in our New Testament passage for today illustrates what good neighbors are. Those four men could have rationalized and theologized the reason their friend was paralytic. But instead, they went through the trouble of finding a mat to carry their friend, to risk being ridiculed for their action, to overcome their dilemma of not reaching out to Jesus at ground level, to tear and later to repair the roof of another friend’s house. According to Mark two, verse five, Jesus saw their faith and then addressed the paralytic.
So, how are we to respond when there is suffering? First, let us try to empathize with the one who suffers. If you do not know what to say, give thanks to God for that. It is enough to go, sit down and say, “I am sorry.” Your friend will know you care and you love him or her. He or she is sick and does not care to know why. God’s presence, love, and compassion are revealed through us today. God’s miracle happens when out of your busy day and life you take time to be with someone who is suffering. God’s miracle happens when you, who are not used to show emotions, shed a tear out of love for someone for whom you cannot do anything but to sit with and to hold his or her hand. God’s miracle happens, when you and I who are used to rationalize everything, including the suffering of others, keep our mouths shut. God’s miracle happens through our presence, empathy, and love for the one who suffers. We are the face, presence and compassion of God to those who suffer today. Let the miracle happen. Amen!