The following was preached at Veedersburg and Hillsboro UMC on Sunday, October 4, 2009. The text for this week’s message is Job 1:1; 2:1-10.
Back in late July, I spent some time reviewing the lectionary for the upcoming months, and putting together a plan for what I would be preaching on. When I got to October, the Old Testament readings from Job just jumped out at me. I can’t explain why, but I really felt like Job is where we should be spending the month of October. What I didn’t realize at the time was that this was going to be a difficult series to work through. And it is not a difficult book because of the language, or because it’s hard to understand. It’s difficult because it is intensely personal. It is a book that touches on subjects that, quite frankly, bring us pain. It addresses issues that we all have to deal with from time to time in our lives. Today’s reading actually has us in Chapter 2, but I think it is important to spend at least a few minutes in Chapter 1 to get us into the story.
Job is a story about a man from the land of Uz. There is some debate as to whether or not this was an actual event that happened to a man in history, or if it is just a story intended to teach the reader some important things about life. In my honest opinion, I don’t think it really matters. I know that’s a terrible thing for a pastor to say, but think about it for a minute. Are the themes of Moby Dick less important because it is a fictional story? In a few hundred years, will scholars be debating whether or not Captain Ahab was a real person, or will they be discussing the dangers of obsession? The themes of the story are no less true simply because Captain Ahab is a fictional character. The same is true for the story of Job. Whether or not it is an actual event in history is irrelevant to the point at hand.
Job is a very wealthy man. He has several children and an abundance of livestock. 1:3 says that Job was the greatest of all the people in the east. One day, God and Satan are chatting and God asks him if he ever considered Job as an example of a blameless and upright man. And Satan says, “Yeah, well, why wouldn’t he be? You’ve given him everything he’s ever needed. He has every reason to be blameless and upright. You’ve taken care of him.”
Now, I want to stop here for just a minute. Do you notice what Satan does here? He makes two major mistakes. First, he makes an assumption that many of us have made from time to time. If things are going well for a person, they must be doing something right. They must be great people because God is blessing them will all this stuff. Of course, the problem with this line of thought is that the inverse must be true as well. If things are falling apart for somebody, then they must be getting what they deserve. We even have a word for it – karma; what goes around comes around. We see this line of thinking in Scripture as well.
In John 9, there is a man who is born blind, and Jesus is asked, “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” What a great approach to the problem of evil, right? I mean, bad things happen as punishment for the bad things that you have done. Again, what goes around, comes around. That’s what they are getting at here, isn’t it? Of course, there is a slight problem with this reasoning – it is not supported by the witness of Scripture. In Scripture, and in our own lives, we know that bad things happen to good people. Are you skeptical about that? Here’s all you need to know – Jesus was crucified. The Son of God, who lived a perfect, sinless life was nailed to a cross and died between two criminals. If you had any doubts about bad things happening to good people, let’s just put them to rest now – bad things happen to good people.
The second major mistake that Satan makes here is assuming that one’s righteousness is dependent on the circumstances around him. This, also, couldn’t be further from the truth. Whether or not we decide to do the right thing is not the product of what we own or what we lack. Rich people can sin, and poor people can lead upright lives.
So, Satan says, “Yeah Job is blameless only because you’ve blessed him. Take away what you’ve given him and he won’t be so upright anymore.” So, God says, “All right. Do what you want, but leave him alone.” And one day, Job gets four messengers right in a row, one after another, and suddenly he has lost everything. His children are dead and all of his livestock have either been killed to stolen. Job grieves, but 1:22 tells us, “In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.” And then we hit Chapter 2.
Chapter 2 begins in the same way as Chapter 1. There is a scene with the Lord and Satan talking. Once again, God presents Job as one who is blameless and upright. And Satan says, “Well, yeah, of course he is. A man will give away everything he has if he can just hang on to his life, but if you start messing with his health, he won’t be as blameless and upright as you think.” Once again, God says, “All right, do what you want, but don’t kill him.” And so, Satan goes out and gives Job sores from head to toe. These sores are so bad that Job ends up sitting in a pile of ashes and scratching with pieces of a broken pottery.
In just a short amount of time, Job went from being the greatest person in the east to a childless, poor man sitting in a place that only the worst off in society would be sitting, scratching the sores that cover him from head to toe with the garbage. Things fall apart sometimes. Maybe you’ve felt like Job from time to time in your life. One minute everything seems to be going great, and the next you have nothing. And deep in your heart, you know that you’ve been following God. Sure, you haven’t been absolutely perfect, but you spend time with God, praying, reading Scripture and just resting in His presence. And then, for no reason, the bad stuff comes. Everyone has been there at some point. You just feel like you want to sit in the ashes and scratch your sores with garbage. We’ve all been there.
And as we come out of Chapter 2 we walk away with another false assumption given by Satan. The assumption now is that once Job starts facing something that affects his own body, then he will really fail to be an upright and blameless person. It makes the assumption that one’s righteousness is dependent on personal circumstances. And, again, this is a false assumption. Our righteousness is not dependent on our health, or on how we feel, or on how things are going in our lives on a particular day. Our righteousness is based solely on our relationship with God. By turning to God and allowing God to work in our lives, we become upright and blameless. And it is not dependent on how good of a person we are, or how much God has given us in our lives, or how things are going for us on a particular day. Our righteousness is found in our relationship with God. Let’s go back to Chapter 1 for a minute.
Job 1:5 gives us an insight into what Job’s relationship with God looked like. It says that Job’s children would often gather together and have feasts, and after these gatherings, Job would have them consecrated and offer burnt offerings for each of his children just in case they may have sinned in their hearts. And the end of the verse says, “Thus Job did continually.” We get a picture of a guy who is so focused on God and remaining righteous that he offers sacrifices on the possibility that one of his children may have sinned in his/her heart.
How often do we do that? How often are we so concerned with our relationship with God that we ask forgiveness for something that someone we know may have done? How often do we even do that for the sins that we have committed in our own lives? Unfortunately, even with the serious nature of sin, we tend to gloss over them. Do you know what word we’ve come up for sins these days? Mistakes. A mistake is forgetting to carry the one in a math problem. A mistake is turning a street too early on the way to a friend’s house. A mistake is frustrating, but it doesn’t separate you from God. That’s sin. You can fancy up snails with sauce and call it escargot, but the simple fact is, it’s still snails. Slimy, trail-leaving, backyard snails.
Job was a blameless and upright man because he understood the serious nature of sin. His heart was in the right place. He followed God; he sought after God; and he did his best to live in such a way that he pleased God. Take a look at your last week. Can you say that you sought after God? Can you say that you followed after God? I’m not going to ask for hands, because everyone knows how they’ve done. But the point is, in spite of Job’s righteousness, bad things happened to him. He lost everything. And here’s the thing – there’s really no explanation as to why this stuff happened. Was it a cosmic bet between God and Satan? No, Satan is in no position to make a wager with God. Was it a time of testing? Maybe, the truth is, it’s hard to say. I think the only definite here is that sometimes God allows things to happen in our lives; things that are difficult; things that shape us; things that potentially change us. But the bottom line is – where are we putting our trust?
Are we trusting in the things around us? That wouldn’t have worked for Job. If that is what Job did, then this story would have ended in the first chapter after he lost his livestock and servants. Are we putting our trust in the people around us? That wouldn’t have worked for Job. If that is what Job did, then losing his children and his wife’s words in 2:9 would have done him in. On a side note, I’m glad that my wife has never told me to “curse God and die.” But back to Job.
Job put his trust in the Lord. Job realized that all things belong to God; that ultimately, we are all in God’s hands, regardless of what is going on around us. At the end of today’s passage, Job basically says, “We have to take the good with the bad. We have to stick with God even though everything around us is falling apart.” And that’s the point. Even though everything around us falls apart; everything fails us at some point. But we still have Jesus.
As the hymn says, “On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.” In Matthew we read that the rain falls on the just and the unjust. There is a song by Casting Crowns that talks about praising God in the midst of the storms in our lives. When things fall apart, we still have Jesus.