the Book of Job, Chapter One
"Have you considered my servant Job?"
And so begins a story of calamity and suffering, that quite frankly, I find difficult to read. We chose the book of Job because it discusses the question most difficult to answer: Why do bad things happen to good people? One woman in our group told us she wanted to be prepared because people often ask her this question. Another woman wrote to me, "Please help me understand why do these things happen. This by no makes me love God any less or makes me not want to serve Him but it does confuse me sometimes."
In the book of Job, the curtain is pulled back and we see what is happening in heavenly places. We hope to discover the larger purposes of God. As we discussed the first chapter together this week, even this does not satisfy. Job is described by God as "blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil." Blameless does not mean Job is perfect, but it does mean there is no fault in Job that deserves punishment. Job did nothing wrong to merit this onslaught. Indeed, Job was singled out because "there is no one on earth like him." Satan had not identified Job as a candidate for suffering. God did.
From the heavenly conversation we see God clearly is able to control Satan's actions. God allows Satan to strike everything Job has, but in the same breath, God limits Satan's power. God is in control. He could have prevented this pain.
But God does not. God allows it all to happen to Job, the loss of all his livestock, almost all his servants, and all ten of his children. It's the loss of his children that distressed me the most. You can replace sheep and camels. Children are not replaceable.
"The fire of God fell from the heavens and burned up the sheep and the servants," one of Job's servants announce to him. Another tells him, "suddenly a mighty wind swept in from the desert and struck the four corners of the house. It collapsed..." leaving all ten of his children dead. It was God. Who else controls fire from heaven? Who else controls the wind?
We are left the ask the question: Why would God act so cruelly to someone who worships Him? Who is blameless?
Perhaps it is impossible for us to understand the purposes of God. Like our children can't understand why we do things that cause them discomfort or pain, how can we expect to discern the thoughts of a eternal God? Perhaps God tested Job and preserved this historic story all these years for us to see and help us understand pain. Perhaps God was refining Job, helping him grow in his faith and understanding of God. Perhaps the best explanation was the one shared by one of the women: "blank happens!" This is basically what Jesus tells us in John 16:33: "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."
None of those answer are comforting for people who face death. What answer can be given to the parents of the children of Connecticut's Sandy Hook? To the wives of the fire fighters who climbed into the Towers on 9/11? To the families of those who lost loved ones in the South Asian tsunami on Christmas day 2004?
There are no answers that satisfy, no reason that is good enough. The only one that comes close is that Jesus joined us in our world of trouble. He did not come to merely teach us, but enter into our pain. Jesus experienced poverty, hunger, betrayal, extreme physical pain and death. Even Jesus asked for the pain to be removed, but was willing to suffer it to save us. Jesus' answer to the pain was: "not My will be Yours be done."
Jesus, it was not easy for You either. Scripture tells us in the garden when You prayed these words, You wept and sweat drops of blood. Help me to accept all from Your hand, the good and the bad, trusting You. You give and take away. In this world I will experience trouble. Let my response be to continue to trust You and to bless Your name!