June 17

JUNE 17
by Pastor Jim

After the LORD had said these things to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has.  So now take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and sacrifice a burnt offering for yourselves. My servant Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer and not deal with you according to your folly. You have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has.”  Job 42:7-8

Perhaps those verses were not among the ones you memorized in Sunday School when you were a child (and I must admit they were not for me!) but they have fascinated me for years.  And if you are feeling rather pummeled by this whole coronavirus thing, or issues of racial injustice, and beginning to wish you could ask God some challenging questions (beginning with the Bible’s oft-repeated “How long, O LORD”), you may find these verses helpful.  Here’s why.  (And it’s a bit of a read, so you might want to get your cup of coffee.)

The book of Job deals not with “the patience of Job,” as many think; rather it challenges a popular but simplistic theology of the day: “If you are good, God will bless you; if you are bad, God will punish you.  This answers all of life’s questions.”  Except it doesn’t, of course.  If God is good and just and righteous, why do bad things happen to good people?  Job sets out to explore and challenge this outlook

Job is described in the first verse of the book as “blameless and upright, one who feared God, and turned away from evil.”  That isn’t so much claiming that Job never sinned as it is setting us up for what follows: misery after misery befall poor, blameless Job.  When he hits absolute bottom, he is joined by three “friends” who represent the simplistic theology of the day.  “Job, everyone knows that if you are good, God will bless you.  And we all know that if you are bad God will punish you.  And so, brother Job, in spite of all of your protestations of innocence, it’s pretty clear to us that you must have messed up big time.”  Except he hasn’t.

Thirty chapters of arguing follow in which Job challenges his three friends and even says he wants to ask God a few questions.  At one point, he sort of boils over against God and does speak rather arrogantly — which, at the end, brings a bit of a slapdown from God:

“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding.  Who determined its measurements—surely you know! … Will you even put me in the wrong? Will you condemn me that you may be justified?”

Job 38:4,5; 40:8

Ouch!  But here’s where it gets interesting.  Those strong words come not because of Job’s asking God challenging “Why?” questions but rather because of that one point when he boiled over and got disrespectful and uppity with God.  In general, even though Job doesn’t finally solve the difficult problem he’s gone after, God approves of his trying to do so and of his asking challenging questions.

And that’s where the verses at the top of this devotional come into play.  In the last chapter of the book, after God reprimands Job and Job repents, God turns to Job’s three friends.  Read those verses again, now, and note God’s reprimand: “you have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has.”  God says this not just once but twice.  And note this also: four times God refers not merely to “Job” but to “my servant Job.”

Clearly God is affirming Job’s asking the hard questions — in particular, “If God is good and just, why do bad things happen to good people?”  God also affirms Job’s challenge to those who merely come forward with platitudes and pious but simplistic answers.

Bottom line: getting uppity with God is not recommended, but asking God questions like “Why?” and “How long, O LORD?” and even “LORD, this just isn’t right!” is OK.  Platitudes and simplistic answers, not so much.  In fact, more than Job’s questions just being OK, God affirmed them.    Books like the Psalms and Jeremiah and Habakkuk and Jonah (Why do good things happen to bad people?) are filled with questions like this.

My friend, God deeply wants relationship with you — just as he did with Job — and that relationship can include asking God the hard questions when your experience of life just doesn’t seem right or fair or in sync with God’s goodness.  The rabbis who collected the books of the Old Testament didn’t throw out books like Job or some of the Psalms or other books I mentioned because of their raising difficult questions for God. Rather, they said, “We do ask these questions.  We need these books.”

So if you are doing well in this difficult time, thanks be to God.  But if you are not doing so well, and are struggling with all this stuff — God still wants to hear from you.  You can ask those hard questions; God is big enough to take it.  But he does want to hear from you.

Gracious God, help us when times are difficult and hear us when we need answers to difficult questions.  And we pray this not merely for ourselves but for all who are struggling at this time.  In Jesus’ Name, amen.

 


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