Transcribed from the sermon preached October 11, 2015
The Reverend Max Lynn, Pastor
Scripture Readings: Job 7:9-21, Job 8:1-6
Job deals with theodicy. Theodicy is a long word to shorten the question: if there is a God, why do bad things happen. Why do we suffer?
Gustavo Guttierez in his book, On Job, says that the theme of the book of Job is “not precisely suffering – that impenetrable human mystery – but rather how to speak of God in the midst of suffering.” (P. 13). If we can enter into an authentic relationship with God in the midst of suffering, then it will be possible to do so in other situations. But if we can’t then it will be irrelevant that persons living in less challenging situations seem to experience the love of God and to practice disinterested religion. (p.15) Guttierez uses the term “disinterested religion” to refer to faith in God that is not dependent on us getting our way. It is someone like Job who has faith in a just in loving God even if he is experiencing a sense of God’s absence and suffering. Job refuses to let God off.
Job insists on a just and loving God or on putting God on trial for being unjust and unloving. While the evidence is lacking, Job insists, he will not fold, he will not soften his complaints: If there is a God worth worshipping, he is a just God.
Together the three friends who have come to comfort Job have decided to challenge him, to try and come up with reasons why he is suffering.
What are some of the reason Job’s friends come up with? What are some of the reasons we hear today.
1) If you truly have faith, this wouldn’t have happened. God is doing it for a reason. There is a reason for everything. Sometimes there are reasons we cannot see, but there is no reason that can come close to explaining the rape or disease in a child.
2) If only you had enough faith, then you would be healed. If you are not healed, well, then you don’t have enough faith. Sometimes we are negative and hopeless and our attitude adjustment could make a big difference, but other times grief and anger at life are fully warranted.
3) You must suffer for his glory! The reason you are suffering is so that you can give glory to God. God is using this suffering you are going through to fulfill some larger purpose. Sometimes we are called to make sacrifices, as mothers, veterans and Jesus testify, but surely God can do without sacrificing a baby to leukemia.
4) Your suffering is a wakeup call! Repent and be healed, for you have sinned. Sometimes we go down the wrong road and there are consequences, but claiming a hurricane is punishment for the individual sins of people who died is absurd.
5) God is challenging you to make you stronger. We do get stronger with experience, but sometimes suffering makes us weaker.
There can be some truth in each of these responses to the question of suffering, but they are not the whole truth! If only you would behave properly then you will not suffer. But then you are back to a religion in which you give something to get something – where God’s retribution outweighs the crime. Be good and God will bless you with good health and wealth. This is called Prosperity Gospel, and it is far from the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Remember someone asked Jesus of the man born blind: who sinned, he or his parents? Jesus said neither.
Job rejects the arguments of his friends. I had and have faith, and yet this did happen. This suffering couldn’t possibly be needed by God. God is God, why cannot God accomplish God’s purposes without grinding me into the ground? I don’t need a wakeup call that bad. Being awake doesn’t sound much better than being permanently asleep if God is going to torture me while I am alive and awake. I have nothing to repent for, or at least nothing so grave that my sin warrants such punishment. Surely God is a God of mercy and God has the power to forgive, such a small and insignificant person as myself.
Hauerwas says the whole angle of the question of theodicy is wrong: if God, why bad things happen is wrong – the God we worship in community is not the abstract God of a philosophical proof. We can’t talk or understand our God without the community that worships, and lives and works together in suffering, because we have been called to do so by the God of love.
I learned something of the depth and value of the community of the body of Christ when my nephew’s son, named after me, drowned at age one. It was a devastating, horrible tragedy and when it happened, and little Max was on life support, my nephew called his mother, and then his grandmother and grandfather – my mom and Dad. The faith of my mother and father was powerful, not in any words or doctrine of theology, but in their strength of presence. While most of the family were not members of the church, when unexplainable tragedy and grief overwhelm the sovereign love of God encompasses all of life. Bring it in; God can handle your lament. At the bedside of little Max, my father (who died three weeks ago) wrote a poem. I leave you with it.
Dawn’s Early Light
Oh. What a sight.
I fought the good fight.
All through the night.
Oh what a sight.
I’ve been Baptized you know.
I Max David was the show.
Jordan sang Miriam’s song to me
To show how much she loves me.
Mom and dad gather around
Hugging – talking in a softer sound
Then kissing and loving me aloud
Sometimes even with the family crowd
I saw you all touching my feet tonight
Kissing my nose so bright
In my bed, you rubbed my head today
Doctors-nurses heard you pray
I heard you say “ I love you” today
Clergy-family loved ones all:
Were gathered around the hall
Kissing-hugging love to all.
My body parts I give to thee
So others may happy hearts be.
On this I must depart.
Keep me happy in your heart.
I’m playing in the sun today
With Jesus on my right
In God’s hands and Holy light
In the dawns early light
I see Gods holy light
Its white, bright-bright-bright
March 22, 2000
Creeping and crawling, romping and having fun
I’ve got everybody on the run
Gee dad I’m only one
Music-stories all the day long
mothers singing me a song
Gee mom, I’m only one
Playmates and sisters are fin
but, those boy toys are mine.
Gee, dad, I’m only one
A birthday party for Max.
Candy and favors in sacks
Ribbons, balloons, music for all.
I’m only 2 feet tall.
Gee mom I’m only one.
Cake on my face
cake every place
chocolate at that
even on my hat.
Gee dad, I’m only one
People come from 100’s of miles away
1400 prayers for me today
Gee mom I’m only one
Grandma and Grandpa lovingly holding me
Jordan is singing, she’s only three
Gee dad, I’m only one.
God has me in his tender care
heaven is better than earth, I like it there.
Mom and Dad, I’m your son.
March 22, 2000