3rd October - Job: Dealing with suffering
: Dealing with suffering
Welcome to our time of reflection for Sunday 3rd of October.
Welcome to our series on Job which we begin today.
This is one time when the online service and the live service are different.
Today, live, we have Rev Mike Goodison preaching as sole nominee for the deferred linkage of Menstrie with Alva and we wish Mike and both churches well.
We were unable to record that service so we have created this special service for our online members.
Have you ever felt that your life is some kind of cosmic joke?
That somebody must be having a laugh at your expense.
Your life seems to be one disaster after another.
The book of Job is a reflection on that.
It is one of the cleverest books ever written.
A treatise on suffering that allows us to look at all the angles and come to our own conclusions.
It is not a historical book, there is no way you can place where and when in history this book is written.
It is best read as if you are imagining a scenario and trying to work out how you would react in such a situation.
It starts off by describing a man who supposedly has the perfect life...
Now a basic theological belief was that everything had its origins in God.
If good things happened to you, it was because you had been good and God was blessing you.
If bad things happened to you it was God punishing you for the bad things you had done.
But even in those times that seemed too simplistic, what were you to believe if you thought you were good and had done nothing wrong, but something bad happened to you?
What were you to make of that?
That is what the writer wants us to think about, so in this hypothetical story, this perfect life starts to fall apart, until everything is taken from Job...
We join together this day, both certain and uncertain,
but no matter how we feel we are in awe of your undying love given to us and to all others.
We come to give thanks for all that you give and all that you do.
The truth is that You are our strength and our redeemer.
Look on us, your children, with care.
Pour out your compassion on we who are conscious of our failings,
of our inability to always live up to what you desire of us,
of our struggles to live up to the expectations that we have for ourselves.
Help us to know that through your grace we are forever forgiven,
we are not restricted by the shackles and chains of our guilt and regrets,
instead we are freed to live lives bathed in your love.
Help us Father, as our lives are still uncertain.
We have lived a life of forced isolation for a long time,
for some of us we have chosen individualism as the safest way to survive this pandemic,
for many of us we are still wary of others, we see them as the possible source of illness and infection and we are scared of how the way they live their lives may affect us or those we love.
Whatever the cause, it undermines the community that we so crave for, destroys the human company that makes our life worth living.
Guide us away from empty excuses for cutting ourselves off from others,
and lead us forever, in eagerness, towards service of your people and the work of your Kingdom.
No matter the shadows that may loom over our soul,
remind us that you are our strength and our redeemer,
our light and our source of meaning and purpose.
Be with us this day as we dedicate ourselves once more,
to seeking you, to asking questions, to accepting doubt,
and to working ever to live and to share your love,
this day and every day.
Job is a reflection about suffering.
This is not a book about theology.
And what I mean by that is that it doesn’t tell us anything directly about God.
We are not meant to read this book and think that it gives us anything about God’s character.
Do we really think that someone just happened to be in some celestial court and oversaw God and Satan having a conversation?
‘You know I was just minding my own business and you wouldn’t imagine who I saw talking to each other? God and Satan. And they were talking about a man called Job and God said it was all right for Satan to kill all his sons and daughters and to kill all his cattle and to destroy everything that was important to Job.’
Do we really think this happened?
Do we really think God acts this way?
Does that image of God in any way fit in with the character of God that Christ shows us?
Of course not.
This is a theological set up.
The background is a lecture set up by a rabbi to young idealistic students who believe that as long as you live a good life then everything will be fine.
And the older, wiser rabbi, who has seen a lot more of life gives them a ‘What if?’
What if life is a bit more complicated than that?
How are you supposed to react?
I find, as I read and reread this book, that I get caught up with its traps, which I supposed is part of its purpose.
You see Job doesn’t go through this suffering alone.
His wife effectively tells him that if this is the way God treats him then he should walk away from God. That God isn’t worth worshipping.
And that is a valid point; if God is all powerful then everything that happens to us happens because God allows it. If this is supposed to be the act of a loving God then why follow a God that kills your children on a whim.
Meanwhile Job’s friends try to tell him that the old theory is good, that good things happen to good people, bad things happen to bad people, and Job must have done something bad to deserve this suffering. If only he is sorry for whatever bad he has done then God can forgive him and he can move on.
And to me these two reactions show us some dead ends that we are tempted to fall into when we are struggling.
The first is to blame someone other than ourselves.
Something bad happened to me and it can’t be my fault so who’s fault is it?
The other is just as bad.
We presume that if evil has been done to us then we must have done something to deserve it. And if only we can work out what it is then we can stop the suffering.
Don’t get me wrong.
I am not saying that these aren’t important questions.
But they are not the most important question, the first question that we should be asking.
Let me give you a couple of very real examples of why these important questions are not the first questions we should ask ourselves.
My first example is the anger which has been raised by the government motion to create a statute of limitations on crimes in Northern Ireland during the troubles. That neither soldiers, nor terrorists, accused of murder should go through the courts or be sentenced for the actions they committed.
The anger is very real and very understandable.
People who were loved and cared for were killed, murdered, and those that were the source of that pain and suffering seem to be getting away with it.
The second example is our recent lessening of COVID restrictions and how the onus is now on ourselves, to a great extent, to work out for ourselves how to keep ourselves safe.
And the real fear that some have to work out how close that they should get to others, how much they should trust others and what they do and how that affects us.
Now once again I want to be very clear about this;
Finding out the source of suffering is important.
Whether that source is others or ourselves is important.
If a company dumps rubbish illegally into water that then pollutes the water source and people then end up drinking that and becoming ill then it is important we find the source of that evil.
If a government undermines another country and the result is that destabilises all parts of the world then that government should be held to account.
If individuals smoke or drink excessively and it results in endangering themselves then that should be found out and acted on.
There are people that died of COVID that shouldn’t have died of COVID.
It is right that we work out if that is the fault of the government policies, poor practice in nursing homes or hospitals, or irresponsible actions of individuals.
Seeking fault is important, finding out how to prevent the same suffering happening again is important.
But it is not the most important question we should ask as we face suffering, it is not the first question we should ask.
You see, that is what happens in the book of Job. The wife wants to blame God, the friends want to blame Job.
But that doesn’t help anyone.
Anger does not bring closure.
Blame does not bring healing.
That was the genius of the writer of Job.
You see Job asks the question that is the most important, the one that we need to face first, before all the rest.
While we are in the midst of suffering, can we still be in relationship with God?
That is what Job is trying to face.
Job knows the reality of facing evil.
Job knows that there is a source of that evil, he may not know exactly what that source is, he may not know exactly what the cause is, but he knows it has a source, it has a cause.
But if he is going to survive it, if he is going to move on from it, it will not come from finding that source.
Even if he was to find exactly who was to blame for it all...
Even if he was to find out it was some kind of cosmic game that God and Satan were playing with his life....
Would that bring back his children?
Would that give him closure?
Would that bring him healing?
Once again I want to repeat...
Finding the source of evil is important, but it isn’t the first thing we need to ask as we face suffering.
Unfortunately, finding that source of suffering tends to be the way we go.
We set up enquiries and try to set out who exactly is to blame.
But how often do they resolve anything?
We have the Grenfeld Tower enquiry going on and on where at least 71 people died.
When that is finished do we honestly believe that it will bring healing?
Seeking the source of such a disaster is important.
But it is a diversion if we think that it will bring healing to those who are mourning.
That’s what the writer of Job was trying to warn us.
Everyone is looking for blame.
But instead of looking for blame, how do we look for healing?
That is what Job himself is trying to work out.
That’s why Job clings on to faithfulness; the idea that we do not face our suffering alone.
That God is with us.
And we can shout at God and scream at God and blame God and cry at him.
We can go through every range of emotion with God, because God is still there, in relationship with us, no matter what we are going through.
Finding the source of our suffering does not bring healing.
But having someone to face the suffering with,
to help us over the grief’s and the sorrows,
to help us see a light in the darkness and to believe that there will be a day when the pain is not so bad,
there may even be a day when we can feel joy again,
and that that God will be with us and help us find that joy,
that is the message and the hope of the book of Job.
No matter what we face, we can face it with God beside us.
Let us pray
We thought that once COVID was sorted then life would be better.
But for many that is not the case.
Many have lost their job, governments have cut back on allowances and made the life of the poor so much harder.
We are facing empty shelves and worries about gas shortages.
And in poorer parts of the world they are struggling with even harder climate changes.
We can get so angry and frustrated, we can get to the stage where we become cynical and just want to give up.
The world and its problems feel too big for us, we cannot cope.
But remind us that we do not need to face our struggles alone.
Remind us of your loving and generous care.
And with that hope empowering us, may we in turn help others in their struggles.
This we ask in Jesus name.