23 January 2017
Psalm 46: 1-3, Mark 10:13-16, Job 1:1; 2:1-10
Last week as people slept and holidayed, a pressure was building up deep beneath the surface of the earth, and the next day all hell broke loose. The earth shuddered, The pressure was released, and the earth shook, and the energy turned into killer waves, That wave was tearing babies out of people’s arms, Turning idyllic beachside villages into churning soups of angry water and broken glass and car parts and blood and corrugated iron and dying children and splintered wood
. Reports came in - from Samoa, from the Cook Islands, then from Tonga of damage and death. Then another shake of the earth and Indonesia reported death and destruction in Sumatra and then the floods and rains came in Typhoon in the Philippines.
And the messengers come, through cellphones, and on planes and in graphic photos, some reassuring family members that buildings have gone but everyone is safe, others as Amy and her family had this week, with worsening news, which each time gets worse - and the tears run out.
The questions of faith must arise. What sort of world, what sort of God, what sort of faith do we have?
Those who worship God so that nothing bad will happen to them will have to spring to God's defence by saying that those people must have done something wrong or go through the painful task of letting their own faith be severely questioned as their picture of God no longer meets their requirements. We can all ask if God is all powerful how can this enormous suffering happen?
We read from the story of Job today, it is a story , a sort of parable which wrestles with the question about why we might worship God.
The question asked is do we worship God just because God is like an insurance policy, we do our God-bit to keep us and our family safe from disasters and preferably acquire some riches as well? IF so what happens to us and God if things go wrong?
The story tests Job's faith in a series of terrible random disasters. The main characters in the story are God, Satan; and Job and Job's friends and wife make appearances. The Hebrew word "satan" means adversary, opponent, and here he is a member of a heavenly court who points out to God another way of looking at things. We'd call such a person the "devil's advocate."
As the story is set up, the accuser asks God, "Does Job worship you only because he has it so good?' Are you just his insurance policy, and he does his God-bit to keep him and his family safe from disasters and preferably acquire some riches as well? Lets see what happens to Job's wonderful faith in God if things go wrong?"
God give permission for the tests - remember this is only a story told to make a point.
Job gets his first set of bad news from messengers "while his sons and daughters were eating and dining in his oldest sons house, first the oxen sheep and servants were raided by the Sabeans, then lightening hit the sheep, and the servants and consumed them, then the Chaldeans raided the camels and took the servants and killed them, then a wind came across the deserts and the house fell on the young people and killed them all and each time the messenger said; I alone have escaped to tell you.”
And Job refused to blame God." the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord."
"Well" says the accuser so Job is still worshipping you? God says "Job still persists in his integrity, although you incited me against him, to destroy him for no reason.” 4
Then the accuser said “ People will give everything they have to save their lives. 5But stretch out your hand now and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face.” 6The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, he is in your power; only spare his life.
So Job was covered with itchy, open sores from head to foot and on the soles of his feet. And Job's wife, who was getting sick of it all, after all she'd had all her family killed. said "give up Job and curse God" But Job said "should I receive the good from God's and not the bad - be quiet woman!"
And Jobs three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar came to visit and were shocked because they didn't recognise him. They sat with him for seven days and didn't say a word because they saw how bad it was.
We are told that Job is a blameless and upright man, one who feared God and turned away from evil. This is GOD's opinion-no doubt about it. Yet IF the worldview of Job's world were correct-good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people-then nothing bad would happen to Job. But all hell breaks loose in his life, and Job knows full well he hasn't done anything to deserve it.
Job faces the fact that the faith he has been taught doesn't stand up to what is happening to him. And either faith has to change or be abandoned.
So he wrestles with the questions that have now been raised for him: WHY is this happening? What kind of God would allow this to happen? What is wrong with how he is seeing God?
He doesn't struggle with these questions alone. He's got well meaning friends who come along to help him and sit with him for seven days in silence. They're willing to listen, except he doesn't yet have anything to say. But finally, Job greets his friends by raising an angry fist to God. Job is angry-something suffering and grief can do. And not knowing how to respond, Job's friends reply: "That's just the way things are Job! Are you sure you haven't done something to offend God? Everything will work out in the end, Job God SURELY has a plan."
These sort of answers only isolate the person who's suffering by trying to explain away the inexplicable. But a situation like Job's isn't rational; it doesn't make sense. Responses that make his friends feel better only trivialize the pain.
But Job refuses to buy them. He KNOWS, despite his friends' insistence-an insistence based on their own worldview, -that he hasn't done anything wrong. The worldview that he'd been taught had left him with a bad theology. HOW he had previously defined GOD was NOT who God is. . Yet rather than abandoning God, Job realizes that he may have to unlearn something he's always believed in order to be open to new possibilities and finds that God is bigger and the story that is unfolding is bigger than Job can imagine.
We will not understand the pain of those who weep, we cannot offer explanations but we do have a faith which tells us more. That God does speak into our daily lives, into the ambiguity and pain of this world. That Word that became flesh, Jesus who welcomed little children and healed and told us of love which does not abandon us.
For God spoke and the world shuddered
and a great wave of hostility and selfishness and bitterness rose up
and flung itself against the Word devastating all in its path
killing even children in its rage snarling, surging, seething, smashing
a great wave of darkness furiously seeking to annihilate the light
And where was God as the wave hit?
Wasn’t God right there bearing the brunt of it
Wasn’t God there clinging to his beloved child only to be overwhelmed by the wave and have the child ripped from his arms
and torn away on that surging flood of hatred
and battered and smashed and pierced and tossed limp and lifeless to the earth
I pray that we might have the courage and compassion
to recognise the Word that God speaks this week and follow where the Word calls into the places that terrify and horrify us
the places where we will know what it means to cry out for salvation
the places perhaps the only places where we are capable of knowing
the Word of resurrection
the Word made flesh
And then we can be beside those who mourn and bring love because God is.
with thanks to Our administrator in the loss of so many of her family in the tsunami in Samoa and to Janet Weiblen [Job] and Nat Nettleton [Tsunami from whom I have borrowed and adapted
Rev. Margaret Anne Low
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