So this week we’re having some more on the book of Job, and I found it really hard to write this talk- its difficult to be partway through a conversation/series about suffering and where we see God, without trying to bring it to a satisfactory conclusion. Of course, the ridiculous thing is that that is EXACTLY where we find ourselves most of the time in life- we rarely look ahead and have time to consider the unknown problems that lie ahead of us, and once we’ve come through something traumatic we’re unlikely to spend much time looking back at it… most of the time we’re sitting in the middle of the muddle, in the pit of pain or the ditch of despair (I could go on, but I won’t). What’s annoying me right now is that while I was in the middle of trying to write the talk, I didn’t think of writing about how hard it is to be in the middle of something… I guess I didn’t have my perspective quite set up right- which is, in the end, what I spent most of my time talking about.
In the talk I made reference to the story of the bug in the rug, which I first heard almost 20yrs ago- I assumed it was a fairly broadly known tale, and have used it on occasions since then to talk about perspective and hope. What I only just discovered was that the source I had- a techno-ambient track named Hex from a Coldcut album had taken it from a 1950’s US motivational speaker’s live recordings. Its not an aboriginal or hindu or native american tale… which is possibly why so few people have heard of it… still, its great and worth finding on the internet if you haven’t heard of it- you can listen to it here.
And as for the rest of what I said, it slightly resembled this:
The two passages today come from very different places- Jesus teaching on the one hand, and the words of one of Job’s comforters on the other… but they both raise the question of what is important to us- what are our priorities… We’ve a few readings from Job this month, that take us through some of the important themes of the book- those of suffering, perseverance, but it also takes the idea of lament which is found in some of the Psalms and extends it further- no other book of the Bible contains so much complaint and accusation- both against Job by his friends, and by Job against God…
A brief introduction to Job for those who weren’t here or have forgotten- its part of the wisdom literature, the context of the book is that of an exploration into how suffering fits within our understanding of life and its structure- the cycle of dialogues… Job as part of the wisdom literature (which means…); Job as potentially a literary construct rather than real life experience; the dialogue of comments between Job and his friends. Each of them presents their viewpoint and attempts to squash Job to fit what they think… and none of them, including Job are entirely correct.
Job’s view in this passage: If only I could find God I’d be able to make my case, and if he heard me he would concede that I have been wronged… but at the same time Job knows the power and might of God… he knows and has experienced being in God’s presence, and no he finds himself distant from God. We might suggest, as Job’s friend Eliphaz does, that its because of his failings- possibly some sin he will not repent from or something he’s not aware of… But Job knows that its not that- God has moved away from him. He, like Jesus, could call out to the skies ‘My God, why have you abandoned me?’ When we feel that God is far from us- sometimes further or absent completely… Job is verging towards self-justification before God, which is another way of suggesting that he’s going to give God a proper telling off… and that’s surely not a good plan.
Looking at Mark’s Gospel further ahead from today’s passage, in the case of Jesus, we know that his suffering on the cross was to bring together and deal with the sin of all mankind, and that God’s withdrawal- a father withholding his saving power right at the moment when the son is most in need, that is part of it all. And we also see that, although Jesus’ suffering and isolation were real, he also knew and understand, and chose the way of the cross… but when we don’t feel the presence of God, why is that?
While Job wants to make his complaint to God- to enter into God’s presence to challenge God about how he has been treated… sometimes we may have that desire, or sometimes we may want to be closer to God to feel his love, or for help with decisions… experiential love is good, but its not everything…
In Chapter 2 of Job he speaks with his wife, saying ‘Will we only accept Good things from God, and not bad?’ Or to put it another way, will we accept the good things we have without recognising they come from God, and then blame him for the bad things? The first is the mistake that the young man in Mark’s Gospel makes, and the second is what Job speaks about… the question of suffering and the existence of a good God…
Perspectives- the bug in the rug- you know the story by now?
And if you’re wondering, this wasn’t recorded, but a member of our team did preach on the same passage at our main service, and you can hear Richard’s talk here