Tag Archives: Book of Job

Suffering God

Job 42.1–6, 10–17
Mark 10.46–52


Those with whom the crucified Jesus is identified in his abandoned death are both the godless, who experience their own turning from God as God’s abandonment of them, and the godforsaken, who experience their suffering as God’s abandonment of them. — Jürgen Moltmann, The Crucified God, Kindle ed’n, loc.182


When Karen and I lived in West End in the 1980s, we got to know a Greek neighbour. A devout member of the Greek Orthodox Church, he had come to Australia many years before to grow tobacco in Central Queensland. He wasn’t prepared for the climate out here though; after some years of working to make his farm succeed, a series of droughts broke him. He walked off the farm with his family and came to West End. By the time we met him, he was no longer an Orthodox Christian. No, he was an atheist. For him, there was no God.

Suffering can pan out in different ways. In particular, it can deepen a person’s faith, or destroy it. 

Another story. Karen and I were visiting relatives in England a few years ago. My uncle had seen a lot of injustice in the slums of Sheffield when he was growing up. He said to me out of the blue, ‘Thi’s no God, lad.’ He couldn’t reconcile any belief in God because of the way ordinary people were made to suffer.

The Book of Job contains the model scriptural story of suffering. But it doesn’t answer the one question everyone asks: Why? Why do people suffer? Why me? Or, the ‘what’ question: What did I do to deserve this?

In this book, Job loses almost everything. In the terms of his day back in ancient times, he was a squillionaire. We read this about his wealth: 

There were born to him seven sons and three daughters. He had seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen, five hundred donkeys, and very many servants; so that this man was the greatest of all the people of the east. (1.2–3)

Job loses the lot. His children die in a freak storm, his servants are killed, his animals are carried off by marauders.

What does Job do? He

arose, tore his robe, shaved his head, and fell on the ground and worshipped. He said, ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.’ (2.21)

Soon afterwards, Job himself is inflicted with ‘loathsome sores…from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head’.

Soon, three friends come to visit. Visiting sick and grieving people is good, right?

Because it’s an ancient tale, they have ancient names: Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. Job was so disfigured, his friends didn’t recognise him at first. So they wept and wailed and tore their clothes and threw dust on their heads and they sat with Job in silence for seven days and nights; ‘and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great’. 

Wow, that was a good thing to do. It shows their hearts were in the right place. But Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar have a bad reputation, you know? If folk talk about someone being a ‘Job’s Comforter’, it’s not a compliment. It means they made things worse.

What did Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar do that was so bad? They started talking.

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The God who serves (Year B, 17 October 2015)

Job 38.1–11 (Psalm 104.1–9, 24, 35c)
Hebrews 5.1–10
Mark 10.35–45

I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you… Job 42.5

Two weeks ago, we encountered Job whose whole world collapsed on one day. Not only did he lose his 7000 sheep, 3000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, 500 donkeys, and his servants; he also lost his seven sons and three daughters. And then he lost his health.

We saw that suffering is not a problem that can be solved, but that it may become an invitation to trust in God more and more. We also saw that there is no real answer to the question ‘Why me?’

Then last week, we saw that suffering can lead to lament; and that the question ‘Why me?’ is itself a lament. We also saw that lament is very common in the scriptures. 58 out of 150 psalms are laments. That’s over a third.

And we saw that lament in the Bible has a simple shape:

  1. We cry out to God in our distress;
  2. We remember God’s goodness and mercy;
  3. We hope in God once more; or at least, we hope to hope in God again.

Today, Job has done lamenting. He finally gets an audience with God.

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How long, O Lord? (11 October 2015, Year B)

Job 23.1–9, 16–17
Psalm 22
Mark 10.17–31

Then Jesus lamented: “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!”’ Mark 10.23

Last week, we spoke about suffering. We said that there is no real answer to the question ‘Why?’. There is something more to say though—not an answer to why bad things happen, but why we feel it so much when they do.

We feel the pain of suffering so much because we have a great hope that the world can be well. Our hope is ‘Your kingdom come, your will be done’. And when we look at the suffering in our world, we can see that God’s will is not being done ‘on earth as in heaven’. And those who hope for God to act can find that it brings confusion, sadness, grief, even anger.

Those who lack this hope may just shrug their shoulders and sigh in resignation. ‘What can we do about it?’ they ask.

Or they just try to have a good time, ignoring the pain that others endure.

Or they may even decide to turn a profit from the troubles of the world: after all, there’s plenty of money to be had by an unscrupulous operator.

Lament is the biblical approach to the pain of suffering. But it is an an unpopular message today.

Take Uniting in Worship 2; many of you know that I was one of its editors. It was published ten years ago this month, but really it should have been published a year earlier. One reason for the delay was that we were including prayers of lament as resources and making it possible to use lament in our services of worship.

Those who opposed us were adamant that a service of worship should begin with prayers or songs of adoration. To begin with lament was starting with ‘us’ and our needs; it should always start with God, they argued.

Since that time, our decision has been accepted, but partly, and sadly, because of a humanitarian disaster. The Boxing Day Tsunami flooded communities around the Indian Ocean, and Uniting Church congregations were crying out for the National Working Group on Worship to provide worship resources. So we put the resources that were going to be published onto our website and gave people free permission to use them. No one at any ‘official’ level of our Church has since argued that we shouldn’t use lament in our services.

Just as well, because that’s exactly what the Book of Psalms does.

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Completed through suffering—Sunday 30, Year B (28 October 2012)

Job 42.1-6, 10-17
Hebrews 7.23-28
Mark 10.46-52

You may have noticed that we’ve been concentrating on Mark’s story of Jesus lately; and that’s always a good place to be. At the same time, we have been hearing snippets from the Old Testament Book of Job. It’s time to talk about Job.

The story of Job is the tale of a good man—indeed, a ‘blameless’ man—who lived in a place called ‘Uz’ thousands of years ago. It’s long been the majority opinion of Jewish and Christian scholars that the story of Job is a work of fiction. If that bothers you, remember this: the world of fiction contains much truth. When we read Jane Austen or Charles Dickens or JRR Tolkien, we are immersing ourselves in truth within a setting of fiction. If the Book of Job is a work of fiction, it is nonetheless truth.

Now, Job had it all in the terms of his world. He had scads of children, servants, land, livestock. Job had riches beyond anyone’s comprehension.

But Job loses the lot in a very short space of time. His children and servants are killed, his livestock butchered or stolen.

His response to all this?

Then Job arose, tore his robe, shaved his head, and fell on the ground and worshipped. He said, ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.’

But wait, there’s more! Next, he has ‘loathsome sores…from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head’. There’s no escape from these sores. Job is reduced to sitting in the ashes and scratching them.

We’re not fabulously wealthy like Job here, but many of us have known grief, pain, sadness, even suffering. Perhaps it’s hard to identify with Job the blameless gazillionaire, but maybe we can identify a bit more with Job in his suffering. Perhaps ‘the man from Uz’ feels more like ‘one of us’ now.

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The Way of Wisdom—Sunday 24, Year B (16 September 2012)

Proverbs 1.20-33
James 3.1-12
Mark 8.27-38

Wisdom is absolutely crucial in the Bible; in fact, Wisdom is part of the Bible’s very structure. There are three groupings of books that make up the Old Testament:

  1. the Law (the first five books, from Genesis to Deuteronomy);
  2. the Prophets (including what we think of as the historical books); and
  3. the Writings. The Writings contain the ‘Wisdom’ books, which include

Song of Songs.

There are two further Wisdom books found in what people sometimes call ‘The Apocrypha’ or the ‘Deuterocanonical’ books: The Wisdom of Solomon and Sirach. We don’t have these books within the pages of the Bibles we use, but they are important books, and they are significantly quoted in the New Testament.

You know, there is a Wisdom Book in the New Testament too. James is a book of wisdom. The wisdom of James teaches us the character of God. But we need to listen closely to hear Wisdom’s words.

It’s not so easy to hear the voice of Wisdom. Many different and conflicting voices clamour for our attention every day of the week.

Advertisers tell us what to buy so that we can be successful. So we wonder why we’re not the centre of attention now we use the right deodorant.

Celebrities remind us that our lives are achingly dull compared to theirs, so we buy magazine after glossy magazine to feel that we’re sharing their happiness too.

Airbrushed photos of skinny models imply that any woman can be like them, and eating disorders are on the rise—including among young men.

Politicians tell us that the other side is rubbish, and they alone have the answers we need. So we vote for them, and are once more disillusioned by the political process.

But there’s another voice too, the voice of Wisdom. Continue reading

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We are not alone

Sermon for 25 October

As we listen for the word of God,

let us pray:

O God, energy of compassion,

we praise you;

you found us in rags,

and opened our eyes,

that we may proclaim

the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ,

in whose name we pray. Amen.


Job 42.1-6, 10-17

Mark 10.46-52

I remember visiting the renal dialysis unit once as a hospital chaplain. I bowled up to an Asian patient, all hooked up to his dialysis machine, who smiled broadly at me. I introduced myself, and he replied—again with that wonderful smile—‘Life is suffering.’

I knew straight away where he was coming from: he was reciting the First Noble Truth of Buddhism, which is Life is suffering. We can’t escape pain, anxiety, disappointment, illness; our existence is imperfect and time-limited, and everything that is will cease to be.

I had a lovely conversation with this Buddhist believer. It lightened his suffering, and brightened my day.

We may not generally say life is suffering. But we can agree that we can’t escape it.

In recent days, a number of our community have experienced the loss of loved ones, and we have wept and prayed with them.

In the story of Job, we have one of the great biblical examples of suffering. It’s the story of an upright man, who in one day lost everything—except his wife—and then went on to develop ‘loathsome sores’ from head to foot.

One of the vital things to get about the story of Job is that it doesn’t answer the question, ‘Why me?’ when things go wrong. It doesn’t tells us why suffering happens. It doesn’t even try to defend God.

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that Job teaches that suffering comes from Satan. In the first couple of chapters, God is pictured as an ancient king who receives his vassals and servants in court. ‘Satan’ is ‘the satan’—which is a title and not a name. Here, it means ‘the adversary’ or ‘the accuser’.

‘The satan’ in this story is not the origin and archetype of all evil, but rather it’s something more like God’s director of public prosecutions—but one who is quite over-enthusiastic and just loves his job.

Job is afflicted because of a wager between God and this adversary, this accuser. Sorry, but a bet will not do as a Christian answer to the problem of why suffering occurs. The wager in the Book of Job is a literary device, not an explanation of evil. We don’t receive a satisfactory answer to that question here.

So how can Job help us today? Two ways: it shows us how not to comfort those who are suffering. And it shows us that we need to be honest with God in our suffering. Continue reading

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