WHAT’S THE POINT, ANYWAY? OCTOBER 7, 2018

WHAT’S THE POINT, ANYWAY?

A sermon on Job 1:1; 2:1-10

First Baptist Church of Lynchburg

October 7, 2018

By Paul Dakin

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord our Strength and our Redeemer. Amen.

 

                We begin the sermon this morning with a story about one of the most wonderful, gracious, Christ-like people that I have ever met. The woman that I want to tell you about was quiet and soft spoken. Jessie (not her real name) was not preachy, but she was one of those people who radiated her deep abiding faith in God wherever she went. In all the time that I knew her, I never heard a single person ever say a negative thing about her. She was known and greatly beloved by many people in the community. Jessie was active in the church that I served and she was always an encouragement to me as a minister. She had taught children’s Sunday School for many years and participated in several of the various women’s and missions opportunities that our church offered. And yet, during the time that I knew her, her life was hard—really hard.

 

Jessie and her husband lived in a small unassuming single story house just outside of the city limits. She was married to a likeable man who was a nice enough guy, but he could not seem to hold onto any of his construction jobs for very long. Apparently, their main source of steady income was the half dozen preschool children that Jessie provided day car for in their home. It seemed to me that they were always just barely managing to scrape by financially. I was under the impression that they struggled most every month just to pay their bills and keep food on the table…

 

And then, in a short amount of time, everything seemed to go from bad to worse. Her husband got sloppy drunk one night and exposed himself to a 14 year old girl in the neighborhood. Both actions were really out of character for him. He was arrested, duly confessed to his wrongdoing, and was sentenced to six months in the county jail. All during his incarceration, Jessie was there for him, visiting him and doing what she could to make him more comfortable during his time in the jail.

 

And then it got worse again. Not long after he was released from “the hotel” (as he called it), Jessie was diagnosed with cancer. At the time, I would guess that she was in her mid 50’s. It did not take long before the cancer spread, and consumed her entire body. She passed away quietly in a hospital bed just a couple of weeks after being admitted. Her funeral was one of the largest funerals that I ever saw in that small community.

 

Among all of her friends and acquaintances, I doubt that I was the only one wondering why Jessie’s life had been so hard…why she had had to endure such hardship, and at times, such humiliation…why a Godly person like Jessie was not able to catch a break for most of her life…

 

This is the central question that confronts the reader of the book of Job—“Why is it that bad things happen to good people?”

 

We are introduced to Job in the first verse as a man who was “blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.” It goes on to say that Job is said to have been one of the wealthiest men of the East.

 

But it did not take long for that to change. Job faced some terrible reversals. His wealth suddenly evaporated when all of his livestock was either stolen or destroyed. Neither was his family exempt from calamity. All of his sons and daughters died in a terrible accident when the roof of his eldest son’s house caved in and killed all of them. And then on top of all that, he was came down with a disease that left painful sores all over his body—from the top of his head to the soles of his feet.

 

At the end of the passage, we find Job sitting on an ash heap, trying to get some relief from his physical misery by scraping the sores on his body with a broken piece of pottery. It is a sad and pitiful picture.

 

Job’s wife comes to him with a bit of advice. She says that he just ought to get it over with, curse God, and die. But Job refuses to do that. It goes against everything that he knows about God. Instead of cursing God, he answers her, “Should we receive the good at the hand of God—and not receive the bad?” And then the narrator of the book of Job comments that “In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.”

 

The story of Job is thought by most scholars as being one of the oldest books in the Bible.[1] That should come as no surprise, as I would guess that the question of why good people suffer is as old as when people first began thinking about the nature of God and how God relates to humanity. In some ways, the biography of Job is really the biography of every one of us, for we all suffer and we often do not know the reasons why…

 

One could probably fill a small library with books and commentaries on the book of Job, books that wrestle with the problem of evil in the world, and books that try to understand why bad things happen to good people. And after thousands of years of considering these things, humanity still does not have definitive answers to those questions. And we are certainly not going to be able to discuss all of them at length and come to some kind of conclusion in the time we have remaining this morning. But I do want to focus our attention on a couple of lessons that we can glean from the book of Job that perhaps can help to jumpstart our own understanding of these perplexing questions…

 

The first thing to be noted is perhaps the most obvious—and that is that bad things do happen to Godly people. There is no getting around that inconvenient truth—even if we do not like it or even if we wish that it were otherwise. The children of God are not immune from suffering.

 

There is a strain of Christianity that promises that, if you will just believe in Jesus and trust God, then your difficulties—whether financial, relationship, health, or otherwise—will be resolved through divine intervention. In theological circles, this is known as the “Health and Wealth” gospel. It usually combines elements of the power of positive thinking with a dubious kind of faith. Although some version of this kind of thinking can be found in various times throughout the history of the church, it seems to have really taken hold during the last century in America. This is the gospel preached by such popular and influential preachers and authors as Paula White, Joyce Meyer, Benny Hinn and Joel Osteen among others. The “Health and Wealth Gospel” message boils down to something like this:  “Trust God, show some faith, and you will be successful and healthy.” These folks—and lots of less famous others just like them—have made millions and millions of dollars preaching such nonsense because many people really want to believe that what they preach is true. Admittedly, there is something about it that is attractive and simple: “If you believe God and do what he asks, then you will prosper.” If it were only that easy—but it is not.

 

The main problem with the “Health and Wealth Gospel” is that it is simply not true. Job was a man who was consistently described as being a righteous man that trusted God. And yet, he suffered greatly—more than most of us, I would suggest— in spite of his great faith. It seems to me that if anyone could have been the “Poster Boy” for the “Health and Wealth” gospel, it should have been Job. But as you know, things did not exactly turn out for him in that way…

 

The truth is that sometimes the wicked prosper on this earth while those who are righteous suffer. And whether or not they are followers of Jesus seems to have little bearing on how much they suffer or not.

 

Consider what Jesus said in Luke 13. Jesus was teaching when a group of people came up to him to tell him that Pilate had executed a number of Galileans as they were attempting to worship in the Temple. When Jesus heard of it, he asked the crowd, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no!” And then he cites another example: “Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no!”

 

The point that Jesus was making is that these people did not suffer simply because they were more ungodly than anyone else. NO.  In fact, the Galileans in the first story were actually in Jerusalem to make an expression of their religious devotion to the Lord. It would appear that they were godly people—and yet they were murdered even while they were in the act of worshiping.  Being devoted to the Lord does not exempt you from trouble and suffering…

 

Considering the nature of suffering in the life of the Christian, the Apostle James writes, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

 

It is easier to face up to suffering when we can clearly see that there will be a positive outcome eventually, isn’t it? Last week, I had my first post-operation visit with the surgeon who performed my surgery in August. I told him that the recovery had at times been miserable—and it was. But I also told him that I was beginning to see significant improvement in my condition. And for all of the discomfort and pain of the surgery and healing process that I had been through, ultimately it has been worth it. Although I am still not back where I want to be physically, I am a whole lot better off than I was before the surgery.

 

I think that something like that is also true in the realm of the Spirit. When we are able to see the suffering in our lives in the light of James’s words to us about our suffering spurring our spiritual growth, then we are able to come to better terms with it in a healthier, more positive way. Even if it is not something we would wish or seek after, we can still see its benefits in the long term…

 

But what if we don’t see the good of the suffering that we have to endure? What if the suffering we endure seems pointless and utterly random—at the time when we are going through it and in retrospect later on? What do we do then? How are we to understand?

 

I do not have the answer for that question. I am not sure that anyone does. But here is perhaps a starting point…

 

In his essay “Free Will and Evil,” Stephen Davis, professor of philosophy at Claremont McKenna College, makes this observation, “Parents occasionally allow their children to suffer for the sake of increasing their maturity and sense of moral responsibility…Not all suffering makes us better people, although sometimes it does that very thing. (I know it does because it has happened to me.)…Moral virtue normally requires both some degree of suffering and genuine concern for others in their suffering.”[2]  If I am understanding what Dr. Davis is saying, one of the benefits of suffering for the Christian is that, even when we do not understand why we are suffering the way we do, it enables us to genuinely show concern and compassion for others who suffer in the same way. That helps to equip us to be present with and to minister to others in their grief and suffering…And when we find ourselves suffering unjustly, then we find ourselves in good company—with the likes of godly people like Job, the prophet Jeremiah, and most importantly, with our Lord Jesus…

 

A second lesson from Job this morning…Keep on “faithing it” even when you do not understand.

 

In Job 13:15, Job declares, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust him.” This is Job’s response to the trouble…and the suffering…and the humiliation that has befallen him. Job acknowledges that things are wrong. He protests to God and to his friends that the wrongs he is not enduring is not due to his sin nor is it obviously owing to some other victim. Job goes on to question and argue with God later on in the book. He does not simply resign himself to his condition, but he actively seeks answers.

 

Here’s the thing: Job’s arguments with God throughout the rest of the book are not a rejection of God at all. No—instead, Job is confident of God’s goodness and that God will eventually vindicate him. Job’s trust is bold and audacious—even extreme. His faith accuses God of treating him unfairly even as he was being brutally tested. But Job was faithful—almost with a vengeance. Even when he did not understand and when his friends were of no help in their counsel to him, he was not going to give an inch. Job was convinced in his protest that there are better things to come—that God has his best interests at heart, even when it is not immediately evident. He understood the biblical promises that that there is life more abundant still to come. At a minimum, he realized that his life was in God’s hands…and he trusted in the goodness of life…and he trusted in the goodness of God…

 

Let us pray—Gracious God through all the trials and turmoil of our life—Through storms and dangers, fears and endings, sadness and brokenness, loss and illness, be our strength…Even at the time of death, hold us with Your embrace…sustain us with Your grace. Help us in times of doubt and fear to continue to be resolute in our faith, passionate in our love for You, determined to be the people that You have called us to be. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

 

And to God alone be the glory! Amen.

 

 

Hymn 408  “Have Faith in God”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] The large section of poetry that comprises the bulk of the book is thought to have been composed around 400-500 BC. But the prose at the beginning and the end of the story are thought to predate even the earliest of the rest of the Old Testament writings.

[2] Stephen t. Davis, “Free Will and Evil” in Encountering Evil—Live Options in Theodicy Ed. Stephen T. Davis (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001), 103.

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