>The following was preached at Veedersburg and Hillsboro UMC on Sunday, October 11, 2009. The text for this week’s message is Job 23:1-17.

This morning, we enter into our second week of the book of Job. As I mentioned last week, there is some debate as to whether or not this is a record of actual history or if it is story that is intended to teach us something important. And as I said last week, in this particular case, I really don’t think it matters. What does matter is that it is included in Scripture, and that the themes of the story should concern us more than the story behind the text.
Last week, we also talked a little bit about the fact that bad things do happen to good people. I don’t think anyone has any doubt of that fact, but just so that we are all on the same page – bad things happen to good people. We also talked about the fact that there really is no definite explanation as to why this is the case. It is a fact of life that we tend to know from our own experiences. It’s intuitive; nobody has to teach us this.
We also talked about the fact that our righteousness is dependent on our relationship with God through Jesus Christ, and nothing else. Our standing before God is not affected by our wealth (or lack thereof); it is not affected by the people in our lives; and it is not affected by how we feel on a given day. Our standing before God is solely dependent on whether or not we have put our trust in Jesus.
When we last checked in with Job, he had lost everything. His children were dead, his livestock were slaughtered or stolen, and he was afflicted with sores from head to toe. Yet, we are told in 2:10 that he did not sin with his lips. Right after all this, Job has three friends, and if you read Job 3-22, you might question the use of the term “friends,” but these three friends come and sit with Job. In 2:13, we are told that they sat with Job for seven days, and did not say a single word “for they saw that his suffering was very great.”
Now, I know that this wasn’t part of today’s Scripture reading, but I come back to this passage quite frequently. Sometimes it is just better to be there for a person who is going through a difficult time. Job’s friends did the right thing when they just came and sat with him for a while. It’s when they opened their mouths that things started going south. Sometimes it is just best to keep your mouth shut and grieve with a person instead of saying something well meaning, but stupid. Just a little bit of Pastoral Care 101 courtesy of the book of Job, and that brings us back to today’s passage.
Job 23 is part of a third cycle of speeches and responses between Job and his friends. Essentially, his friends are arguing that there is no way Job could be blameless before the Lord, judging simply from his circumstances. Now, remember, two times in the first two chapters, God lifts up Job as an example of someone who is blameless and upright. Job’s friends are trying over and over again to convince Job to repent of whatever sin it is that is ruining his life. However, Job is very insistent that he has not sinned. He doesn’t know why all this is happening to him, but he knows that it is not a result of his sin.
As we get into the passage, we immediately begin to see that Job is tired of the discussion he has been having with his friends. He says, “Today my complaint is bitter and my hand is heavy on account of my groaning.” In other words, “I’m getting sick of complaining; it’s wearing me down.” There comes a time when we continually search for answers that we start to reach our breaking point. That is where Job is now. He knows that God is working in his life, and he is tired of trying to figure out why this is going on. There is something very important that is going on here.
To put it simply, we cannot understand God. We cannot fully understand what it is that God is doing in our lives. I was thinking a while back on the Psalm that says, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.” And, yes, that is a psalm, not just an Amy Grant song. But here’s the thing about God’s word being a lamp unto our feet. When it is pitch black out and you have a lantern, how far ahead can you see? Not much more than a couple of steps, right? That’s how it is with God.
We can see a couple steps ahead of us, but if we continue to try to see further than that, we are just going to stumble on what is right in front of us. We begin to get exhausted and discouraged from being unable to see too far ahead. But that is a limitation that we have to embrace. Have you ever heard the saying, “I don’t know what the future holds, but I know who holds the future.” Job has been trying to see in the dark and it is wearing him down. Job is tired of trying to see beyond who he is. He is starting to come to the point where he acknowledges that God is the one who is in control, and that’s all that really matters.
Then Job starts to wonder out loud about something that many of us have probably wondered before. If only we could talk with God face to face. If only we could hear from His lips about why this is going on at this time in our lives. If only, if only, if only. If God could hear things from our point of view, then surely He would step in and things would be different. Trust me when I say this, God knows what’s going on in your life. God is not surprised by the things that are going on in our lives. There may be times when we feel like God is being silent, but that doesn’t mean that He is unaware.
In verses 8-9, Job talks about how He does not perceive God to be near him. When he goes forward and backward, he does not see God. When he looks to the left and to the right, even though he knows that God is working, he still doesn’t see God. That is how it will be from time to time in our lives. No matter where we look, we don’t see God working, but we have to know, we have to trust in the fact that God is at work all around us, even when we don’t see Him.
There are times in our lives that we could refer to as wilderness periods. They are times of testing; they are difficult times; they are formative times. Israel had one after the exodus from Egypt; it had another during the Babylonian exile. We can read in the Old Testament about Moses going to the wilderness before leading the people out of Egypt. Elijah had a wilderness period when Israel was in a drought and he lived by a brook and the birds provided his food. Before David became king, he spent a long time on the run from Saul, and 1 Samuel records more than once about David and his men sleeping in a cave. After Jesus is baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan River (not exactly a hub of civilization itself), he is taken into the wilderness for 40 days and 40 nights. In fact, the Greek in Mark could be translated, “thrown into the wilderness.” How we get into the wilderness is not always easy. The Apostle John was in exile on the island of Patmos when he had a vision that we now call Revelation. In all of these times, God may have been silent, but He was not absent. He was at work all around them.
These were all formative times. These were times that shaped what was to come, not just in the lives of individuals, but in the lives of all of Israel, and all the world. The lantern only reveals so much and the rest is revealed as we continue taking steps forward. And that is what we need to remember in the difficult times. One day at a time is all we have, so that is as far as we can move. Just take things one day at a time and trust that God is leading, even when you don’t see Him, and even when you don’t see His work. We have so much that we can learn from Job.
In verse 10 Job talks about God knowing what he is going through. He says, “[God] knows the way that I take.” Job has continued to follow after God, even though he doesn’t understand why all these bad things are happening. Sometimes, when we encounter difficult times in our lives, we may be tempted to abandon God. We may be mad at God for what is going on. There have been times like that in my life, and I’m sure that you’ve had your moments as well. You are mad, and you’re not exactly on speaking terms. Those are the times when we need to come back to Job.
Job lost everything, but he continued to live as he did before. He was a blameless and upright man before all this happens, and he continued to walk in the ways of the Lord. Verses 11-12 say, “My foot has held fast to his steps; I have kept his way and have not turned aside. I have not departed from the commandment of his lips; I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my portion of food.” We get a picture of a guy who was blameless and upright before losing everything. And in verses 11-12, we hear the words of a guy who continued to seek after God, even though everything around him was falling apart.
So, what can we learn from Job this morning? I think it comes down to something very simple. When we face the difficult times; when things around us are falling apart, we have two choices. First, we can push God away. We can blame God for everything that is going on in our lives and shut Him out. I’m not saying that it is the best choice, but it certainly one that we can, and sometimes have made.
Second, we can draw closer to God in the midst of our pain. We can search and search and search for the answers, but, the truth is, the search will wear us down, and we’ll wind up empty-handed. We could wish that we could talk with God face to face, but that is a very rare occurrence in history. While we may not see God at work, we have to trust that He is. We have to continue in our relationship with Him; draw closer to Him in the times of pain that we will inevitably face in our lives. Don’t give up on God, because He will never give up on you.