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
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