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Edward F. Markquart

Series B

Lent 3 B     Job 38:1-11        Old Testament Sermon Series     Job 1:6-11   

A sermon on Job. Believe it or not, the story of Job is not part of our Sunday morning lectionary readings from the Bible. (Job 38:1-11 is found as an alternate reading for Lent 3B, but it is not the primary reading.)

Suffering. Suffering is part of life. Suffering is part of your life and suffering is part of my life. That is just the way life is. Suffering is part of the real world.

When suffering happens away from us, it does not affect us so deeply. That is, we hear on TV about a rushing flood and eleven people were killed or we read in the newspaper about an airplane crash that killed two hundred people, and we are bothered by that. But when the tragedy comes real close to home and our house, either in your own family or your own neighborhood or your own congregational family, you often ask the question: Why me? Why us? Why is this evil happening to us? Is God punishing us? Why is God allowing this evil to happen to us? One often has feelings of anger, rage, bitterness and sorrow. We often persist in the question: God, why did you allow this suffering to occur within my family?

All of us expect a certain degree of tragedy during our life time but certain individuals and families seem to have more than their fair share of suffering. In our mind’s eye, we have this sense of a roughly equal distribution of pain for each person or family or nation, and so when a particular person or family experiences what we feel is an excessive amount of pain, that bothers us. Certain individuals or families experience such incredible pain that they have more than their fair share. So was it for the following people in our parish.

During the past thirty years of my ministry here at Grace Lutheran Church, there has been an enormous amount of suffering, and so many people and so many families have suffered so immensely. I will recall for you three incidents, but there are hundreds more. Years ago, on Mike Kallianenen.’s wedding day, the groom went for a joy ride on Highway #99, and when the joy ride and car accident was over, two young adults were dead down at Harborview Medical Center. The whole wedding party was gathered down at the trauma center at Harborview. The groom was brain dead, and it was many months, perhaps years, he died. It was the biggest mess emotionally and spiritually that I have even been part of. A person asks the question: why did this happen? Why is God picking on me? Why has this terrible tragedy happened to our family? Why was this allowed? A person screams these questions out into the night? Or we recall the tragedy of when Marvia Custer’s older daughter, Deanna, was murdered. Like all murders, it was a cruel murder and it left everyone in the family devastated. It was a few years later when Marvia’s second young adult daughter was tragically killed by an irresponsible driver who went to jail for his crime. You go out to that cemetery and you visit the graves of two daughters lying there side by side.  A person asks the question in that situation: why did this happen? Why is God picking on me? Why has this terrible tragedy happened to our family? Why was this allowed? A person screams these questions out into the night? Or, I think of Gene and Joanne Johnson from years ago, when their daughter was killed and their granddaughter was killed in a car accident. Then, a few years later, their son, only forty, died of a heart attack. It was almost two much for a mother and a father to bear. And in that situation, they legitimately asked the question: Why God? Why did this happen? Why is God picking on me? Why has this terrible tragedy happened to our family? Why was this allowed? A person screams these questions out into the night? Sometime during our lives, all of us will ask those questions in personal ways.

As we work through the classic books and personalities of the Old Testament, we discover that the Old Testament had an answer for these questions. That is, when you look at the major personalities of the Old Testament, these gigantic mountains like Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Judges, Samuel, David, Solomon, and all the prophets, one after another. In all of these Old Testament authors, it is absolutely clear: if you obey God and walk in the ways of God, God will bless your life. But if you do not obey God nor walk in the ways of the Lord, God will punish you and you will experience the wrath of the Lord. AND, these Old Testament authors took it one step further when they said: when bad things happen to people, it must be as a consequence of something evil that they have done. Any suffering that happens to you is a consequence of your sin. It is either your sin or your parent’s sin or your children’s sin. That became the iron law. Therefore, from our parish, the Kallianen’s would ask: what did we do so wrong that there was that tragic car accident the day of the wedding? Or Marvia would ask the question: what did I do wrong that I was so severely punished? Or what did my children do wrong that we were all so severely punished. Or the Johnson’s would ask: what did we do wrong that our daughter and granddaughter were killed and our son died of a heart attack? The Bible was clear for a thousand years, from 1300 BC to 300 BC, and the answer was clear to any Jewish mind: You have violated the law of God and you are experiencing the wrath and punishment of God. … The Bible is so clear in Deuteronomy and Exodus and the Kings and the Psalms, the Proverbs and the prophets: if you walk in God’s ways, God will bless you. If you violate God’s ways, God will punish you. AND many people came to the erroneous conclusion is that all suffering is the result of sin, either my sin, my parent’s sin, or my children’s sin.

But…about a thousand years later, after the law of Moses and after the kings and after the prophets, we see another mountain. In fact, we need to go and visit a whole another mountain range called the Olympic Mountains out on the Olympic Peninsula and there on that mountain range west of Seattle is the grand old mountain, Mount Olympus. This symbolizes Job, Mount Job, a whole another mountain range and mountains. The book of Job suggests to us that there is enormous suffering that happens to us which is not the result of your sinfulness. That suffering is part of the fabric of life and that suffering is not the result of God’s punishment. That book, the book of Job, will become a hint of a whole new understanding of suffering as we move into the New Testament, Jesus, the cross and his suffering on the cross. One of the major differences between the Old Testament and New Testament is the role and purpose of suffering.

Let us continue this sermon by focusing on the story of Job. Once upon a time, there was man by the name of Job. He was one of the wisest and richest men who had ever lived and he was a very good and fine man. Job walked with God, was blameless and upright and did everything to avoid evil. He was truly a man of God. Job had seven sons and three daughters. He was enormously wealthy. He had seven thousand sheep and three thousand cattle and a thousand oxen and five hundred donkeys. Job had enormous wealth. When he or his family would throw a party or a feast, when the party was over, Job would give an atonement offering to God for any sin that had been committed unwittingly. Job was as upright and as good and as loyal and as God-fearing as had been any person before him.

One day, an angel, the fallen angel called Satan, was up there standing before the council of God, and God said, “Where have you been lately Satan?” Satan replied, “I have been out there, roaming around the earth.” God said, “Yes, I know. In your wanderings, did you see my servant Job? A man who loves me, is upright and does everything to avoid evil.” Satan said, “O yes, I have seen your servant, Job. You protect Job from all the disasters and if you, God, did not protect him from all those disasters, he would not be so obedient to you. He is obedient to you because he knows that you will protect him. If you take all his protection away, he will curse you.” God said, “Go ahead. We’ll see what happens.”

The next day, it all came crashing down. Have you ever had that happen? Where you thought that life was going along real smoothly and in one day, your house of cards came crashing down. The whole thing came crashing down. It was a total disaster. You have seen it happen to other people, and therefore, you know that it can happen to you. You and I build our illusions of security, and one day, it all comes crashing down. That is what happened to Job.

On that day in Job’s life, the warring enemies attacked, the Sabeans, and they killed all the donkeys and all the servants taking care of those donkeys. Before you knew it, there was a lightning storm that wiped out all the sheep. Before you knew it, the Chaldeans attacked and killed all the camels. And then, all ten children of Job were having a party and all the children and grandchildren were there at the house, and a sudden storm came roaring through and shattered the whole house and everyone who was in it. All ten of Job’s children were killed. A servant came to tell Job all of this. Job experienced enormous despair and inner pain and said, “I came into the world with nothing and I will leave this world with nothing. The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Praise be the name of the Lord.” And the Bible adds, “And Job did not blame God” for the disasters that happened.

A short time later, the angels were all up before the council of God and God asked Satan, “What have you been doing lately, Satan?” Satan replied, “I have been roaming around the earth.” God said, “Have you seen my servant, Job, down there? He is a really upright man. He worships me and avoids evil and has stood up to your test.” Satan replied, “Yes, but you didn’t let me take his health away. You let me take his health away and I will bring that man down to his knees. You wouldn’t let me touch his body, but when I do, that will make him crack.” God says, “Go ahead.” … So Satan went down to earth to find Job. Satan gives Job this disease and Job was covered with sores from head to foot. Job went out to the garbage dump and takes a piece of pottery, breaks it, and with the sharp piece of pottery, Job scrapes off his sores. Job’s wife comes out of the garbage dump and says, “Job, curse God. Curse God and die.” Job said, “No, I am not going to curse God and die. The Lord brings good things in our lives; the Lord brings bad things in our lives; praise be the name of God. I will not curse God.” And Job did not blame God for the disasters which happened in his life.

Then, things change. Three friends come to visit him. Job was sitting there in the dump and these three friends see the disasters that have happened to Job. For seven days, the friends say nothing. Meanwhile, Job is simmering and simmering and simmering and on the seventh day, Job’s anger explodes when he says, “Curse be the day that I was born. Curse by the night that I was born. My pain is so great that I want to die. God has been miserable to me.”

Now, the three friends had carefully read Moses, Samuel, David, Solomon and the prophets. These three friends knew the rules. They knew that when Job was suffering, it was his fault, his parent’s fault, or his children’s fault. Somebody has to be blamed. And so, for the next thirty chapters, these three friends stick it to him, trying to convince Job that he is at fault.

Here what the first friend says in the book of Job. In chapter four (TEV, Today’s English Version), Eliphaz says, “Job, will you be annoyed if I speak and give you a little advice?  Happy is the person whom God corrects. Do not resent when God corrects you for your sins.” Job would get angrier and angrier inside. He was simmering and smoldering and simmering and smoldering inside.

The next friend, Bildad, says (chapter 8), “Are you, Job, finally through with your windy speech? God never quits justice. God never fails to do what is right. Your children must have sinned against God” and God punished them with the punishment that they deserved. All ten of them. Job became angrier and angrier and angrier. He was simmering and smoldering and simmering and smoldering inside.

The third friend, Zophar, says (chapter 11), “Put your heart right, Job. Reach out to God. Put away the evil and the wrong that you have been doing and repent of your ways.”

Three blind people who thought that they knew how to use the Bible, who used the Bible in order to condemn Job and said, “You Job are guilty of sin.”

Meanwhile, Job was just as blind as they were. Job starts blaming God. Listen to what Job says, “I am innocent but I no longer care. I am sick and tired of living. Nothing matters. Innocent or guilty, God will destroy us. When the innocent man’s son dies, God laughs. God gave the world to the wicked. God made the judges blind.” If God didn’t do it, who created all this misery in the world? God did. In other words, Job blamed God for all the disasters which were happening throughout the world. “I am tired of living. Listen to my complaints. Tell me the charges that are against me. Is it right for you, God, to be so cruel? To despise what you yourself have made? And then to smile at the schemes of wicked people.”

Job becomes as blind as his three so-called advisors because Job began blaming God. This goes on for thirty chapters. It is just like when you have an argument that goes around the same circle over and over again, the same words, the same thoughts, the same arguments, over and over again, for thirty chapters. The three friends finally fall exhausted and another friend comes on the scene.

Elihu is his name. Elihu is tired of it all. In chapter 32, Elihu says, “I cannot control my anger any longer because Job is justifying himself and blaming God.” Elihu was also angry at Job’s three friends. … Elihu was the youngest and he finally began to speak, “God teaches human being through suffering and uses distress to open their eyes to God.” All along, Job had been saying, “Let me see you, God. I want to see you face to face.”   Elihu said, “God uses suffering and distress to finally open our eyes to God.”

Elihu finishes his speech and there is a pause. There is a long pause and then there is a whirlwind, and God speaks out of the whirlwind and says (chapter 38), “Who are you to question my wisdom, Job? With your ignorant and empty words. Stand up like a man like a man Job, and answer the questions that I ask you. Where were you, Job, when I made the world? Where were you when I created the days and the nights and laid the foundations of the earth? Where were you when I made the leviathan and sea monsters?  Where were you Job when I created all the world, you Job who think you know so much about me? Who are you to say that I am the cause of evil in your life? Who are you to blame me? Job, you know so little. Are you, Job, trying to tell me that I the Lord God am unjust? Are you saying that I am unfair because you have suffered in this world?”

Finally, Job falls to his knees and says in chapter 42, “Lord God, I know that you are all powerful. I am so very ignorant. I have talked about things I did not really understand.” This is the key line in the whole book, “In the past, I knew only what others have told me but now I have seen you with my own eyes and I am ashamed of what I have said and done.”  In my suffering, I have seen you with my own eyes. Job falls to his knees in repentance.

After God had finished speaking, he told Job’s three friends to go and give sacrifices and ask repentance for giving Job such bad advice. Shortly after, Job’s brothers and sisters gathered around him and they had pity on him. What Job’s friends never had was pity. His friends gave advice; they did not have pity. Some people are good at giving advice but not good and giving compassion and pity.

The book of Job concludes positively, with Job receiving children and grandchildren and living to a very old, old age. 

Mount Job is in a different mountain range that the other Biblical mountains. That is, Mount Moses, Mount Samuel, Mount David, Mount Solomon, and all the mountains of the prophets say a similar message: if you obey God and his commandments, you will be blessed. If you don’t, you will experience God’s curse and punishment. That is true. BUT, that is not all the truth. When the Old Testament authors reached the erroneous conclusion that all of your suffering was a result of sin, that is wrong. The book of Job is a testament to us from God that says that all suffering is not a result of sin.

Then we move into the New Testament, and in the New Testament, you find that there is a fundamental difference towards suffering from vast majority of books of the Old Testament.  You hear the words, “God did not spare his Son from the cross, but God chose the way of the cross and the way of suffering in order to save the world.” When you get to the New Testament, you find a whole new attitude towards suffering. If God did not spare his son, Jesus, from the cross, why should God protect you or me from the cross? God used suffering to save the world. It is part of the grand mystery that none of us understand.

The Apostle Paul wrote” “Suffering produces endurance and endurance produces character and character produces hope and hope will not disappoint us.” Paul invites us to learn the wisdom of the cross, the wisdom of the crucified Christ, the wisdom and benefits of suffering.

In the Old Testament and the background of the New Testament, when someone had leprosy, blindness or lameness, you avoided them because they were being punished by God. But in the New Testament, when somebody is suffering, you go to the place of suffering. Where people are being crucified the most, you go the most. Where suffering is, there is God in the midst of those people.

The primary symbol of the Christian faith is the cross, the way of the cross, the way of suffering to save the world.

Mountains. How I love mountains, especially the Cascade Ranger with Mount Baker in the north, then Mount Rainier, Mount Adams, Mount Hood, Mount Jefferson, Mount Shasta. Those mountains are gorgeous. How I love to spend time on those mountain tops and experience their particular beauty. But my eyes also turn West and there is another mountain range, the Olympics, and there is Mount Olympus standing tall. Just as the Olympic Mountains are different than the Cascade Mountains, so also is Mount Job is different than Mount Moses, Samuel, David, Solomon and the prophets. We learn much about God when we spend time and hike on Mount Job. Amen.

CHILDREN’S SERMON:  Discuss with the children different kinds of pain and suffering. There is a pain that comes from disobedience. The children disobey and they are disciplined; that is, they may get spanked, sent to their room or denied a pleasure such as watching television.  But there is pain that come from life itself such as the death of a grandparent or parent or brother and sister. That is different than the pain of disobedience. When the death of a grandma or grandpa happens, people are very sad. Through the years, I have discovered that children are the very best comforters of mothers and fathers during the death of grandparents.

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