Answering the Suffering of Job

Job Confessing His Presumption to God Who Answers from the Whirlwind, William Blake (1803)

Pentecost +4B 2021
Rev. Doug Floyd
Job 38:1–18, Psalm 107, 2 Corinthians 5:14-21, Mark 4:35-41

The following quote is sketched onto the wall at the Mauthausen Concentration Camp in Austria: “If there is a god, he will have to beg for my forgiveness.” It speaks to the heart of the cry for justice in a world where evil reigns. The horror of evil all around us, has led both philosophers and non-philosophers alike to wonder how can God be all powerful and all good? Several years back I saw Alvin Plantinga speak at UT, offering his well-known and robust apologetic to this dilemma. When it is a personal crisis that we face, a philosophical argument may ring hollow. Where are you God? What can’t you show up and answer the struggle of my soul?

When God does reveal Himself in Scripture, people fall down in terror as though dead. Isaiah screams out, “I am coming undone.” It is a terrible thing to fall into the hand of the living God. An answer from the Creator to the creature comes from beyond all human categories. The Holy One addresses us and we realize the utter depths of our blindness. If we who seek to stand in judgment on God, could see our own hearts and the impact of our own sins in this world, we may fall down dead in grief. 

And yet, God chooses to appear and offer an answer or might I say, a life. The very person of Jesus Christ is an answer to human cries for God to respond to all this injustice. 

Consider the words of Isaiah,
14 Justice is turned back,
and righteousness stands far away;
for truth has stumbled in the public squares,
and uprightness cannot enter.
15 Truth is lacking,
and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey.
The Lord saw it, and it displeased him
that there was no justice.
16 He saw that there was no man,
and wondered that there was no one to intercede;
then his own arm brought him salvation,
and his righteousness upheld him.
17 He put on righteousness as a breastplate,
and a helmet of salvation on his head;
he put on garments of vengeance for clothing,
and wrapped himself in zeal as a cloak.
(Isaiah 59:14–17)

Jesus comes with the garments of vengeance. He comes to bring judgment to the earth for all this injustice. At the same time, he comes to offer himself as the sacrificial lamb to bear the weight of this injustice in his own body. He reveals God’s answer to human suffering. The Lord does not stand afar off but enters into the fire with His people. 

In our Gospel reading today, the disciples are caught up in a storm that where the high waves are breaking into the boat. The disciples are struggling to stay in the boat as it reels back and forth. Water is filling the boat. They could sink in the midst of this terrible storm, and they are terrified. Imagine them crying out for Jesus, just as we cry out for the Lord in the midst of our own grief and despair and pain. “Where are you?”

Jesus has been with them the whole time. He is resting in the midst of this chaos. He speaks, “Peace be still!” And the winds cease. Instead of comforting them, he asks, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” The storm reveals their hearts. They still do not fully know the Lord.

This little story does not answer all the pain and horror of this world. But it does open a larger question. For instance, Jesus does not prevent the disciples from experiencing this evening of terror, but he does not abandon them either. And suppose the boat did collapse, it would still not mean that He had forsaken them. 

For Job, it feels as though the boat has collapsed, and he has sunk to the bottom of all human suffering. The descriptions of Job’s suffering includes destruction in every sphere of his life including his own body and even his mind. It appears that Job may suffer more than any human before Christ. His wife gives up on him. His comforters condemn him. His body fails. Though he refuses to curse God, he does curse the day of his  conception and birth. He cries out again and again for God to answer for this injustice; to explain why his righteousness has been rewarded with unremitting pain and suffering. 

Suddenly, the Lord speaks out of a whirlwind. Finally some answers. 

No answers. God does not mention Job’s complaint or talk about Job. The Lord deliberately denies Job’s request. He will give Job no defense, no answer to his complaint. This is stunning.  

As a creature, Job cannot understand God’s divine ways in His creation. The Lord will give Job a glimpse into the wonder of His creation. The speech reveals the beauty of the world but also the order of the world and the wisdom of God in managing every single detail of this world. 

It offers Job and us a picture of world that is not mechanistic, operating on a set of rules that God put into place at the day of creation. Rather it is a world of relation. A world that God manages from day to day. He directs light and darkness, stars in the heavens, fish in the sea, birds in their flight paths. He is nurturing his beloved creation. He is sustaining it day by day. This speech is not a philosophical discourse based on abstractions. It is a speech filled with minute details like rain on the land in the wilderness where no humans live, it includes a bear playing with its children, the number of the clouds, and even the very dust on the ground. Everything matters. Everything is cared for. The Lord rejoices over every specific thing in His creation. In this glorious creation, humans are not center stage. In fact, they are not mentioned. 

And yet, the speech is addressed to Job and to us. We stand alongside the Lord beholding every glory, every wonder of this vast Cosmos. We hold this glorious picture of the world alongside the picture of Jesus and His disciples. In Jesus Christ, we behold God not simply addressing the evil and justice and pain and sin, but carrying it upon Himself. If we want to see justice, we do not look at this world, we do not look at human history, we look at the cross. We look at the Creator who does not ignore suffering but bears it. 

The writer of Hebrews gives us a glimpse into the inner anguish of Jesus. He writes, 

7 In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. 8 Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered.

(Heb 5:7–8)

And again, 

18 For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. (Heb 2:18)

And,

15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.

(Heb 4:15)

He knows the suffering of Job, of Paul, of you, of me. Does he know the suffering of the man who carved in the wall of a concentration camp, “If there is a god, he will have to beg for my forgiveness.”? He knows him intimately. He knows the suffering of each person just as He knows the hairs of our head. 

Jesus comes to break the power of sin and death in this world. In so doing, he ushers in the beginning of a new creation not scarred by sin and death.  

17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. (2 Co 5:16–19)

If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The Lord draws us to Himself through the Good News of Jesus Christ. He leads us, he calls us, he stirs us. As we turn to Him, as we trust in Christ Jesus, we are transformed by His grace. We are new creations made for a new creation. We have been reconciled to God in Christ Jesus. We live our lives in this midst of a world that still reels and rocks under the weight of sin. But we do not lose hope. We rejoice even in this midst of suffering. For the Lord is near. Whether we have much or little, we rest in the faithfulness of a Creator who cares for every detail of His creation. 

We trust Him. We trust in His absolute faithfulness to every detail of our existence, and we a free: free to love, to rejoice, to behold the wonder, to embrace others, and serve Him as ambassadors of Christ, declaring His promise of reconciliation and hope to the world around us. 

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