BIBLE READINGS:        Job 23:1-9, 16-17        Mark 10:17-31

 

SERMON

One of the big questions people ask is “Why?”
“Why am I struggling with this illness? Is God trying to teach me something?”

“Why? Why was I the one let go at the office? I have a family to support. Why? Why?”

“Why did my mother have an aneurysm?”

“Why was my child hit by a drunk driver? Why?”

“Why is God doing this to me?”

These are the questions of the faithful in the face of suffering.

In the Bible there is a story of a man who was no stranger to suffering in his life. He lost his wealth, his livelihood, his children, his health. The man’s name was Job. Job had friends who came to visit him in his suffering, and wanting to help their friend, tried to answer Job’s question, “Why? Why this suffering?”

His good friend Eliphaz suggests that his suffering might just be that God is teaching Job a lesson. A modern day Eliphaz might say, “This is all God’s will. God has a reason for this, there’s a reason for everything.”

Job’s friend Bildad tells Job that if he were pure and upright God would reward him with prosperity. And then there is Job’s friend, good friend, Zophar, who goes on the attack and tells Job he hasn’t received all that God could have given him.

Ultimately the friends’ answers to the “why” of Job’s suffering fall short, but perhaps not because the answers were wrong—perhaps the question was wrong.

When God finally speaks, God changes the subject. God does not answer the question, “Why?” Hope is not found in the answer to the question “Why?” Sometimes there simply is no answer to “Why?” Life happens, that’s why. The rain falls on the righteous and unrighteous alike and the sun shines on the righteous and unrighteous alike.

God’s word was a word of hope to Job, a word that brought healing and eventually restoration. God’s response gave Job hope, because God was answering the right question. God did not answer the question “Why?” God answered the question, “Who?” Listen to God’s response to Job.

Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Who determined its measurements?
Who stretched the line upon it?
Who laid its cornerstone?...
Who can tilt the waterskins of heaven…
Who provides for the raven its prey, when its young ones cry to God, and wander about for lack of food?

So often we hear people interpret this response of God to Job as an angry response, that God is scolding Job.

There is another way to understand this speech of God. The Old Testament scholar Kathleen O’Connor talks about this speech as a turning point in Job’s life, not because God scolded Job and put him in his place, but because this speech turns the question from why to who and in so doing, God’s word offers Job a new vision. The answer to the question “Who?” offered to Job hope and healing and eventually restoration.

God offers to Job in this response both the reminder and the promise of God’s power and work in this world. God’s vision for Job is a powerful reminder that God not only created the earth, laid its cornerstone and determined its measurements, but also cares for all of creation, tilting the waterskins of heaven, letting rain fall upon the thirsty ground and providing for the raven its prey when its young ones cry for food. How much more will God care for and provide for you?

It was this vision of God’s creation—God’s power in creating and God’s love in the care of the created—that gave Job a story that was counter to his reality and it was that counter-story that gave him the lens through which to view his current circumstances.

Through the lens of God’s counter-story, through the reminder of God’s power in creating and God’s care for the created, Job could see that his present circumstances were not ultimate, that what was ultimate was God, the life-giving life-sustaining power of God that is unconditional. There, in the counter story, in the vision that God set before Job, was hope. Through that hope, through the reminder of God’s power and care, Job was able—living with this new vision—to move forward in his life and eventually be healed and restored.

A young girl - I will call her Mary, was raped repeatedly by her father from the age of about 5 until she left home to go to University. When she tried to tell her mother what was happening to her - her mother told her to just be quiet and warned her that if she kept making such complaints she would be punished. She thought what was happening to her happened to everyone, until she was at a friend’s place for the night and nothing terrible happened. She couldn’t find the courage to tell her friend what was happening to her - but she found great comfort in her presence. Her friend gave her her bible - Mary was 12 years old and had no religious background. But she held onto that bible and read it. She read in the bible a passage that said - even though your parents abandon you I {God} will never abandon you. At that moment  she understood the vision she had of an angel that sat at the foot of her bed as her father had his way with her.

 

The message God was revealing to Mary went counter to all that she knew as a child, a story that gave her a new lens through which to view her life, a story that gave her hope.

Her father was a violent sexual predator; her mother passive and lost. Angry words, judgment and sexual abuse were constant companions for her.

She started to attend church with her friend whenever she could. She listened intently to the minister as he preached about God, about how she was precious to God, about God’s love for her. The minister talked about Jesus and his love and tenderness for children. What she learnt at church was that there was nothing she could do that would ever make God stop loving her. The minister’s words about Jesus and about God gave her hope for a future. It gave her a story that was radically different from her current circumstances. The counter story of God’s love and God’s presence gave her hope.

The counter story of God’s love did not answer why she endured such abuse, it did not change the hours and hours in the therapist’s office as an adult healing the earlier trauma, and did not enlighten her to “God’s purpose” in her childhood experience. The story of God’s love told her who walked with her in her suffering, who had the power to heal her wounds, and who could and did grant her new life. The words of God’s grace and the vision of a new reality, God’s reality in her life, filled her with hope and promise.

God’s grace comes to you this day to fill you with hope and promise. I know, we want our whys answered, but God wants to give us something that makes a difference in our lives. God is the who, who comes to us in the cross, who comes to us in Jesus Christ. Jesus is God’s answer to us in our lives. Jesus comes to us, as the crucified and as the risen, with the power to make a difference. It is God’s promise of new life through the power of the resurrection that is the lens through which we see all of our life on earth and in which we have our hope and healing and new life. Amen.

Acknowledgement: Rev Deborah Samuelson