By Pastor Paula Burchill
I’m exhausted! We just wrapped up a sermon series on the book of Job. It must have been inspired by the Holy Spirit, because studying Job’s story could not have been more timely for the events in our world this past month. But I’m exhausted because Job forced me to stop hiding from the really hard questions in life. Like: Why do bad things happen? How come really good people suffer so much? What does suffering mean? Does it have a purpose? Does God cause suffering?
One of the best lessons from Job is that he brings all of his questions directly TO God. Job loses everything, from his home to his 10 kids to his health. His friends tell him he must have done something to deserve it, but he will have none of it. Instead, he chastises them, and then he prays. He yells at God in anger. He rails against the unfairness in the world.
As Pastor Jonathan and I preached these past several weeks, we found Job gave us the words to do some yelling at God of our own. Why does it seem like we can’t get beyond racism in our country? Why do terrible things like happened in Nice keep happening? Why can’t we ever seem to have thoughtful discourse, instead of blaming and shaming each other?
When Job yells at God, God praises Job. He even says, “Job, you have spoken rightly.” Job’s friends, who only ever talk about God and never actually talk TO God, they are chastised by God.
And this is one of the greatest gifts Job gave me. Job, who is such a great companion in keeping the faith in hard times, reminds me that I don’t need to be afraid to say anything to God. Because God, too, is a genuine companion to us in our walk. God can handle our anger. Even Jesus cried out to God from the cross, asking why God had forsaken him.
The truth is that we live in a broken and hurting world, and it does us no good to pretend that this isn’t true. And God wants us to be honest and open and to share who we are with God.
When God finally does talk to Job, he shows him his creation. And part of what God shows Job is a creation that can be scary. There are earthquakes and tornadoes and floods and armies that come and attack, and we hurt each other. God is letting us know that I didn’t promise you a world free from pain. I’m sorry that I did not make that promise, but if I had, then that would mean that I would have had to decide to control every aspect of your life, and God simply will not be a divine puppet master. We have freedom. And freedom has consequences. Lord, knows I keep finding that out as my children grow and I realize how they are their own people, and much as I would like to control them, I can’t and I don’t.
But even though we are not promised a world without pain, we ARE promised a companion on our journey. God, from the beginning, walks with us. In the garden, to now, sharing with you all that happens in your life. And like Job, we will get through. It won’t be perfect—you can’t replace children—but God loves to give new life and new beginnings and to heal and to make new.
I’m glad we studied Job even though it was hard. My colleague at my first church often said that there are many people who say they are not religious. Or they take just a part of several religions to sort of make their own—all the best parts usually. They celebrate Christmas as a Christian, do meditation as a Buddhist, they celebrate nature as a spiritual but not religious person. My colleague would offer a challenge. He said that often the best parts of a religion are the parts of it that challenge us—the hard parts—and those parts bear exploring. Religion, at its best, doesn’t let us be complacent, and it doesn’t just reward us for doing what we would likely do anyway. Religion invites us to grow into who God would have us be.
That has certainly been true for me with Job. But I’m grateful for the challenge–because I know more clearly the presence of God in the mess of this life. A lot of times, I assume that I need to look at all the good things in the world to find God—or to all the ways I’m working hard to get ahead. But the best place to see God—the place where God is right here—is down with us in our broken world. And God, in Christ Jesus, has the scars to prove it.