Monday, August 11, 2008

Stripping away the Pious Thoughts

13th Sunday after Pentecost
Job 38:4-18
Bror Erickson

[4] "Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.

Job, what a book. It demands your attention. It’s one of those books that is so intriguing you have a hard time putting it down once you start reading it. The writing is full of colorful descriptions, and cunningness. Job is poetry at its highest form, but poetry that tells a true story. A story we all find intriguing. It is really a history, recounted in poem. I don’t know about you but I mourn the loss of poetry in culture. Poetry used to be the art of men. Real men like Job. The best warriors among the Vikings were often also their best poets. Poetry, the art of playing with words, and turning phrases, painting history with the colors of vivid words, was the art of men. Now the only shreds of poetry left to us, roll off the tongues of thugs, glamorizing the debauchery of gang life, or the sweet sappy songs of seduction sung by eye candy girls with bare midriffs. That might be a bit of an exaggeration for the demise of poetry, but not much. People have lost respect for poetry. It is no longer considered a manly endeavor. Poetry is seen as the medium of fairy tales, and fiction. So many believe that the book of Job is a fairy tale, and not reality. But poetry is powerful. Like no other genre of literature it is most capable of communicating reality, so the Bible makes great use of it. Far from fiction Job mines the depths of truth, and the majesty of God, as only a true poet can do.

“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” God asks Job. “Tell me if you have understanding.” A little bit about Job the man. Job was a wealthy and wise man. The greatest of all the east. He was also as righteous a man as ever lived, and very pious. Yet not quite righteous enough. He wasn’t as righteous as Christ. Job believed in God, and trusted in Him. His sons would have feasts on every night of the week, and his daughters would party with them. Job would offer sacrifices on their behalf, and intercede for them. He wasn’t a gullible man when it came to his sons. He figured they probably got carried away and sinned while they were feasting. Job, delighted in God, and led as righteous a life as humanly possible. He may have even duped himself, as so many do today, that his wealth was God’s reward for his righteous living. I often marvel at that logic. The evil despots of this world tend to have more wealth than the diluted self-righteous inhabitants of McMansions, who think this way. I tend not to think of Hugo Chavez, Fidel Castro, Mugabe and the like as being righteous. Their fortunes are the spoils of thievery on a grand scale. But Job was not a thief. His wealth was the spoils of honest work. So there seemed to be no rhyme or reason as to why, this God fearing man should suffer the way he suffered, losing all seven of his sons and three daughters, his vast herds of Camels, sheep, oxen and donkeys in one day. This tragedy was then followed by sores, open boils from head to foot, covering Job with insatiable pain. And the book sets up the question. Why do bad things happen to good people? And its companion question, What profit is there in being good?

Perhaps this is why the book is so intriguing. We tend to believe like Job that we are righteous. We like him are puzzled by suffering, and by evil that plagues us. We wonder why God should be punishing us? We always blame God for our suffering, for the evil in this world. When we suffer, our wisdom vanishes. Everything we think we know about ourselves, and about God are shown to be foolish. Men often like to ignore what God says about himself, and imagine him as we think He ought to be. In short, we like to create Him in our own image. But in creating Him in our own image we only succeed in exercising our imagination. And the foolishness of our thoughts are exposed in suffering. And through the fire we are left with God as He really is. He is not a God to be manipulated, and controlled. We don’t get to bargain with God. We don’t deal with God on our own terms. God is not one we can contend with, or argue our case with if we want to approach God, standing on our own feet, on our own righteousness. Yet, before the majesty of God, we find we have no righteousness, we have no case. God is not safe for us to play with. Approaching God is a serious matter that can be quite dangerous for us, because we are sinners.

So who are we to question God? Rather God, turns on Job. The pitbull he thought he had tamed, takes a chunk out of his back side. The lion turns on the trainer. “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” This is a God angry with Job. This is a God angry with the insolence of Job, who dares to question God’s justice. This is God who is not to be questioned. This is God who does not tolerate self-righteous hypocrisy. This is God who puts man in his place.

This is the God who formed us, and gave us life. This is the God whom we thank with our sinful debauchery, and shameful insolence. We think that we can bargain with Him as His equal. Make a case against Him, argue our right. We would rather do this than admit we are sinners and accept His forgiveness. That is how sinful we are. So sinful we despise the grace of God, and would rather argue with him concerning our sinfulness, than accept His grace. Who are we! We think we are free to think what ever we want about God. We think He should reward us for good behavior. We get mad when things don’t go our way. Mad when the things God has given us are lost. But through it all, our pious little thoughts are stripped away, and God as He is is revealed to us, revealed to us in suffering. No longer can we hold to the silly delusion that God shows us His favor in this life, because we believe in Him. Oh, he shows us His favor, but not how we would expect. We aren’t going to live privileged lives because we are Christians. Our lives are not going to be freed from the pain of this world. Very likely we will suffer more in this life because we believe. Yet we will be spared from the ultimate suffering. We will be spared the ultimate suffering, because there was a righteous man once, a man whose righteousness far exceeded that of Job. There was one righteous man who walked the earth, A man who suffered for his righteousness in this sinful world, and did this for us. And on account of the innocent suffering and death, of Jesus Christ, God shows us his favor and forgives our sins, despite our insolent behavior, despite our mistaken beliefs about who He really is, and who we are. On account of Christ, we are forgiven.

Now the peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen


steve martin said...


That's the law in it's full crushing weight.

And that's the gospel truth in it's full glory.

Thanks be to God for preachers like you who deliver what is needful.

Es ist das Heil said...

I guess everyone deals with the question "Why do Bad things happen to Good People??".
But as my Pastor says..."There aren't any Good People!!...(Just Forgiven Ones!!)

I think sometimes we think we are better than others because we are Christians. Why is it so hard to learn? But if we don't learn this one, ...God will teach us!!
And it may not be pleasant! OUCH!