“Look, my eye has seen all this, my ear has heard and understood it. 2What you know, I also know; I am not inferior to you. 3But I would speak to the Almighty, and I desire to argue my case with God. 4As for you, you whitewash with lies; all of you are worthless physicians. 5If you would only keep silent, that would be your wisdom! 6Hear now my reasoning, and listen to the pleadings of my lips.
7Will you speak falsely for God, and speak deceitfully for him? 8Will you show partiality toward him, will you plead the case for God? 9Will it be well with you when he searches you out? Or can you deceive him, as one person deceives another? 10He will surely rebuke you if in secret you show partiality. 11Will not his majesty terrify you, and the dread of him fall upon you? 12Your maxims are proverbs of ashes, your defenses are defenses of clay.
Then Eliphaz the Temanite answered: 2“Should the wise answer with windy knowledge, and fill themselves with the east wind? 3Should they argue in unprofitable talk, or in words with which they can do no good? 4But you are doing away with the fear of God, and hindering meditation before God. 5For your iniquity teaches your mouth, and you choose the tongue of the crafty. 6Your own mouth condemns you, and not I; your own lips testify against you.
Then Job answered: 2“I have heard many such things; miserable comforters are you all. 3Have windy words no limit? Or what provokes you that you keep on talking? 4I also could talk as you do, if you were in my place; I could join words together against you, and shake my head at you. 5I could encourage you with my mouth, and the solace of my lips would assuage your pain.
Job 19:1-6, 19-27
Then Job answered: 2“How long will you torment me, and break me in pieces with words? 3These ten times you have cast reproach upon me; are you not ashamed to wrong me? 4And even if it is true that I have erred, my error remains with me. 5If indeed you magnify yourselves against me, and make my humiliation an argument against me, 6know then that God has put me in the wrong, and closed his net around me.
19All my intimate friends abhor me, and those whom I loved have turned against me. 20My bones cling to my skin and to my flesh, and I have escaped by the skin of my teeth. 21Have pity on me, have pity on me, O you my friends, for the hand of God has touched me! 22Why do you, like God, pursue me, never satisfied with my flesh?
23“O that my words were written down! O that they were inscribed in a book! 24O that with an iron pen and with lead they were engraved on a rock forever! 25For I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth; 26and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God, 27whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!
6Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind: 7“Gird up your loins like a man; I will question you, and you declare to me. 8Will you even put me in the wrong? Will you condemn me that you may be justified? 9Have you an arm like God, and can you thunder with a voice like his?
10“Deck yourself with majesty and dignity; clothe yourself with glory and splendor. 11Pour out the overflowings of your anger, and look on all who are proud, and abase them. 12Look on all who are proud, and bring them low; tread down the wicked where they stand. 13Hide them all in the dust together; bind their faces in the world below. 14Then I will also acknowledge to you that your own right hand can give you victory.
Then Job answered the Lord: 2“I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. 3‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. 4‘Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you declare to me.’ 5I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; 6therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”
7After the Lord had spoken these words to Job, the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite: “My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends; for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. 8Now therefore take seven bulls and seven rams, and go to my servant Job, and offer up for yourselves a burnt offering; and my servant Job shall pray for you, for I will accept his prayer not to deal with you according to your folly; for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has done.”
We talked last week about how hard it is to hold together the truth of faith with the challenges of the world. Today we dig a little further into that in two different directions. In the passages I just read, Job argues that his friends are tormenting him, pursuing him like God to make him suffer. He puts the blame for his suffering squarely on God’s shoulders.
At the same time, even while facing all the horror of his suffering and the sense of being pursued instead of cared for by God, Job also longs for God to be his redeemer. He trusts that despite everything going on, despite all the suffering he has to deal with, one day he will still see God face to face. Even though God has tormented him, Job trusts that God will build him up in the end.
That’s an amazing act of faith. Even though Job didn’t know anything about the cross, his faith fits right in with our faith that centers on Jesus and the cross. On the cross we see Jesus, innocent and suffering for us by God’s command. Jesus says in the same scene, “God, why have you forsaken me,” and, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” The true faith of Jesus, the faith of Job, and the faith of the church at its best is a faith that can absorb great suffering honestly and still cling to the hope of God’s love triumphing in the end.
That’s not a rosy, cheerful faith that denies trouble or suffering. It’s not a cynical faith that just gives up on the world and on grace as the ultimate truth. Instead, it’s a strong, honest, durable faith that sees all the pain and trouble of life, and still holds on to love.
Job has been wishing for an opportunity to confront and question God for much of the book, and in the last few chapters he finally gets his wish. God appears and questions Job. God points out the unimaginable scope of his power and knowledge. On one hand, this discussion doesn’t really answer Job’s question about why God is making him suffer. That’s frustrating from a perspective of justice and fairness. We want God to explain why Job has suffered so much, but God doesn’t deliver.
On the other hand, the discussion does give us one important answer, which is that there are some things, many things even, that are simply beyond our understanding. The human hunger for understanding is an important part of our make up; we need to seek the truth in many areas of our lives, including in our spiritual life. At the same time, we are not going to understand everything.
More importantly than that, God vindicates Job against his friends’ accusations. Instead of condemning Job for asking questions, he condemns Job’s friends for blindly defending God’s justice. God does want us to ask our questions. And God values our honest engagement more than saying what we think God wants to hear. We’re called to love God with all our heart and mind and strength; that means we can bring all our questions and fears and emotions to the altar.
Our lesson from Job’s part in this passage is that he’s right to bring his full honesty, his unfiltered feelings to God. He also shows us how to trust even when he’s angry and sad and confused. Those are all lessons we need to hear, because there are plenty of times we are sad and angry, confused and afraid. We can bring all those feelings to God without worrying that he will reject us for that. We can learn to trust even when we don’t understand.
The other important lesson in these passages is how to be a friend when someone is going through hard times. We get this lesson especially from Job’s argument with his friends. Job’s friends argue that Job’s extreme anger and his harsh words threaten faith in God. Job, on the other hand accuses them of being dishonest in their defense of God. Instead of listening to Job’s version of the truth, they are saying whatever they think will make God look good.
When I’m honest, I know I sometimes do the same thing Job’s friends. I try to make God look good. God doesn’t need us to defend him. We don’t need to talk people out of being angry with God. When people are suffering we just need to be with them, to be compassionate and show that we care. That will do more to help people see God’s love and justice than any amount of intellectual defense of God we could ever do anyway. More importantly, it will help our friends get through hard times and know they are not alone.
Job says if he were in the place of his friends and they were suffering it would be easy to condemn them, but instead he’d use his words to build them up and comfort them. That’s our calling when people we know are suffering. We can’t always help in a practical way: we can’t take away the pain when someone’s child or parent dies; we can’t hire them when they lose a job or cure them when they face a terrible illness. But we can comfort them. We can sit with them and hold their hand. We can listen to them cry or scream or complain. We can pray with them, if they want, or we can just be quiet and remind them that they are not alone.
Suffering isn’t so much an intellectual question to be figured out; it’s an emotional situation to be lived through and cared for. When someone asks, “Why does God let me suffer like this,” in some ways they are really asking, “Am I alone when I suffer?” We often don’t know the answer to the “Why” question, but we can show them that they are not alone. As Job points out, the isolation that goes along with suffering is as bad as the suffering itself.
That’s why our care ministries in the church are so important. Illness and aging can both be very isolating. As people get into their late 80s and 90s, they lose friends to death and often lose some of their independence in terms of driving and being able to do the activities that have meant a lot to them. As people stop being able to do things, they also see fewer people and feel more alone. It takes more energy for them to get to church, and so they manage to get here less often. That means they miss major opportunities to see people and their relationships weaken. That, in turn, makes them less likely to make the effort to get to church and a vicious cycle begins.
Extended communion, home visits, cards and phone calls to our members who have a hard time getting to church helps keep them connected. It reminds them that they are not alone, that their community hasn’t forgotten them. That’s a critical part of being the church in the world and being a friend for someone who is suffering.
The same is true for our Saturday morning café and other ministries of fellowship. Our society today is very isolating in general. Many of us drive to do most of our errands, park in a drive way or garage and go right from our car to our house. That means we don’t often interact with our neighbors, so those relationships are pretty weak. For those who live in less safe neighborhoods than this one, there are even more reasons to stay in the house, but the less people know their neighbors the more crime.
Imagine your life without family, without work and without a church. First, you might say, “Wow, that sounds relaxing; think how much free time I’d have.” But imagine the isolation of giving up those relationships. Now imagine the extra financial pressure to stay home created by unemployment. Many of our neighbors feel these pressures, and they feel alone as they face that uncertain future.
Our Saturday Café steps into the picture by offering people a safe, warm place to hang out. We offer friendly faces and good food. For some folks the meal makes a big difference, but more importantly, it provides real community for many people who spend much of their week alone. Community is so important, especially when we suffer, and of course, we all suffer.
We see a vision of the church emerging as we look at what Job and his friends do right and wrong. The church is called to be a community where people are supported to explore faith. Even when we don’t agree with how someone sees God, we’re called to give them space to express and explore their faith. As we explore openly, even expressing anger, confusion and pain, we see glimpses of God’s truth and we grow in faith.
We’re also called to be friends to those who suffer. We do that at Laurelton through ministries of care, through outreach and fellowship activities and through direct service ministries like mission trips, tutoring, Habitat, serving at Cameron and sharing Christmas baskets with neighbors in need. A lot of our best care happens informally as we simply get to know each other better by spending time together. As we deepen our relationships we’ll move from sharing polite conversation to sharing deep concerns with one another.
The more we truly engage with our neighbors and with our brothers and sisters in Christ, the more we will deepen our own faith. That will enable us, like Job, to trust God even when everything is going wrong. From that place of deep faith we can bear witness to our hope in God even as we listen to people in deep pain without trying to defend God or talk them out of their sorrow. With Job, we will be able to say, “I know that my redeemer lives.” And we will be able to share that redemption with a community in need of love.
Thanks be to God.