BIBLE READING:††† Job 1:1; 2:1-10††††† †Mark 10:2-16
Polly the parakeet never saw it coming. One second she was peacefully perched in her cage. The next she was sucked in, washed up, and blown over.
The problems began when Polly's owner decided to clean the parrot's cage with a vacuum cleaner. He removed the attachment from the end of the hose and stuck it in the cage. The phone rang, and he turned to pick it up. He'd barely said "hello" when "ssssopp!" Polly got sucked in.
The bird owner gasped, put down the phone, turned off the vacuum, and opened the bag. There was Polly - still alive, but stunned.
Since the bird was covered with dust, hair and all the stuff you find in a dust bag, he grabbed her and raced to the bathroom, turned on the tap, and held Polly under the running water. Then, realizing that Polly was soaked and shivering, he did what any compassionate bird owner would do . . . he reached for the hair dryer and blasted the pet with hot air.
Poor Polly never knew what hit her.
A few days after the trauma, a friend who had heard about Polly's troubles contacted her owner to see how the bird was recovering. "Well," he replied, "Polly doesn't sing much anymore - she just sits and stares."
Who can blame her? Sucked in, washed up, and blown over . . . That's enough to steal the song from the bravest heart.
Sucked in, washed up, and blown over would be an understatement when trying to describe the tragedies that Job experienced.
Job was an exceptional man. He was extremely loyal to God. We are told that "he was a good man, careful not to do anything evil" (1:1). In fact, his children liked to party and every morning after one of their parties he got up early and offered a sacrifice in case "one of them might have sinned by insulting God unintentionally" (1:5). God himself has nothing but accolades to shower on Job. He says, "There is no one on earth as faithful and good as he is. He worships me and is careful not to do anything evil" (1:8).
Job was a wealthy man. We are also told that he was "the richest man in the East" (1:3) with thousands upon thousands of sheep, camels, cattle and donkeys as well as a large number of servants. God had richly blessed Job. We also know that Job was blessed with seven sons and three daughters, these numbers indicate that this was the perfect family, a sign of Godís pleasure. He was a good father and had taught his children about God. He wasnít wasteful and was very generous and friendly to those who visited him.
Job enjoyed a good life. Godís protection rested on his family and everything he owned. Everything he did prospered with Godís help. Jobís wealth continued to grow and grow. Like Polly, he was enjoying life, everything was just right, life couldnít be sweeter, when wham-bam, he was "sucked in, washed up, and blown over".
Raiders from the south stole all his stock and killed his servants. A storm destroyed the house where his children were having one of their parties and all ten were killed. The normally healthy Job broke out in terribly painful running sores. His home now is the heap of ashes at the local rubbish dump, a hint that he had been excluded from the community. In one day Job has gone from riches to rags. We might well ask, "What had Job done to deserve all this?" "Why have so many disasters happened to a man who was so good?"
Jesus was confronted with the same problem (Luke 13:1-5). Some of those following Jesus referred to disasters that were headlines in the news. One tragedy happened at the temple. Some Galileans were there in the presence of God, offering sacrifices to God. They were pious and honourable folk and yet they came to a cruel end. Pontius Pilate had them killed right there in the temple as they worshipped. Thatís a lot like the Job story. To our human way of thinking, it makes no sense that someone who is so honourable, so successful and so dedicated to God, should suddenly meet with so much disaster.
And then there is the collapse of the tower at Siloam. Eighteen people were killed when it toppled over. They just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. That happens in so many other disasters, fire, earthquake, a storm or a freaky accident - people get caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The question that was brought to Jesus was, "Why do bad things like this happen for no obvious reason?" If we could say that they were particularly bad people and this was their punishment, then the problem would be solved. But we canít. God doesnít work like that. Jesus makes it clear that neither those Galileans who were killed by Pilate's soldiers in the temple nor those on whom the tower fell were receiving punishment for some exceptionally bad sin. It follows then that neither bad health nor the natural disasters that now confront us have come as a result of some terrible sin. Neither can we say that because we are church-going and committed Christians we will never experience any hardship or suffering.
All right. We have seen that God doesn't operate in a tit for tat kind of way. You do something terribly sinful Ė some terrible disaster will come your way. But the problem still stands - why do good people suffer bad things? Jesus didn't give an answer when questioned about those people from Galilee and Jerusalem who had died, because there isn't one. There is no human way of logically sifting through the problem of why some people have a run of crises and tragedies in their lives and others seem to have nothing but smooth sailing.
There is no logical explanation why a mother is left searching the rubble for her 4 children and her mother after the tidal wave swept them away. Or why one lady is pulled from the wreckage of her collapsed home, while many others are crushed and die. Tidal waves, earthquakes and typhoons do not make exemptions for those who live a good life.
The question that arises in our minds now is this - we canít explain why bad things happen so then how do we cope with tragedies when they do occur? How did Job cope with the tragedies that happened in his life? We read,
"Then Job got up and tore his clothes in grief. He shaved his head and threw himself face downward on the ground. He said, "I was born with nothing, and I will die with nothing. The Lord gave, and now he has taken away. May his name be praised!" In spite of everything that had happened, Job did not sin by blaming God" (Job 1:20-21).
Jobís response to all this bad news in two ways.
Firstly, as can be expected Job is grief stricken. He has lost so much so quickly. In record time, the once rich man has become a pauper. He has lost his most precious possessions of all Ė his children, all ten of them at once. No wonder his grief is so intense.
Jobís second response is one of faith. Even though filled with grief he acknowledges that God is lord of all things. He gives freely and generously and he is able to take it all away again. In effect, Job is saying, "If that is Godís will, may his will be done." We are told, "Even in all this suffering Job said nothing against God" (2:10).
I donít know about you but my response to tragedy mirrors Jobís. Although I have spent some time reflecting on the fact of fairness. Where is the justice in this when others just sail through life without any problems?
My first response was - ďWhy has God dealt me such a terrible blow? Itís not fair that the one I have loved has had their life cut short! Itís not fair that the centre and edges and shape of my life - my wife was wiped out of my life so devastatingly!Ē You see, the whole question of justice and fairness comes up Ė God seems so unjust and unfair.
But as I grieved and prayed I reflected on Jobís response. Yes, he is filled with grief but he says nothing about fairness and justice. He acknowledges Godís lordship and ownership over everything. Even when his wife tempts him to get real and curse God, Job remains sure and steadfast saying, "When God sends us something good, we welcome it. How can we complain when he sends us trouble?" (2:10).
The question that faces us is this: can we continue to love and trust God - in pain, in sickness, in grief and in any bad times. Can we love God in spite of what happens to us in life? What will our reaction be when something hits us that really rocks us. It strikes us so deeply that our love and trust in God is shaken. We don't have the human resources to hang on to God and to keep on trusting. We donít have the trust that Job had that firmly believes that God knows what he is doing.
When tragedy strikes, when we donít understand, when we think it is unfair and we blame God, thank goodness God keeps hanging onto us. Even when our trust is low and our doubts are overwhelming us, God keeps on loving and keeps on holding on to us and supporting us and helping us through that crisis.
We are not given answers to the questions that we have about the tragedies and crises in our lives, he simply gives us his Son. He gave his body and spilled his blood for us on the cross. He reminds us of the powerful love that God has for us. He promises that he will always be with us through times of hardship and tragedy. This is the way he responds to our questions - not with answers that make the world simpler than it really is, not with slick and neat answers to the question "why", but he answers with his love, with his life given for us, that we might more fully give our lives to him.
Here is a poem to sum up all that we have heard.
God has not promised skies always blue,
Flower-strewn pathways all our life through;
God has not promised sun without rain,
Joy without sorrow, peace without pain.
But God has promised strength for the day,
Rest for the labour, light for the way;
Grace for the trials, help from above,
Unfailing sympathy, undying love.