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Job 1: 1, 2:1-10
Oh, Job. What are we going to do with the book of Job? What are we going to do with these characters—with Job, with God, with Satan, with Job’s wife? What are we going to do with this story?
The book of Job is a difficult one. There’s no happy ending. There’s not even a good beginning. It’s a hard story to read—terrible things happen to Job, to his family, to all the people that Job cares most about. It’s a lifetime worth of sadness and suffering piled on Job in one short span.
That might not be so terrible—so hard to take—and Job might be an almost relatable character, if we didn't have this conversation between God and Satan.
What we heard in today’s text is actually the 2nd of several conversations between God and Satan in this book. In the first conversation—in Chapter 1 of Job—God and Satan gathered together “in the heavenly courts” and God pointed out Job, his faithful servant. Job, honest and upright, was offered to Satan by God. God said to Satan, “You can take anything Job has, but don’t lay a hand on Job himself.”
And that’s what Satan did. He took away—with God’s permission—all of Job’s animals—the oxen, donkeys, sheep and camels. He took away all of Job’s children when a great wind knocked down the house where they were eating together.
To this, Job grieved deeply. He shaved his head, lay down on the ground, and worshiped God, saying, “God gives, God takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”
God and Satan met again, and this time God consented to have Satan take away Job’s health. God instructed Satan to take Job’s health but keep him alive.
And Satan did. Job was afflicted with painful boils all over his body.
Job’s wife responded to this tragedy by saying to Job, “Why are you still holding on to your integrity? Just curse God and die.”
This is a disturbing story. There’s just no getting around it. It’s disturbing and it’s so complex. Because what we hear on the surface, in the English translation, it is made more complicated by the Hebrew.
Job’s very name is makes things messy. In Hebrew, Ayyub means “hated” or “persecuted”. So you already know—before the story even begins—that Job was going to be set up.
Satan or “hasatan” in Hebrew has meanings that go in a far different direction than the pointy eared red devil living in the depths of hell, as we have come to know him in our own mythology. In this story, Satan was part of the heavenly courts. And, Satan was an adversary. His role was to oppose. He was—in much of the book of Job—in legal terms, acting as the opposing council.
And the wife—she told Job to “Curse God and die.” But it’s more complex than just curse God. This word that was used for curse—Barack—has another meaning. It also means “to bless.” So, while most translations will convert this piece of text to “Curse God and die,” we also have a sense that curse and blessing are intertwined. What is a blessing is also a curse. What is a curse may also turn out to be a blessing.
This story of conflict between Job and God and the Adversary is not the only place that we hear this story. This story is part of all three major religions. It goes back as far as the ancient Egyptian mythology. The questions that the story of Job addresses are questions that all people in all cultures wonder about, and struggle with. Why do bad things happen to good, righteous, upright people? Why is there evil in the world?
I’m afraid I’m not going to be able to answer this difficult question in one sermon. Truth be told, I don’t have the answer to this question at all. I take comfort in the fact that so many theologians don’t know what to do with this book. I take some comfort that some theologians are pretty mad that this book is even in the Bible. It’s not clear, it doesn't take a side, it doesn't give any answers. It begins in much the same way it ends. In awkwardness. God gives Job things. God takes everything from Job to see what happens. Job tries to fight with God, and God replies with a “who do you think you are?” Job gives up. God gives Job a new family.
Uncomfortable. Mysterious. Unsettling.
Those are the same words I’d use to describe the communion table. On the night before Jesus was to die at the hands of his political and religious enemies, Jesus gathered his disciples together in a small room, and they shared a meal. Jesus washed his disciples feet, he warned them that he would die, and that he would be betrayed by his most loyal followers.
Uncomfortable. Mysterious. Unsettling.
And that night, after Jesus left that meal, he and his disciples went up to pray. Actually, Jesus prayed, and the disciples slept. But they woke up pretty quickly when Jesus was arrested, taken to religious and political authorities, and sentenced to death by crucifixion.
And then Jesus was interrogated, beaten, and crucified. He died a humiliating public death. All hope was gone.
Until the third day when the women found an angel in the tomb, who assured them that Jesus was alive. According to Mark’s gospel, the women “fled from the tomb bewildered and trembling; but they said nothing to anyone because they were so afraid.”
The story of Jesus’ death and resurrection is uncomfortable and unsettling. And yet, it is a story of hope. Jesus lived an upright life, he followed God’s call on his life. He was tortured and killed because of it, but he also was resurrected because of it. We still struggle to understand why it had to happen. Why Jesus had to die. Why he had to suffer. Why there was so much evil that was against the good he brought. But the end of the story brought with it resurrection, new life.
Uncomfortable. Unsettling. And hopeful.
Job’s story and Jesus’ story are uncomfortably similar. Both are upright people, faithful people. Both are tried and tested by Satan, the adversary. Both have moments of hopelessness. Both relent and have new life.
And both ask questions of God. Jesus says to God, “God, why have you forsaken me?” Job shaves his head, grieves while he worships God. He says, “God gives, God takes. Blessed be the name of Adonai.”
Our questions persist—God, why is this happening to me? To us? We are good people! Why is there evil in this world? We ask these questions of God. And while we ask, we recognize that there are some things we’ll never understand fully in this life.
We grieve that suffering happens in the world. We grieve that we suffer, and those we love feel pain. We grieve the suffering in this neighborhood, city and world. We are not content with trite answers to the questions of evil and suffering in this world—we have questions. We hold our grief in prayer together—here in this fellowship of believers.
And even as we grieve, we see the good things happing around us too. We have been given eyes to see hope in this world—hope that comes from suffering and destruction. So, we celebrate that hope we see. We bless the love that brings two people together. We bless the babies that are entrusted into this congregation. We celebrate the milestones that individuals experience in this congregation—new jobs, new opportunities, the talents and gifts we are given. And we celebrate the great mystery of faith at this communion table—Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.
We have much to grieve. We are humans, living in a sinful, broken world. But, we have much to celebrate. We are God’s people, made in God’s image, reflecting the light of God within us. So, let us celebrate today. Let us bless our newest baby this morning. And let us celebrate God’s love for us as we gather around this table. Let us celebrate with food, with singing, with gifts, with hugs and love. And let those celebrations today feed our spirit, and sustain us through the times of grief and sadness.
Blessed be the name of Adonai. AMEN.
What can I do?