Suffering and perspective- the Rugby World Cup and the book of Job- its about what you do next

So, we’re partway through the Rugby World Cup- the third largest sporting event in the world, and tomorrow evening the hosts will bid farewell to the party as the England team go out of the competition- failing to win against Wales and being demolishd by Australia mean that its not even a ‘well we deserved to get through’… on the day, they didn’t play well enough against the opposition to win the matches…

But this isn’t a sporting blog (despite references to the Tour de France and Wimbledon earlier in the year), so what’s all this about? Well, we’re looking at the book of Job at the moment- a book in the Old Testament, written 2500-3000yrs ago, that addresses the question of suffering, of ‘why me?’ and seeks to find a way to live in a real world where suffering and loss occur, but where God is also real and present… is it too far a stretch to make the connection to Rugby, and to how the England fans are being encouraged to keep the faith, despite what is happening before their eyes… Its still a great game, and the England team will be back, and next time around they may be the better for it…

Anyway, this text was written before the England-Australia match and then given the following morning, so a few bits were added in… but largely speaking, this is what we heard last Sunday morning, reflecting on Job chapter 2:

there are all sorts of phrases that we know associated with Job, and parts of the book that we’d find familiar, but very few Christians have actually read the book of Job- it’s a bit like War and Peace- we know its wonderful, but few have been there!  Job is part of what we call the Wisdom literature- the 3rd strand of the Hebrew Scriptures that we call the Old Testament- Its not part of the Law (Torah) or the Prophets, but along with Proverbs and Ecclesiastes it makes up the Wisdom writings… If the Law tells us how to live rightly with God, and the Prophets tell the people of God when they aren’t living rightly with God (to hugely simplify!), then Wisdom helps us to live rightly with God while living our daily lives… Proverbs is everyday advice on how to get by without losing yourself, Ecclesiastes gives a long hard look at the question of finding meaning in life, while Job, well, Job asks the question of ‘what happens when it all goes wrong?’ and then follows it up by asking whether God is righteous and sovereign… and through the book examines and dismisses the ways that Job’s friends (who you’ll encounter if you look at our daily Bible readings for the next few weeks) try to respond themselves to his plight…

Today’s reading really sets the scene for the rest of the book, and we’ll be hearing more from this next week at our 9.30 service and then the following week here at 8am, but for today…

Who is Job? The main character of this book lived in an uncertain time, in a place that can’t be identified clearly- we have no genealogy here or anywhere else that links Job to the story of God and the people of Israel… he may be an idea, an everyman, or a real individual… but the truth of this book doesn’t depend on that… it’s a story about the questions and how we answer them, not Job himself.

What is happening in this passage? This unusual format- describing an encounter between God and an accusing spirit, taking place in the heavenly realm, is one reason why many speculate that Job is entirely fictional, though others suggest that just because the writer could not have witnessed this scene there’s no reason to suggest that Job and his suffering are simply a writer’s creation. These first two chapters, with the twin discussions in heaven lay out the possible course that leads to Job’s suffering- could it be that God is accused that the faithful only love him because they are protected? Is that, in a way, the reason why suffering falls evenly on all? Because that is part of the question that lies in Job- why do the good suffer? Why does anyone suffer? Why am I suffering? The answers that we find as we read through Job take some thought, but just as the book itself is worth the read, so the answers are worth discovering.

At this point in Job though, we’re finding out about the character of Job- the character that enables him to live through all that he will endure. We see that he is blameless and upright- a man who not only shunned evil but also feared God. When we read that phrase, we need to remember that ‘fearing God’ is a translation of a particular word- in Proverbs we read that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom, the same Hebrew word… it means to take God seriously, to be aware of who God is and respond appropriately- in the same way that sailors who love the sea also take it very seriously… its an awareness of the power of God.  We also see how Job reacts in the first instance when he loses all that he has- in Job 1 he loses his wealth and family and here in Job 2 his health and dignity are taken from him… all those things that give us identity, lost- taken away… And Job’s response? Acceptance on the one hand, and a refusal to let this change who he is- he cannot change what has happened, but he can control how he responds.

And for us, that is the key thing to take from the passage today- to learn from Job that whatever is afflicting us or those we love, our community and the world… rarely can we affect what has happened, but we can choose our own response-

Whether to be generous to the stranger or hold tightly to what we have, whether to allow our plans to be changed by what the day brings or to hold rigidly to ‘the schedule’, whether to allow God to guide us as he sees fit or to continually wrestle between trusting Him and trusting ourselves… Its not easy to do this, but it brings peace, allows us to live and grow, we can let go of things in the past and hope for the future despite what we see today.

So let us, as we begin our journey through Job, allow ourselves to listen to all that God would say to us through this epic poem, that we might, with Job, accept all that God brings and life lives with integrity in the eyes of all.

Over the next 2 weeks we’ll have a couple more preaches looking at how things develop in Job, if you’ve never read it, I highly recommend John Goldingay’s ‘Job for Everyone’ as an accessible and helpful companion for the journey.

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