Job 38:4-18

10th Sunday after Pentecost- August 9, 2020

 "Explaining Suffering."

 

Several years ago for Lent our congregation went through an overview of the Book of Job

during the midweek services. Job is a book that if we only read the opening two chapters and the

last chapter we'd have a nice story. But, we'd be left wondering about things that, as far as I know,

every person I've ever met thinks about. How do we explain suffering? God also, at the end of the

book, wants people to speak rightly of Him! That isn't too much to ask is it? God gets upset when

we don't speak rightly of Him. Several weeks ago during one of my talks on the Psalm we heard:

"Know that the LORD, He is God!" (Psalm 100:3). And last week we heard, repeatedly from

Psalm 136, what Psalm 100 stated only once: "For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures

forever."

 

It is this basic confession of God's Goodness and Love that so often makes us wonder if it is

true, because of how we experience life. The book of Job gives us a way to approach the issues of

God's goodness and love, within the story of one man's life, and all the tragedy that happened to

him.

 

If you've ever wanted to ask God a question, and wondered how He might answer you, I'm

not sure you would expect to get the answer Job got. Job ended his cry to God with these words:

Oh, that I had one to hear me....Let the Almighty answer me! (Job 31:35) "Then the LORD

answered Job out of the storm. He said: 'WHO IS THIS THAT DARKENS COUNSEL BY WORDS

WITHOUT KNOWLEDGE? DRESS FOR ACTION LIKE A MAN;I WILL QUESTION YOU, AND YOU MAKE IT KNOWN TO ME. WHERE WERE YOU WHEN I LAID THE FOUNDATION OF THE EARTH. TELL ME,IF YOU HAVE UNDERSTANDING." (Job 38:1-3, verses right before what is printed in the bulletin.)


And on and on the Lord goes, asking how much Job knows about the formation of this

world. How can you answer when God is so powerful? So forceful? Up until this answer from the

Lord in the book of Job, God doesn't say much. And that, you see, is the problem for Job.

Job's doing a lot of talking. His friends are doing a lot of talking about and for God. They

are telling things to Job about God that Job doesn't necessarily disagree with, but that what they

say really is not applicable to Job and his particular and pitiful situation. But God .....remains

silent!

 

Isn't this the problem?! God is silent.

 

Job you will recall had a pretty good life going on. He was blessed by the LORD. He was

described as "BLAMELESS AND UPRIGHT; A MAN WHO FEARED GOD AND SHUNNED EVIL," (Job 1:1). He had kids (10 of them; 7 boys and 3 girls) and cattle and other animals—thousands of

them, and many servants. The Bible says, "He was the greatest man among all the people of the

East." (Job 1:6). Yet, all of his earthly wealth and happiness gets taken away. His kids are killed.

His wealth stolen. His health broken. Is God good and loving??

Silence.

 

When God isn't answering... ... When we think he doesn't love us, that's a scary time.

It's scarier, in fact, than when God goes full blown "powerful God" on you, and makes you feel so

small in His presence. He says, "Tell me if you have understanding," ....about this earth and

how it was made and how it is still governed. Even we who live thousands of years after Job can

only stammer at how we think God created. The disciples in today's Gospel reading were in awe of

Jesus who caused the wind to cease. They then worshiped Him.!

 

Job had a question of God, and it basically comes down to this: "Why LORD, am I

suffering?" He wanted an answer from God and he would not let up until he received an answer.

(Cf. Luke 18:1-8 and the "persistent" widow.) Our sufferings need not be as extreme as Job's to

understand what he was going through. It is a universal experience to question and seek answers

from God, especially when suffering occurs, be it at the loss of finances, of a loved one or maybe

when health begins to fail us. "God, do you love me? Like Job, we too would like to know the

answer to our suffering.

 

It is an honorable search to seek for God's answers. However, not every question that could

be asked necessarily has an answer in the Bible. The Bible doesn't tell us why someone catches

cancer for instance, or why a spouse is taken from us, a mother of young children dies, or why a son

or daughter is killed in an accident, why "little ones" are miscarried or children are born with

severe abnormalities, why certain soldiers die in war, or the many more questions we have.

And, we must remember that Job was never given the answer to his questions concerning

the immediate origin of his own suffering. If you go home and read the beginning of the book of

Job you will learn, in a dialogue between God and Satan, that Job's suffering is not based on any

one particular sin or series of sins that he has committed.

 

Using the story of Job, I'd like to talk about the origin of suffering, and give at least a brief

explanation of suffering.

 

The immediate origin of suffering may be categorized into three types. The first type is

suffering due to persecution for faith in the True God--the Christian faith. This is the type that

Jesus meant when He asked His disciples, of all ages, to take up their cross and follow Him. This

type is not the suffering that is being talked about in the book of Job—(Even though Job is a prime

target for temptation by the Satan because he is a faithful believer in the True God). Sometimes

this suffering is mild, and sometimes it leads to death, that is martyrdom. I can read weekly on the

internet about Christians somewhere in the world being killed for the sole reason they are

Christians. (Cf. Voice of the Martyrs at persecution.com) As I said, this type of suffering is not the

suffering that is being talked about in the book of Job.

 

The second type of suffering comes about as a result of specific sins. Divine punishment is

handed out. This type of suffering may happen to unbelievers as well as a believer in the True God.

The people of Sodom and Gomorrah suffered as a result of their sins. Fire and Brimstone came

raining down! Unbelievers. But Miriam, the sister of Moses' –and a fellow believer in the

graciousness and salvation of the LORD, was made to suffer with leprosy because she sinned

against God, by speaking against the leadership of Moses and by wanting to take on a responsibility

not given to her. These are just two examples, yet many if not most people understand this type of

suffering. The reasoning goes like this: If you do good you will not suffer; if you do bad, you will

suffer.

 

Unfortunately, this teaching may be distorted, and it is, even in some Christian churches.

Christians are indeed warned in the Scriptures that we should not suffer as criminals, by doing bad

acts. (Cf. 1 Peter 4:15) However, we should not make a "judgment call" based on the material

prosperity of an individual or their health or family situation, as to whether they are good or bad,

sinful or repentant, have faith or no faith. We should also note that certain actions or behaviors

have consequences. So for instance, If you get drunk and drive there is a possibility you might kill

yourself or others. Would we call that "divine punishment?" Probably not. Rather, we would say

that actions have consequences.

 

I think it is common for us to remember our past to see what sin God might be punishing us

for when we fall sick, or some misfortune happens. How often do we hear during damaging storms,

"Why is God doing this?" Or, "Why is God causing this suffering?" Or, if a tragedy or pandemic

like Covid befalls the nation, it is not uncommon to hear some ask: "What are the sins that God is

punishing in this way?" Have you heard such statements? Or have you too thought or said them?

 

This last week a pastor friend summed up what he is seeing and experiencing in our country like

this: "God is punishing us." (I didn't ask him for what. There would be a laundry list!)

Job's friends tried to use this tactic on him. They tried to convince him that God was justly

punishing him for some particular sin. Their counsel did not bring Job relief. For you see, Job

already knew that he was a sinner, but he also knew, as we do who call ourselves followers of Jesus

Christ, that we are forgiven sinners! Christ's death was the punishment for our sins. From 2

Corinthians 5:21 : "GOD MAD HIM WHO HAD NO SIN TO BE SIN FOR US, SO THAT IN HIM WE

MIGHT BECOME THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD." If God required us still to suffer to pay for our

own sins--either in this life, or in a purgatory to follow--then we are saying that Christ's death was

not good enough. But it is good enough! There is no purgatory. His death was the payment for all

sin. See above, however, that our sinful actions do have earthly consequences, even while they may

not condemn us before God.

 

There is, however, a third category of suffering. This is the one that Job fits in, and the one

that you may fit in as well. It is suffering due to an unknown cause. The Scriptures seem not to

speak to our particular questions. They are silent, and so it appears that God is silent--that He may

not hear or be concerned with us. This type of suffering is not without some purpose, though. The

purpose may or may not be seen, or it may never be fully understood by us. And this is often very

hard for us to accept!

 

One possibility, one that is always God's intent, is that through suffering we might come to

rely and trust in Him more and more. When we suffer we might start to think that God does not

care about us and our trials. From Job we can learn that no matter whether we fully understand the

way God is working in our life, our relief or hope is going to be found only in Him. In short, the

acceptance of God, whom we know is a God who loves us, is what brings peace.

And when God spoke finally to Job, as He did in the Words of our text, Job became

satisfied that God was there, that God heard him and did care about him, even though God did not

answer His complaints or tell him why he was suffering. We may even be a bit troubled because

God did not answer Job's complaints about the nature of his suffering. It seems God is quite

insensitive to Job. Listen again and ask yourself, What do the questions that God asked have to do

with Job's suffering? "WHERE WERE YOU WHEN I LAID THE FOUNDATION OF THE

EARTH? TELL ME IF YOU HAVE UNDERSTANDING?"

 

It is said that "Any topic will do for a satisfying conversation between friends. It is

each other they are enjoying." This is true of Job also. He wanted to hear from his God. The

LORD's questions to Job made Job realize that God certainly was in control of his life, no matter

how it appeared to others and even himself. That is important for us to hear and to believe as well.

When Jesus was dying on the cross he cried out what believers often feel during times of

distress and affliction: "MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME?" Because

of that cry on the cross, our laments and prayers addressed to God during times of distress are

marks of a faith that sees beyond the affliction to a gracious and loving God. Christ our Savior

knows what it means to suffer and for that reason we know that we are never alone during our own

sufferings. Our sufferings are never apart from those of Christ Jesus. If it appears that God is not

listening, we know something that even Job confessed in his distress: I know that my Redeemer

Lives. Jesus was raised, and so shall we!

 

Our Savior is the One who created the earth and who has the power over the seas so that

they obey his every word. If Jesus says "walk on water!" we will be able to walk on water! What

power is His! His power is such that we might be intimidated to even approach Him! And if we set

out toward Him as Peter did, we may still fear out. And yet, He was the One who died for us so

that we might always know the love of God the Father toward us. Sin or suffering cannot deter that

love. He is the One that can turn our "MOURNING INTO GLADNESS; (AND GIVE US)

COMFORT AND JOY INSTEAD OF SORROW" as the prophet Jeremiah says, (Jeremiah

31:13).

 

Psalm 56 says, "THIS I KNOW, THAT GOD IS FOR ME. IN GOD, WHOSE

WORD I PRAISE, IN GOD I HAVE PUT MY TRUST, I SHALL NOT BE AFRAID.

WHAT CAN MAN DO TO ME?" (Psalm 56:9-11).

 

This sermon has not answered all the questions we have about suffering, indeed it cannot,

because God does not answer all our specific questions in the Bible. And yet, that should not

concern us. Jesus asked His disciples, "O you of little faith, why did you doubt?" God has

shown us His Nature and His Love in Jesus Christ. And he gives to us, as to Job, the power to

persevere even through sufferings. Faith clings to the merciful and gracious God that we know in

Jesus. Through the blessings of receiving God's Word and his Sacraments your faith is being

strengthened for today, and whatever tomorrow may bring. In good times and in bad, our Home is

always in our Lord. Amen.

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