We reach the end of the book of Job, and this week, at last, God shows up. Never apologises for his timing does he… (- maybe that’s where Tolkien got his inspiration for Gandalf’s ‘wizards are never late, they always arrive exactly when they mean to’ from Lord of the Rings). And when God speaks in chapters 38-41 -which is one of the longest pieces of speech ascribed to God anywhere in the Bible, we here his side of the story. I’m going to post my text from yesterday, which was also recorded and posted onto the website here, but below I’ll also put a blog that came across my radar from Morning Story and Dilbert– I hope you can see the connection.
This morning we return to the book of Job- this passage taken from the conclusion of the book is the climax of God’s response- by the end of the various speeches Job has reached that conclusion that God is wilful, weak or absent as far as he is concerned. He’s refused to curse God, but has equally refused to acknowledge himself as guilty. As we said last time, its that action- claiming perfection for himself over and above God, standing in judgement over God, that is his sin- in all areas of his life God has seen that Job is righteous and holy; and when his prosperity and health are lost, he doesn’t immediately blame God. In fact, its only when his friends point the finger at him- you must have done something wrong, that Job responds: at first proclaiming his innocence and calling God to judge him, and then gradually reaching that point of self-justification and anger, and ultimately arrogance.
Here’s a question to mull over for a moment- when things are going wrong for you, what can those around you do that really helps- and what doesn’t help?
At times, we may want a solution- someone to come to our rescue
Sometimes we may want an explanation- its ok if we can understand why
Sometimes we may want someone to blame- it may not matter if they are or not
Sometimes we simply need someone to be with us- not to speak, explain, solve or accuse but to be with us in the difficult place. If you’ve been looking at the readings through Job this month you may recall that Job’s friends sat with him in silence for a week before saying anything… Sometimes that is the response we need to offer to those around us, and to know that its ok. We may feel the need to ‘sort things out’, and as Christians may feel that our prayers are the way we do that… but when we don’t know how to pray, what then? Paul wrote specifically to this when he said in his letter to the Romans ‘we do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit intercedes for us’ (8.26)… our tears, inarticulate groans and silence all speak eloquently to God.
The passage speaks about justice- God questions whether Job would discredit his justice in order to make himself feel ok… and God is also asking ‘Do you have any idea who I really am and what I do?’… in one way it makes me think of a caricature- a parent and child, or a pupil and a headteacher… why do I have to eat my peas/go to bed/be nice/sit still in class/take my exams? What Job knows of God is that God is fair and just… and so the question he raises is ‘how is this fair?’ As we read God’s response to Job we see God’s creativity- God’s outpouring of love in the act of creation… and for us the easy thing to do is hold these things in tension- as if God is struggling with these two sides to his personality… on the one hand God is full of love, and on the other hand God brings justice… but its simpler than that: God is just and God is loving… not one or the other. Its not a question of one winning over the other but how to reconcile those two equal parts of God’s character with the world, and with the way that we act and live and speak ourselves.
At the outset, we may think that the book of Job is about the question of suffering, but as we reach its conclusion we discover that it is equally about knowing the character of God- Job knew of God, and was living by the rules that he had observed- do this, avoid that and you’ll be in the right with God… and that sustained him through much of his sufferings. However at this point Job is beginning to really know God- and while we might easily say that its more important to know God than to just know about God- that belief and discipleship are vastly more important to the Christian life than knowledge and attendance… it does raise the question- is it worth it? Is a full, committed faith with all the highs and lows that it brings better than a consistent low level ‘ok-ish’ one? Without the commitment and the vulnerability we cannot appreciate the highs and the full extent of God’s love for us… But the answer is yes- just as much here, when we talk about faith, as it is for anyone who has taught anyone, cared for a child, and in many other ways- when we make ourselves vulnerable and open, we allow others to hurt us, but we are also more truly alive because we feel more fully. And in becoming open to others we’re also more able to know them… if I keep you at a distance from me, you cannot get close to me with all that entails but neither can I know you… and the same is true of God.
If we do allow God to come close to us, and intentionally come closer to God- whether through a daily pattern of prayer and Bible reading, or through attending events at Lee Abbey or New Wine, through our worship here and the prayer times we have each week… if we come closer to God, we will have a right understanding of the relationship between us and God… that recognition of who God is… which leads to conviction of our own unworthiness, appreciation of the grace of God, is outworked in worship and a desire to serve God, but above all is expressed in humility. Job, having once been humble, has been humbled and now finds true humility- not to suggest that his previous behaviour was like that of Uriah Heep, Dickens’ master villain who ate ‘umble pie with an appetite… Job now sees God more clearly, and his self-justification disappears… he realises that his previous claims are as nothing… and he humbles himself before God- as the song goes ‘you are God in heaven, and here am I on earth’.
It’s a tricky thing to remain fully humble- if we serve God and our community, and things don’t work out, then we can become discouraged. But if things work- if we manage to do a few things and see some fruit… we have to consistently point past ourselves to God- AND mean it… And that is the heart of it- as people begin to gather around a community that proclaims the Lordship of Jesus, we need to maintain that Lordship- the best thing we have isn’t us, our building or our coffee… its Jesus, knowing him in our lives, knowing God as our Father, knowing ourselves as sent into the world by the power of the Spirit… that is the challenge and the call to us as we read the book of Job alongside the rest of the Bible… not to deny suffering or reduce its meaning, but to put alongside it God’s love and to live humbly as those who know that love in our lives.
so that’s what I said yesterday, or near enough… and here’s what landed on my laptop this morning:
Man: God, can I ask You a question?
Man: Promise You won’t get mad …
God: I promise
Man: Why did You let so much stuff happen to me today?
God: What do u mean?
Man: Well, I woke up late
Man: My car took forever to start
Man: at lunch they made my sandwich wrong & I had to wait
Man: On the way home, my phone went DEAD, just as I picked up a call
God: All right
Man: And on top of it all, when I got home I just wanted to soak my
feet in my new foot massager & relax. BUT it wouldn’t work!!! Nothing
went right today! Why did You do that?
God: Let me see, the death angel was at your bed this morning & I had
to send one of My Angels to battle him for your life. I let you sleep
through that .
Man (humbled): OH
GOD: I didn’t let your car start because there was a drunk driver on
your route that would have hit you if you were on the road.
God: The first person who made your sandwich today was sick & I didn’t
want you to catch what they have, I knew you couldn’t afford to miss
Man (embarrassed): Okay
God: Your phone went dead because the person that was calling was
going to give false witness about what you said on that call, I didn’t
even let you talk to them so you would be covered.
Man (softly): I see God
God: Oh and that foot mas-sager, it had a shortage that was going to
throw out all of the power in your house tonight. I didn’t think you
wanted to be in the dark.
Man: I’m Sorry God
God: Don’t be sorry, just learn to Trust Me…. in All things , the Good
& the bad.
Man: I will trust You.
God: And don’t doubt that My plan for your day is Always Better than your plan.
Man: I won’t God. And let me just tell you God, Thank You for Everything today.
God: You’re welcome child. It was just another day being your God and
looking after My Children…
hmmm... it gave me one of those moments...