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The Final Word
October 16, 1994

JOB 38:1-21

Whoever coined the phrase, the patience of Job, must not have read the book! Or, if they did, they only read the first two chapters! The first two chapters is an ancient story of a man who was tested by Satan. He loses everything, yet remains faithful. A poet took this story and added 37 chapters to consider the question, "Why do good people suffer?" Beginning with chapter three, Job was hardly patient. Job 3:2, Job said, "Let the day perish in which I was born." He lamented, 16:12-13, God broke me in two; he seized me by the neck and dashed me to pieces; he set me up as his target; his archers surround me. He slashes open my kidneys and shows no mercy; he pours out my gall on the ground.

Job had a rough time. He lost his children, his animals, his business, and his body was disfigured with ugly sores. He did not take it easily; he did not take it patiently. My days come to their end without hope, he cried (7:6). With clenched fists, he raised his eyes to heaven, and hollered, "Why me?" He desperately wanted answers. Oh, that I had one to hear me! he cried. (31:35)

Then his friends came to comfort him. I suppose they had good intentions, but they didn't help much. They blamed Job. "Surely you must have done something to deserve all this!" they said. They blamed the victim. Sound familiar? When a woman is raped, she is blamed. "Must have been something she wore or said!" they say. When cancer strikes, some say, "What did I do to deserve this?" When someone is not healed, some do-gooders tell her, "Evidently, you don't have enough faith!" We blame the victim!

When tragedy strikes, we want to be helpful, but often end up offering no more help than Job's friends. A young man died. A friend, trying to comfort his mother, said, "It's God's will." The grieving mother replied, "Just listen to yourself! If my son's death is God's will, then I want no more of this God." At least the friend didn't blame the mother, and try to say it was her fault!

The platitudes--it's God's will, have more faith, it'll all work out for the best--are so inadequate in the face of tragedy, when bad things happen to good people. Job's friends meant well. They tried. The friends believed the popular theology of their day: God is all-powerful. God makes the rules. Keep the rules, you will be blessed. Break the rules, you will be cursed. Good is rewarded. Evil is punished. Therefore, if you suffer, you must not have kept the rules, you must have done evil, because you are being punished. Again, blame the victim.

Job was impatient. Job was angry with God. Job demanded answers. Finally, in chapter 38, God arrives and God speaks. 38:1, Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind: "Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?" (I like that phrase: words without knowledge!) "Who dares to speak? Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Who are you?" If you thought our God is a kind, smooth-talking, well-spoken, polite English gentleman, get ready to meet Job's God! God took on Job with bombastic, whirlwind rhetoric. God answered Job's questions with more questions. (Isn't it irritating when someone answers your questions with more questions!) God asked Job insolent questions. "Where were you? Who are you? What can you do? So you can make a sunrise? Where were you, Mr. Smartmouth, when I created an ostrich? I suppose you can make a giraffe!" In other words, God said to Job, "Sit down and shut up!"

And Job did. Job said, 40:4-5, See, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth. I have spoken once, and I will not answer. In other words, "I put my hand over my big mouth. I spoke once; I won't speak twice!"

But, the story isn't over. Forced resignation to the majesty of God, quiet capitulation to the mysterious ways of the Creator, are not the end. God spoke and let Job know that Job is not the center of the universe. Job judged God by what happened to him. Job and his friends assumed that God primarily reacts to human conduct, with human beings at the center of God's concern. God reminded Job that the work of creation is far bigger than Job. God spoke of the birthing of the sea; the ordering of day and night; the mysteries of water in its myriad forms of snow, hail, rain, frost, and dew; and how God cares for animals. 38:41, Who provides for the raven its prey, when its young ones cry to God, and wander about for lack of food? Job's categories had been too narrow, his conception of God hopelessly human-centered.

Then, in chapter 40, we hear about Behemoth and Leviathan. 40:15, Look at Behemoth, which I made just as I made you. Who are Behemoth and Leviathan? They were two dark, ugly creatures in Canaanite mythology. They symbolized the primeval forces of chaos. Thus, God revealed to Job something of what it's like to be God in this world! But not the world envisioned by Job and his friends--a flat world of easy moral equations, tit for tat, rules and rewards, good and evil. God showed Job a deeper, darker, confusing world, down deep where Behemoth and Leviathan live, with which God must wrestle. God said to Job, "Can you catch Leviathan with a fish hook? Can you press his tongue down with a cord? I don't think so. And yet I have to get up and go out and tame Leviathan every day."

Job cried out at the chaos, disorder, and despair of his own life. Human suffering is part of the chaos against which God struggles; one little corner of the battle, perhaps, but human suffering is part of the chaos. Cancer, death, setbacks, heart attacks are part of the chaos, not necessarily God's will, not necessarily punishment for bad eating or living habits. Now we have AIDS with which to contend, not necessarily anyone's fault, but the chaos, the disorder against which we and God struggle! But, there is the human element. God does not only have Behemoth and Leviathan with which to contend, God has humans with which to deal. I suspect that Behemoth and Leviathan don't give God nearly as many headaches as we humans do. But, God will not give up.

The key passage of the book of Job is 42:5-6. After Job hears God's side, Job responds, I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes. Previously Job had heard of God, heard of a patriarchal God who decrees and something happens, a God who sits around meting out justice in a stable, orderly, clocklike world. But now, Job sees a God working in a world that is not orderly, stable, and clocklike. Job sees a God who is busy, struggling with chaos, struggling with the suffering, the darkness, the sadness, the injustice and unfairness of it all. Job now sees and repents in dust and ashes.

The book of Job is a treasure. It's an ancient book with an insight that many modern scholars and theologians have missed. God is not far off in the distance watching us. God is not decreeing that you get cancer, and you get a heart attack, and you lose your business. No, God is in the midst of life, struggling with the chaos, fighting with sin, battling the forces of evil.

And, God calls you and me to help with the struggle. Jesus raised up a band of disciples, which has now grown into the church, to co-operate with God in the struggle, in the mission, to bring healing, justice, and hope to a suffering, struggling world. Our lives have meaning as we commit ourselves to join God in the task. Next week, we will make our financial pledges to do God's work. Daily, we are called to commit ourselves to Christ and his work. Next week, we will dedicate our financial resources as well.

I titled this sermon, The Final Word. The final word, according to Job's God, and to quote Yogi Berra, is "It ain't over 'til it's over." God isn't finished with you, or with the world. And, you are called to co-operate with God in the struggle.

© 1994 Douglas I. Norris