I want to begin a very short series this
morning, this Sunday and next, just two Sundays, to look at the story of
Job. Because that story, I think, is one of the most challenging as well
as one of the most rewarding stories in scripture.
This morning we're going to look just at the prologue of Job, that is
found in the first couple of chapters, and then next Sunday we'll look
at the poetic section of Job that runs from chapter 3 through 41
(there's a lot there, I'm not going to cover it all, don't worry :).
The story of Job begins by telling us that Job is "blameless and
upright, who feared God and turned away from evil". So in other words,
Job, in the eyes of God, is the perfect human being. Can't get any
better, you know. And that's the irony of the story, because that's what
gets him into trouble! It's his un-doing. For God is so confident in his
goodness and his faithfulness to God, that God engages in sort of a
divine wager, a little 'bet', so to speak, with a member of the Divine
Council, the Satan (pronounced 'Say-Taun'), that Job will remain true to
his faith no matter what.
Now, we have to stop right there and deal with the first thorny
theological issue this raises. I suspect there is someone out there
thinking "Wait a second, did you just say what I thought I heard you
say? There's a Satan in God's Divine Council? What is that, and how can
So right here, we have our first clue that this story is not always what
we think. And furthermore, it's going to shake some people up. And what
it's going to shake up the most is the conventional wisdom about God --
the very notion that religious life is about a reward for the good and
punishment for the evil. And if such a notion is important to your
religious beliefs, then you need to read Job. But you may not like it,
because it's going to challenge some of those things.
So in regards to this whole issue of Satan that appears here in this
text, what you need to know is that there is no correlation between this
Say-Taun (as I call it), and the Satan that is more familiar to us (you
know, that horned, red-devil beast that appears on Halloween). This Say-Taun
is not that Satan. The word here is simply the Hebrew word for "the
accuser". And so this is the, so to speak, the prosecuting attorney in
God's court, whose job it is to find the law-breakers and to bring them
to justice. So in other words, it is Say-Taun's job to punish the
evil-doers. And I would suspect that's how the whole concept of the
Satan, or the Devil, as the one who does that, in a way, for God. But
that notion does not exist when this was written. Indeed, that kind of
notion of a Devil, the head of the underworld, does not exist in the Old
Testament at all -- it's not found anywhere. You have to be creative to
read that into the scriptures. That concept of a devil, the Satan, does
not emerge until the inter-testimal period, between the writing of the
Old Testament and then the New Testament. So yes, it's very prevalent in
the New Testament, very prevalent thought in the time of Jesus, but did
not exist during the time of the writing of the Old Testament, the
So, in any case, this Say-Taun, then, doubts that anyone can be as pure
and as good as God thinks that Job is. And so the Say-Taun challenges
God, and says "Oh yeah, prove it, let's see". Now, if that idea upsets
you, that God would respond to such a notion of testing someone, just to
prove something, I mean, that should upset you. I find it a very
troubling notion, but we'll come back to that later. For now, just note
that to prove how faithful Job really is, God takes away all of his
wealth, all of his cattle, his herds, his means of living. And then
takes away his entire family -- kills off all of his sons and daughters,
their spouses, their children wipes them all out, leaving him destitute
and childless, a fate worse than death for those in ancient times.
Now, that raises a troubling issue, doesn't it? Immediately we have to
ask ourselves -- would God really do this? Does God do that kind of
thing? And then as we'll see in chapter 2 that I'm going to read in just
a second, to then, in effect, torture someone, just to prove how
faithful he is?
Now, to ask that question -- it's a good question, it's a question we
have to ask, we should ask -- but to ask that of this story really
misunderstands the nature of the story. Does anyone ask, "You know those
stories Jesus told about the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son? Did that
really happen?" Or do we way "Those are stories that Jesus made-up, and
therefore we don't have to pay attention to them, because he made them
up". No, we don't say that. Of course those stories are important to us,
even though they are stories that Jesus made up. They reveal very much
to us about the nature of God's love, and about our duty.
So too here with Job, this is in essence a parable. We can ask: "Did it
really happen?" Well, that misses the point. I would have to say, no, I
don't believe it did, at least not like this. There may have been an
exceptionally good person who suffered greatly, that happens all the
time. And that's the point -- it takes that notion of a person who
suffers, who is good, and takes it to an extreme to then explore what
that teaches us about God and our suffering and faith. It does not take
away from the truth of this story, even if it isn't historical.
So, this character then of Job, after he has lost everything, except his
wife (and he still has his health), at the end of chapter 1, we are told
he praises God, and then it says "In all this Job did not sin or charge
God with wrong-doing".
Huh. I would have charged God with wrong-doing :) And then we continue, in chapter 2:
One day the heavenly
beings came to present themselves before the Lord
[this is the Divine Council],
and Satan also came among them to present himself before the Lord
[he's a member of the Divine Council]. 2The Lord said
to Satan, ‘Where have you come from?’ Satan answered the Lord, ‘From
going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on
it.’ 3The Lord said to Satan, ‘Have you considered my servant Job?
There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man
who fears God and turns away from evil. He still persists in his
integrity, although you incited me against him, to destroy him for
no reason.’ 4Then Satan answered the Lord, ‘Skin for skin! All that
people have they will give 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.’
7 So Satan went out from the
presence of the Lord, and inflicted loathsome sores on Job from the
sole of his foot to the crown of his head. 8Job took a potsherd with
which to scrape himself, and sat among the ashes.
9 Then his wife said to him,
‘Do you still persist in your integrity? Curse God, and die.’ 10But
he said to her, ‘You speak as any foolish woman would speak. Shall
we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?’ In
all this Job did not sin with his lips.
The bride sent out 250 invitations to the
wedding. The sanctuary held maybe 100. I suggested to her that we might
want to think about a larger venue for the wedding, and she said "No.
This this is my church. I grew up here, I'm going to get married here".
One thing I learned very early on in my pastorate: you don't argue with
brides :). It's her day, she gets what she wants. So we went ahead.
Fortunately, the church had a big yard, so they arranged to rent 250
chairs, we were going to have an outdoor wedding. This was Fresno, after
all, where the annual rainfall is about 10 inches (and that's on the wet
years), and half of that is from the dew that collects from the fog that
collects in the winter. So we figured it was safe.
I began to fear trouble when the 5-day forecast called for storms that
weekend. So I called up the bride, and suggested, you know, we might
want to think of a backup plan. She said "No. This is my church, I'm
going to get married here. God would not do that to me!". So, we
continued. When the 3-day forecast called for thunderstorms, I decided
to take matters into my own hands -- I mean, I had to stand up there
too, right? So I called another church, made the arrangements, called
her up and said "Hey, great news, I got another place just down the
street". She said: "No! I'm going to get married in my church. I trust
God!". Wooops :) Oh Pastor of little faith :)
So, when thunder woke me up on the day of the wedding, I went into my
emergency mode -- quick trip to "Jerry's" (Home Depot), and bought 500
feet of rope and 200 feet of clear plastic. And then using those
knot-tying skills I learned in Boy Scouts and all the engineering
training I had in Seminary (yeah, that's right :), erected this tent
over the 250 chairs. And after the total of Fresno's annual rainfall
fell in those two hours before the wedding, and the tent collapsed
(drenching everything underneath, including the preacher), I decided we
were going to have to hold the wedding indoors. So I went to talk to the
bride. And her tears surpassed that of the annual rainfall of Fresno.
All she could say was "Why is God doing this to me?" What do you say?
Well, we got through the wedding. All 250 people showed up. Fortunately
the Fire Marshal did not receive the invitation (it was a very close
wedding, to say the least). That little church has never seen a crowd
like that, before or since, but it was a wonderful wedding. The one
post-script to it, is that when I directed junior-camp several years
ago, I had the daughter produced from that marriage in camp. It helped
-- there's something about going through adversity that makes for a good
My father tells the story -- my wife and I, some of you know, took
German kids with us on our honeymoon across the United States, and my
Dad (who presided at the wedding), said that if you survive the next two
weeks your marriage will survive anything :)
Rabbi Harold Kusher asks the perennial question:
"Why do bad things happen to good people?". Why indeed. It haunts our
nights, it stalks our days, it rains on our parades, and our weddings,
and our confidence. So some 2500-3000 years ago, one of the greatest
theologians of all time (probably several, actually) struggled with that
question and gave us this story of Job.
Alfred Lloyd Tennyson says "It's the greatest poem whether of ancient or
modern literature". Thomas Carlyle said "Nothing written in the Bible,
in or out, is of equal merit". This morning I'm only going to deal with
the prose section that narrative that provides the framework for the
poetic section, Chapters 3-41. I invited you to read that, not right
now, but this week in preparation for next Sunday. As I've already
suggested, the first thing that is evident in the story is that it
raises serious questions about this conventional wisdom about God. What
we thought we knew about God, namely that God rewards the righteous and
punishes the wicked. This is the basis of the Hebrew covenant with God
-- be good and God will bless you, sin and God will punish you. And it's
a premise that many people hold still today.
One of my favorite stories of the great Disciple preacher Fred Craddock
makes light of this notion. He was traveling to a convention, flying
somewhere, and after the plane took off, a gentleman across the aisle
from him pulled out this big, fat, ugly, nasty-smelling cigar. And lit
it up! Fred called the attention of the flight attendant and said "Am I
seated in the wrong section?". She asked "What section section were you
supposed to be in?" Fred said "The non-smoking section". Tells you how
old this story is, back in those days when there was a smoking section
on planes. And she said "No, this is non-smoking". And Fred says: "Well,
what about that?" She turned around and saw the guy, and said "Sir, this
is the non-smoking section, you can't smoke here". And he continues to
puff away. "Sir, if you want to smoke, you'll have to move to the rear
of the plane into the smoking section". Just ignores her, puffing away.
She shrugs her shoulders, and figures she can't kick him off the plane,
and goes about her business. So Fred is sitting there thinking dark,
evil thoughts about this guy as this foul smoke is filling the air,
calling a curse of God upon him even if it brings down the plane. He
doesn't care, he's angry, he wants justice here. When the
flight-attendant came back with a tray of drinks, just as she reaches
that spot in the aisle, the plane hit one of those air-pockets (you
know, that causes your heart to jump and your stomach to go up in your
throat). And the flight attendant and drinks go up into the air. And the
drinks turn over and they fall down on top of the man and his cigar :)
And the flight attendant falls into the lap of Fred! And Fred says: "Now
don't you tell me there is no God" :)
On a more serious note, we see that same kind of
thinking in judgments that people make. Questioning whether or not the
victim of rape did something to entice their attacker, and therefore
"deserved" it. Claiming that HIV and AIDS was God's punishment for
lifestyles. Or that terrorist attacks on this country and hurricanes are
God's punishment on us for some terrible sin like equal rights for
women. But then when bad things happen to us or to other good people,
well then it's not God, it's that other Satan trying to undo our faith.
So you've got to admire Job -- at least he never blames anyone or
anything else. He simply asked how can you accept the good from God, and
not also the bad? And note that God's affirmation of Job --"he still
persists in his integrity" -- is repeated in the words of Job's wife,
only as a derision -- "do you still persist in your integrity?! Curse
God and die".
Hence the real question here is not so much why do bad things happen to
good people (we'll come back to that later, probably next week), the
question here is: can good people remain good when bad things happen? Or
do we give in to that temptation to return evil for evil?
If God's shining example of faith and integrity and goodness should
waver under pressure, what hope is there then for us? Will our faith
survive the storms of life? Can we persist in our integrity?
Dave Dravecky is a modern-day Job, a successful pitcher in the major
leagues for the Padres and then later for the Giants. He developed
cancer in his pitching arm. Had the cancer removed by surgery, and then
made this incredible comeback when everybody had written him off. Worked
his way through the minors back into the majors. Pitched a pretty good
game when he came back, won that game. Second game, had three innings,
perfect no-hit innings. Then began to struggle, and in the 6th inning,
trying to overcome his struggles, throwing as hard as he could, he broke
his arm, pitching. They later discovered that the cancer had returned,
and eventually had to amputate his arm and his shoulder.
And so here is this young man with a promising career, wiped out. Then
he becomes an inspirational speaker and goes on the speaking circuit
telling his story, especially for Christian groups. He came to Eugene to
share in our prayer breakfast a number of years ago, and I'll never
forget him telling stories about fishing. He was left-handed, now he's
had to learn to do everything with his right, he talks about how he'd
fish, cast out and then put the pole under his arm to reel in. People
would ask him: "Have you ever caught anything that way?". And he said:
"Yeah, I caught on this big!" (while holding up just 1 arm to show the
size of the fish :). One-arm humor :)
Wonderful guy, great story teller. In his autobiography that he wrote
with his wife, they say: "We learned that the wilderness is part of the
landscape of faith, and every bit as essential as the mountaintop. On
the mountaintop, we are overwhelmed by God's presence. In the
wilderness, we are overwhelmed by his absence. Both places should bring
us to our knees -- the one in utter awe, the other in utter dependency".
Said by one who knows because he's been there.
Habit for Humanity ran a story in one of their
newsletters that really impressed me, and clipped it out and saved it,
of another modern-day Job (or Job-ess), Janice Henderson, who at the age
of 30 discovered that she had multiple sclerosis. When she got over that
shock and the inevitable depression that comes with such a diagnosis,
she began to get on with her life, doing the things she always dreamed
of doing. She went on a grueling Outward Bound expedition in the
wilderness. She volunteered for Habitat for Humanity, to go down to Peru
to build homes for others, and then continued as volunteer locally for
the organization. She plays the piano at a nursing home. She sings in
the church choir. She's a volunteer firefighter, as well as a full-time
nurse. All the time wearing braces for her legs and sometimes a back
brace. She says in reflection: "You would hardly think that MS can be
rewarding, but it has taught me to do today what I want to do". Because,
you see, Janice Henderson does not have the luxury to put things off.
The story of Job is not unlike that of Janice, and Dave Dravecky. And
it's not unlike the story of many of you, that I have come to know.
People who see the presence of God even in the worst of times, and not
just God's absence. People, who in times of adversity, do not lose
faith, who persist in their integrity. You see, Job is not an ancient
story. It's a very modern story.
And because of Job, because of people like Janice and Dave, because of
people in our lives who have inspired us by their faith and integrity,
we know that no matter what adversity life may throw at us, there is no
mountain higher that faith in God.
There is no valley deeper than the love of God.
There is no river wider than the reach of God.
In such faith, we rest secure.