Given by Revd Adrian Morton, 4th Nov 2012 at St. Mary’s, Wollaston
This is the final talk in the series on the book of Job.
As a brief re-cap…
Weʼve looked at how this blameless, God fearing man Job, sufferedgreatly.
He lost his livelihood, his family and his health.
And God allowed it to happen.
God allowed Satan to inflict this great suffering on him.
And it was a reminder that we live in a world whereby the good andinnocent do suffer.
We then heard how Jobʼs 3 friends came to sympathize with Joband offer him comfort.
And these 3 friends essentially had a worldview which simply stated that the good would be blessed whereas the bad would suffer.
So they were hoping Job would repent from some sin he obviouslymust have committed, in order to relieve his suffering.
Job though protested his innocence throughout the almost 30 chapters of dialogue between him and his friends.
His friends got angry with Job and Job got angry with his friends.
And it was a reminder that suffering is a lonely isolating experience.
And maybe our first call to those who are in that place of suffering is to weep with those who weep.
Throughout this book Iʼve encouraged us to have four markers, or
stakes in the ground that we have to hold on to.
That Job was blameless.
That Satan has real influence in this world.
That God is absolutely in control.
Yet God does seem to give terrible or difficult to understand permissions.
And the fact that Satan has influence in this world wasnʼt part of the 3 friends worldview.
Which was one of their issues.
Peter, last week looked at Job response to God in his suffering.
How Job, despite his suffering, despite his claim that God isnʼt being fair, was still drawn to God.
He clung on to his God.
There is something about suffering that reveals the true worshippers of God.
In that place where we donʼt understand what God is doing, its the cry that says,
“Yet I know it is God I have to deal with, because he is God.”
<M Elliot – Her brother died in 1962, then in 1965 her daughter was diagnosed with bone cancer and died at 13yrs old. Her son was then diagnosed with a rare kidney disease and died in 1971 aged 21. The in 1985 her husband died of a stroke… she still clung on to
Suffering and loss reveal the true worshippers.
Now this week we come to crux, the finale, Godʼs answer to Job.
The start of which is our reading today.
Iʼm going to say right now that I will be ignoring ch 32 – 37 of Job.
Which is several speeches by a new friend, Elihu.
Read Christopher Ashʼs book for more on that.
But the book has built up to this point of Godʼs reply to Job.
Job has made his final appeal to God.
Its like a courtroom drama.
He has harked back to the good old days.
He has protested his innocence again.
Then he says, now God answer me.
Ch 31 v 35: “I sign my defense – let the Almighty answer me.”
What is at stake now is not just the innocent suffering of one man.
The stakes are higher than that.
I said before that the book of Job is about the search of a believing sufferer for Wisdom.
It is a longing to understand why the world is as it is.
For Job, his God has attacked him unfairly.
Though he didnʼt know as we do that is was in fact Satan.
His God has isolated him cruelly.
And he wants to know why.
For Job, if he is not guilty, then God stands guilty of injustice.
And by implication this God is not worthy to reign over this earth.
Or He is not in control over this earth.
This is the issue at stake with the suffering believer.
People who donʼt believe in God often ask why does God allow so much suffering.
It shouldnʼt be much of a problem for them.
If you donʼt believe in God, then why think there should be fairness or justice in the world.
I sometimes want to say, you think its a problem – I believe in a good God, its a huge problem for me!
Job has run out of patience and is demanding God to answer him.
Why is the world the way it is…
And in Ch 38 God replies…
I love the drama of this.
I wish I could do a booming God voice at this point…
Then the LORD answered Job out of the storm. He said: “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me.
I love that!
Job questioned God and now God turns the tables.
And questions Job.
There is someone in the NT that was good at doing that!
Answering questions with a question.
“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
And God questions Job with about 60 questions.
And it is all big stuff.
About the cosmos, about the world.
Because this is the issue at hand.
Why is the world as it is?
It is like God is saying to Job:
Look around you Job.
Look around at a wonderful world.
Look at the stars, the clouds, the war-horse, the eagle.
Did you make these?
Are you God?
Do you think you could do it better?
A pervading sense through this book is whether or not the cosmos is being run well.
Does God deserve to be in charge.
And God is saying look around you Job.
Do you know how all this works?
<Re. Martin Down … Who are you little man… to question me…>
And of course Job doesnʼt and he gets the message.
He is utterly awe struck.
Ch 42 Job replies to God.
“I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted.
Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me.”
In other words, ʻOh yes, Iʼll shut up. In the presence of the creator of the world, Iʼll shut my big mouth.”
For 4 chapters God questions Job.
Does he answer Jobʼs question?
Which is ʻWhy do I, Job, who do not deserve it, suffer as I do?ʼ
Godʼs answer seems to be:
ʻLook around you and you will understand that I the Lord am Creator and sustainer of life.
I am in control of all the world, and therefore you may trust me with your life and your unanswered questions.ʼ
Is this an answer?
Yes and no!
<Talk about the times I have answered the ʻWhy does God allow so much suffering…
Iʼve talked about freewill… if someone decides to cause harm to someone else its hard to stop, e.g. vicar and school teacher murdered.
Sinful action does lead to suffering.
We see that in the lives of others and ourselves.
But as I said in talk 2 we canʼt make an automatic connection between sin and suffering.
Iʼve tried to answer the question by talking about the nature of our world.
Do we really want God to intervene whenever something is about to go wrong?
Do we expect God to intervene whenever a child runs across the road?
Do we expect Him to intervene for example if I was going to have a blazing row with my wife. Not that I have those particularly…
If we do expect God to intervene like this then we are really asking for a different kind of world than the one we currently live in.
Iʼve talked about the fall and how since mankindʼs rebellion, sin and destruction has come into the world and spoilt not only relationships but the created order.
People will also say that God is using suffering to build patient endurance in us etc.
Talk about Lynne Furgerson….
Felt drawn to Isaiah 57:1
The righteous perish, and no one ponders it in his heart; devout men are taken away, and no one understands that the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil.
In the end there are many possible answers we can give to that question of why does God allow so much suffering.
Whilst there may be some truth in all of them none though are completely satisfactory.
Because the question goes back to why is the world as it is?
Why does God allow evil to exist for example?
<Like when your children asks you the ʻwhyʼ question.>
And here this is what God is saying to Job and to us.
You will never understand the answer to this question.
And I do wonder whether that is our best response.
I donʼt know, because we donʼt really know.
Now I did say ʻYes and Noʼ to whether God answered Jobʼs question.
Godʼs answer to Job has forced Job to admit that the Lord really is God.
The God who made and who sustains all the world.
Yet the puzzle about evil, about suffering still exists.
We all know that we live in a good world, but it does seem blighted.
It is a world with pain, injustice, perplexity and sorrow.
And I think in Godʼs answer there is a hint to the problem of evil…
In Job 40:15 – 24 we meet a land beast called Behemoth.
And in Job 41 a water beast called Leviathan.
Many commentaries will say that the Behemoth is probably a Hippopotamus.
And that Leviathan a crocodile.
And there is something in the descriptions that may lead us to think that.
But there is something more to it than that.
Particularly the description of Leviathan and how God refers to it.
If the Leviathan is simply a crocodile and the Behemoth a hippopotamus then Godʼs final speech to Job is a bit of an anticlimax.
As George Bernard Shaw put it in one of his plays:
ʻGod really has to do better in explaining the problem of evil than to say, ʻYou canʼt make a hippopotamus, can you?ʼ
In the ancient world, when you wanted to speak about the world you often did in terms of stories and myths.
One of the stories involved some kind of dragon god, or serpent god, or sea monster god who was the arch enemy of the chief god.
And in these stories all sorts of battles were fought.
In Jobʼs first lament in ch3 he asks those who are ready to rouse up Leviathan to curse the day of his birth.
Everybody agrees he is not talking about a crocodile here.
No, to rouse Leviathan is to call upon the arch-enemy of God.
For the prince of darkness to come and undo part of Godʼs creation.
The Leviathan is not just a crocodile in Job 3.
And I think it is more than a crocodile in Job 41.
If you read further in Job 41 the description of Leviathan.
You hear how
His snorting throws out flashes of light; his eyes are like the rays of
dawn. Firebrands stream from his mouth; sparks of fire shoot out.
Smoke pours from his nostrils
This is more than a crocodile!
In Psalm 74, speaking of the God who rescues, the psalmist says,
you, O God, bring salvation upon the earth. It was you who split open the sea by your power; you broke the heads of the monster in the waters. It was you who crushed the heads of Leviathan
Here is Godʼs big enemy described in story language.
In Isaiah 27:1,
In that day, the LORD will punish with his sword, his fierce, great and powerful sword, Leviathan the gliding serpent, Leviathan the coiling serpent; he will slay the monster of the sea.
Leviathan I believe is in biblical imagery the arch-enemy of God.
The prince of darkness, Satan himself.
And Job is challenged by God,
“Can you pull in the leviathan with a fishhook”
The point being of course not Job!
This is precisely the monster who has been ravaging Job and making his life such a misery.
And Job cannot take him on.
But also the point is that the Lord essentially says, “But I can!”
This awesome enemy is a created being.
I made him and I can tame him.
And he is on my leash.
Now this may not answer our questions.
It doesn’t give us a nice neat philosophical solution that can explain the problem of suffering and evil.
But it does something deeper I believe.
It opens our eyes to who God is.
He is the only God, without rival.
Even the mystery of evil is His mystery.
What God is doing with Job and to us, is to direct our attention away from our agonized questions towards himself.
He beckons us to bow before the Lord himself, the one who knows the answers but chooses not to tell us.
The seeking God requires of us is not answers but the seeking after God himself.
And that will always be a choice we have in the midst of suffering.
Do we allow our suffering to lure us away to doubt the goodness or sovereignty of God.
Or do we allow it to draw us to himself.
As we suffer, and as we sit with others who suffer, we may with absolute confidence bow down to this sovereign God.
Knowing that the evil that comes may be terrible.
But it cannot go even one tiny fraction beyond the leash on which God has put it.
And it will not go on for ever.
It is not until the NT that we learn what it cost God to win this victory over Leviathan.
With his one and only son Jesus.
That through his death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is the devil. (Heb 2:14)
To finish lets sum up this book of Job…
Christopher Ash in his book says that the book of Job ought to shape our expectation of the normal Christian life.
And it certainly has things to say…
Firstly, we are in a spiritual battle.
Yes the victory has been decisively won by the death of Jesus.
But we are in a mopping up exercise until all things are placed under his feet.
Sometimes the battle is dark and brings suffering.
Jesus said to Simon Peter,
“Simon, Simon behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail.” (Luke 22:31-32)
Jesus didnʼt pray that his disciple be spared the sifting.
But that his faith would not fail.
Second, we need to cling to our relationship with God.
God commended Job and said he spoke rightly.
Even though Job had some hard things to say about what God was apparently doing, God still viewed it that Job spoke rightly.
And I think it is because Job continued to pursue his God, he continued to long for, yearn for His God to speak into his situation.
Above all Job must know God and speak to the living God.
For Job nothing else will satisfy.
His friends wanted a neat tidy system for Jobʼs predicament.
Job wanted God to speak into his predicament.
Thirdly, we need to be prepared to be humbled.
At the end when it says Job repents.
He is repenting because he has been presumptuous.
He has spoken of things he does not understand.
In the presence of the living God, it is a good thing to bow down low and to grasp how great he is and how small I am.
It is a mark of Godʼs love for us when he humbles us.
Our pride can so easily lead to self-confidence.
Which can lead to independence from God.
And independence from God leads to hell, not a good place!
Fourthly, it is important to know we are righteous in Godʼs sight.
God vindicates Job, he justifies him.
He makes it clear that he accepts Job.
This right relationship with God was one of the things Job longed to know.
Did this suffering mean he was in some way not right with God.
For everyone who is ʻin Christʼ, they can be assured they are righteous in Godʼs sight.
Those who are ʻin Christʼ, who have faith in hIm, God will vindicate.
At the end, he will look on each of us and say:
ʻThis one is mine, this one belongs to me, an honoured friend.ʼ
And fifthly and finally, we can expect blessing at the end.
The book finishes with the Lord rebuking Jobʼs friends.
Job prays for the and they are forgiven.
The Lord then gives Job greater prosperity.
He gives him celebration.
Joy comes back to his life.
He gives him a bigger family.
He gives him a long life.
Donʼt get distracted by thinking what about his first poor family and servants.
It is hardly a blessing for them!
The point to take is that with God, if we persevere in the battle, if we continue in relationship with him, being humbled by Him, walking in the righteousness we have in Christ, then blessings will come.
We may see blessing in the here and now.
But even if we do they are a tiny foretaste of the blessings to be poured out at the end.