Monday, October 12, 2009

Sermon: Job 3 - Job's Turmoil

What do you do when someone is suffering? Maybe they’ve received bad news, and they’re in distress - how do you deal with the situation? Many of us, I suspect want to help, want to provide some comfort, but we just don’t know what to do. We’re afraid of getting involved, because we don’t know what to say, or how to say it, so we back off. Or maybe we get offside fairly quickly, not wanting to have to deal with someone else’s grief.

What if the person begins to speak, and a flood of words comes out - some shocking things, things we’re not prepared for, things we don’t expect to hear. As we come to Job 3, this might be where we find ourselves tonight. Listening in, not knowing quite what to do with Job’s thoughts and feelings and words, caught adrift.

Or what if the struggling person is you? Is it ok to feel like this? Is there a place for doubt, darkness and dismay in the Christian life?

What I propose we do is something we’re commanded to do in Romans 12:15. ‘Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.’ We’re probably better equipped for a party than a mourn, yet we’re called to weep alongside those who weep.

Just in case you’ve missed the first two weeks of the series - Job was a prosperous man, but in a series of disasters, his livestock were all killed or captured; his children killed; and he’s been covered from head to toe in loathsome sores. Unknown to Job, God had held him up as a model believer, and with God’s permission, Satan has stripped away all he has to prove his faith.

Some commentators have referred to chapter 3 as Job’s Gethsemane. It’s the place where Job is tested, and on the surface, it appears that he is found wanting - complaint and despair rather than humble submission. There are three main features of Job’s lament - his birth day, his desire for death, and his complaint against God.

As we look at these briefly, remember that these are the outpourings of a week of anguish. He has sat silently on the ash heap scraping his sores with thoughts rushing through his mind, the anguish and helplessness building all the time. It’s similar to how we find the prophet Elijah after his great victory over the prophets of Baal, and in response to Jezebel’s death threat, he runs away and prays ‘It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers,’ (1 Kings 19:4).

First, Job laments his birthday. Not in the way some of us lament yet another birthday coming around with increasing age, but the fact that he had a birthday at all. Notice the great raft of curses he lines up against the day of his birth - verses 2 to 9 - let the day perish, let it be darkness, let gloom claim it, darkness seize it, let it be barren, darkness. Why does he wish these terrible things against the day of his birth? Because he wishes he had never been born in the first place. Despite a long and prosperous life with happy times and a happy home, when compared with the previous week of misery, he wishes he had never lived it all.

Despite the longest day of sunlight, the darkness of the night brings despair and dread. Everything fades into black, and all Job can see now is the trouble he faces and feels in his loss and suffering. The gloom of death would be preferable to the pain he now experiences, or so he imagines.

Second, we find Job’s desire for death. From the ash heap, Job thinks that the grave would be a preferable position - longing for death more than for hidden treasures (21). Why is it that death seems such an attractive relocation, so that he would rejoice exceedingly and be glad when he finds the grave (22)? For Job, it appears to be a place of rest (13) and sleep, free from the pains and burdens he currently bears.

Death is also the great leveller. Look at verse 19: ‘The small and the great are there, and the slave is free from his master.’ It’s what one writer refers to as the ‘democracy of death’ - kings, princes, prisoners, slaves, all are there together in freedom and peace. Perhaps this was attractive to one who had been the greatest man in the east (1:3) but had lost everything in a series of cruel blows.

That longing for death is something we see in the movement for euthanasia or assisted suicide. Recently we’ve seen some high-profile cases in the news about people travelling to Dignitas in Switzerland, determined to end their life as they choose. Notice, though, that Job never contemplates taking his own life. Suicide is not an option for him. Yet even as Job laments and lays his complaint out, there is a recognition that God is present in his circumstances.

Verse 20: ‘Why is light given to him who is in misery.’ Or again in verse 23: ‘Why is light given to a man whose way is hidden, whom God has hedged in?’ Even as Job complains, he’s aware that God is present, that he has been given light and life in the midst of suffering. That remark about being hedged in by God seems to accuse God of being restrictive, almost besieging Job. Yet look back to 1:10 - there Satan accuses God of hedging Job in, being a protection and guard for him. One commentator wrote that the hedge of protection has become for Job a prison wall. Is Job listening to the voice of demons, tormented by the half-truths being twisted to maximum effect?

Job continues in his complaint against God, with sighing and groanings instead of bread and water, signs of his anguish. Indeed, it appears that this is what he had feared all along - verse 25 - that even in the good days, there was a dread of it all being taken away.

Verse 26 is the final summation of his current complaint - where his life is declared to be the exact opposite of how he imagines the grave: ‘I am not at ease (cf v18), nor am I quiet (cf v13); I have no rest (cf v17), but trouble comes (cf v10).’

So what do you say to Job? How do we deal with his words here in chapter three, as the flood of despair is unleashed after the week of silence? Do you want to run up to him and say ‘don’t worry Job, all’s well - we know how it turns out?’ Our advice to keep praying and keep trusting seems almost trite in the face of what he has said. From our privileged position in watching Job we have two advantages - we know how it will end up, and we also know about the discussion in heaven, but Job knows neither part. He is in the middle of it all, saying what he sees.

Two things to immediately remember. First, Job speaks of ‘a man whose way is hidden’ (v23). This could either mean hidden from God, or hidden from himself. Hidden from God, because God doesn’t seem to care any more, God seems to be absent, distant, unconcerned. Yet if it is hidden from himself - if his way is hidden and unknown, then here is the very essence of the believer’s walk: We walk by faith, and not by sight - we don’t know what is around the corner - otherwise it would be sight, and not faith. It is only through the hiddenness, through the afflictions, that our faith is tested and proved. The very fact that we have light and life is the proof that God has not finished with us, that we continue by faith.

But the second, even tonight, is to remember God’s verdict of Job. God speaks of ‘my servant Job’ in the first chapter (1:8, 2:3), and again in chapter 42 when he tells the friends ‘For you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.’ (42:8). Job’s outpouring is not counted as sin, and Job’s salvation is not in doubt - even the secure saints may have the dark night of the soul, while being firmly held in the hand of the Lord.

So how do we respond to Job? Next week Tim will be exploring the words and help of his so-called friends, Job’s comforters, but what about you? What would you say to Job after his outburst? Perhaps our wisest response in the immediate aftermath is, as Romans says, ‘weep with those who weep.’ Even God’s answer is 35 chapters away yet. And pray for those we know who may be going through such an anguish.

Job asks why - why is light given, why is death not given, why. As we look back from this side of Calvary, we see in Job’s question the words of another, who cried ‘My God, my God, why...?’ Because of the abandoned one, we are never alone, as he stands with us as we suffer. As one modern song puts it: ‘I’m forgiven because you were forsaken, I’m accepted, you were condemned... Amazing love, how can it be, that you my king should die for me!’

This sermon (although slightly adapted and expanded) was preached in St Elizabeth's Church, Dundonald on Sunday 11th October 2009.

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