In the midst of unexplainable suffering, Job modeled an honest, courageous, trusting faith which persisted in questioning God to understand his predicament. Like Job, can we be honest with God and at the same time trust God, even when we feel overwhelmed by the pain and suffering in our life and in our world?
Speaker: Pastor Stephen “Tig” Intagliata
Main Bible Passage: Job 19:23-27a
During the Senate confirmation hearings for Attorney General Jeff Sessions in 2017, Senator Elizabeth Warren had a lot to say on the floor. In fact she spoke so much that the Senate took a vote requiring her to stop talking.
But Warren kept speaking out. And following the vote to confirm Sessions, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell noted Warren’s defiant behavior in a negative tone, with the words “Nevertheless, she persisted.”
Much to McConnell’s chagrin, this expression ended up going viral, with “Nevertheless, she persisted” showing up all over social media, on t-shirts and signs to support women who showed courage in speaking out, despite efforts to silence or ignore them.
When we think of biblical people who would fit this slogan, Job could qualify as being at the top of the list. He is a model of someone who persisted in questioning God, in the midst of incredible suffering, and voices trying to silence him.
The book is 42 chapters long, and most of the chapters deal with Job’s conversations with first his friends and then to God after losing almost everything that he had, including all of his possessions, all of his children, and his health.
At first, when Job’s friends learn about his suffering, they do what good friends do when a friend is in need and hurting. They came to his side, they comforted him. They wept with him, and they grieved with him, often in silence.
Hopefully we all have a friend or two who would be there for us like Job’s friends were for him.
But after about a week, Job’s friends began to get antsy. They figure that there’s got to be a logical reason why tragedy has struck their friend Job. They determine that Job has done something against God to deserve what he’s going through.
Basically what they come up with is that Job has done something that God does not like, so God is punishing him for being disobedient.
And they tell him, “look, you need to repent of whatever sin you have done, and get back right with God. Then your suffering will stop.”
I mean, that’s a natural explanation that we often use as well, right? We’re always looking for reasons, always trying to make sense of why bad things happen to us.
Of course, sometimes our suffering is due to our own sin—things we choose to do that go against God’s desires for us, like choices that we make as a result of our own selfishness, choices that hurt other people in order to get what we want.
These kinds of choices usually result in negative consequences for us, like erosion of trust and broken relationships.
Of course, sometimes we suffer as a result of the sin of others—their greed, disrespect, and desire for control can cause us much pain and suffering.
And then there are those times, like with Job, when we can’t see our suffering as attributed to the sins of other people, or from anything that we have done.
We’ve all been there before, or know people who have. It could be a cancer diagnosis. Or an accident. Or infertility. Or some kind of abuse. Or a relationship that suddenly falls apart. Or crippling depression. Or a whole host of other things.
When these kinds of tragedies strike a person or a family, it can be a true test of faith. We ask, “why God?” And we are tempted to become so disappointed and disillusioned and bitter that we give up on God.
A lot of people, including us at times, can become like Job’s wife. After seeing all the bad things that happened to her husband for no apparent reason, Job’s wife gets so fed up with God that she says to Job,
Why are you still holding on to your integrity, to your faith? You should just curse God and die!
And she has a good point. I mean, why would anyone want to believe in, let alone worship and live for, a God who seems so cruel, indifferent, and heartless.
But as much as Job may love his wife and respect her opinions, this time he’s not ready to throw in the towel and turn his back on God.
Instead, Job decides to face God head on, and question him, and probe him, in order to try to make sense of his suffering.
Job’s wife thinks he’s crazy. His friends think he’s wasting his time and they try to satisfy him with easy, cliché answers so he will just quiet down and accept his lot. But nevertheless, Job persisted in wrestling with God.
I read a thought-provoking book about Job this week called “Wrestling with Job: Defiant faith in the face of suffering” by Bill Kynes and Will Kynes, a father and a son.
Sometimes we hear that Job was patient with God. But the Kynes say that “Job’s way of talking with God seems more petulant than patient.” (I had to look up petulant, and it means grumpy, grouchy, or cantankerous).
The authors go on to talk about a Biblical tradition of what they call “defiant faith”. I know that when we hear the word “defiant” it sounds negative; like a defiant child who is strong-willed and disrespectful of their parents.
But to the authors, a defiant faith is where people of faith dare to hold God accountable to who God says that He is, in the midst of injustice and suffering.
They give the example of Abraham. When God said that He would destroy Sodom because of its unfaithfulness, Abraham confronts God and appeals to His nature as a just God, saying “Shall not the judge of all the earth do what is just?”
And then he bargains with God about finding enough faithful residents of Sodom to justify sparing it. If there are 50 righteous people, will you spare it? And then he getsGod down to 40, then 30, and 20, all the way to 10. (Gen. 18)
When I read this bargaining going on, I think of those quilt auctions at the Mennonite relief sales, with those incredible auctioneers. Abraham could have held his own at the auctioneer stand!
And then this tradition of defiant faith continues with Moses. When Moses is leading the people of Israel through the wilderness, they get frustrated, and rebellious, and they make a golden calf to worship. (Ex. 32)
And this idolatry gets under God’s skin, and he calls them a “stiff-necked people”. And he’s so angry that he tells Moses that he wants to “consume” those bovine worshippers, in other words, wipe them off the face of the earth.
But Moses musters up the courage to plead with God, basically saying “I know that you’re upset but please can you calm down, Lord, and reconsider.
He says, remember your promise that you would multiply the offspring of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob”. And the story says that God backed down and spared the people, letting them live.
Then there’s the parable that Jesus told in the gospel of Luke about a persistent widow who keeps pleading with an unjust judge until she convinces him to intervene for her. The parable asks, “Will not God bring about justice for those who cry out to him day and night?”
Jesus uses this story to encourage his followers to plead with God when they see or experience injustice to right the situation, instead of just passively accepting it.
And then there is Jesus on the cross, in his agony, quoting Psalm 22, a psalm of lament, crying out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
In their book on Job, the Kynes say:
These biblical examples of defiant faith struggle with God, but never let him go, because of their faith in his justice, goodness, and power. They protest and plead with God to remind God who he is and what he’s supposed to do.
And that’s what we see with Job. Job believes and hopes in a God who is good enough and great enough to make things right, and when he doesn’t see this, he complains, and questions, and wants an answer from God.
And finally, after 30+ chapters of Job’s persistence, God finally speaks and responds to Job. It’s worth noting that God cares enough about Job to respond to him personally.
But God’s answers aren’t exactly what Job expects. Actually, much of God’s responses are in the form of questions that he reflects back to Job. These questions serve as reminders to Job of God’s power and sovereignty over the world and all that he has created.
In chapter 38 God says to Job:
Can you answer the questions I ask?
4 How did I lay the foundation for the earth? Were you there?
5 Doubtless you know who decided its length and width.
And then God brings up the weather:
Do you know the laws of the heavens? Do you send the lightning bolts on their way, do they report to you saying “Here we are?” (vs. 35)
And then the animals:
Who provides food for the raven when its young cry out and wander about for lack of food? (vs. 39)
The Kynes say that God sets out to change the way that Job looks at his situation, by changing the way he looks at the world. It’s like God is asking Job, “Job, if you can’t understand how I govern the physical universe, do you think you can understand how I govern the moral universe?” p. 181
God goes on to talk about the two mysterious and powerful creatures, the Behemoth and the Leviathan, and how God even controls them, saying “Everything under heaven and earth belongs to me” (41:11).
So in a way God is saying to Job, “If I can control these terrifying creatures, can’t you trust me to manage the affairs of your life?” p. 185
And now the question to us is “Can we trust God, even when we feel overwhelmed by the pain and suffering in our life and in the world around us?”
The Kynes say this:
God is the creator of heaven and earth, and we are not. God rules over all; and we don’t. He is beyond our ability to comprehend; he knows what we could never know. His ways transcend our understanding, and we are called to accept that fact and trust him, even when it’s hard. God is good…and that’s a good thing.
In the end, some things still remain a mystery to Job, but Job is comforted by being assured that God knows what God is doing, even if Job doesn’t.
He gains a new appreciation for God, a deeper understanding of who God is and who he is in relation to God. Job has gained more wisdom, and his eyes have been opened in a new way. We see this in Job’s response to God’s words:
“Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. My ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you.” 42:1,5
Job went through what we sometimes call a “dark night of the soul”, where he was disoriented, and felt that God was distant, even absent.
The great 20th century theologian C.S. Lewis went through a dark night, when he married late in life, and after only a couple of years, his wife died of bone cancer. Lewis reflects on this experience in his book “A Grief Observed”. He asks “Why is God so present in our time of prosperity, and so very absent in time of trouble?”
In our lives, there are going to be times when we will have our own “dark nights of the soul.” When we feel lost, disoriented or disillusioned. Times when we may experience deep loss and when God feels distant or even completely absent.
But like Job, those times of darkness can serve as times of refining, of purifying our soul. When we feel like we are losing our faith and even our God, we can end up growing stronger in our faith and closer to God, if we persevere and trust that God in God’s goodness and sovereignty will lead us through it.
The Canadian folk singer Bruce Cockburn wrote a song called “Pacing the Cage”
Sometimes the best map will not guide you, you can’t see what’s round the bend, Sometimes the road leads through dark places, sometimes the darkness is your friend.
Job’s story reminds us that what will get us through the dark times is a faith that is persistent, a faith that is even defiant, a faith that is courageous and honest enough to approach God face to face, and be brutally honest with Him.
In James’ letter in the New Testament, he talks about the steadfast faith of Job as an example to follow:
11 Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.
Friends, like Job, may we remain steadfast in our faith and not grow weary. May we be people who leave a legacy that says “Nevertheless, we persisted”. That in spite of all the struggles and suffering and dark nights, we persevered in our faith and in our walk with Christ.
May we be able to say with Job, “I know that my redeemer lives, and in the end, he will remain standing on the earth.” And may remember as Christ followers that he is our redeemer, or strength, and our hope.
May we remember that we can trust God no matter what we’re going through in life, even when we don’t have all the answers.
We can trust God because he is compassionate and merciful, because he is good, and because he in control over the heavens, the earth, and each one of us. AMEN.