Next weekend we begin a five-week sermon series through the book of Job from the collection of Wisdom literature in the Hebrew Scripture. Most people react to this news with either an eye roll or a slouch in the shoulders. “Job! Really? It’s so depressing.”
True. Job can be a depressing book. After all, it’s about a guy who does everything right, follows all God’s laws, is incredibly “blessed”, and then loses everything. It is not fair. Then we have to listen to his wife and friends accuse him for over thirty chapters of being a sinner.
Honestly, I wasn’t super excited when I heard that we were going to preach through Job this summer. That’s one reason why I like following a lectionary. It forces you to preach texts that you might not choose if left to your own comforts.
Do We Suffer?
This morning I was thinking about the big theme of Job: suffering. I’ve sub-titled the series, “Why Does God Allow Good people to suffer?”
Then it hit me. Most of the people I see and with whom I interact every day are white, middle-class, suburbanites. We have nice houses that protect us from the weather. We have food on our tables. We have cars to get us where we need to go whenever we want to go there. We have personal digital devices and internet access whenever we want it. We have home insurance, car insurance, health insurance and life insurance so that, if an accident does happen, we won’t lose everything.
Do we suffer?
We watch the news and hear about the shootings. We see the tears and anguish of the African-American neighbors crying out “Black Lives Matter” and calling for an end to racism and the killing of their children. And we stare blankly from our leather couches, slack-jawed, wondering, “Hey, all lives matter, right?” We can’t possibly understand.
We watch the news and flip through our blog feeds displayed on our smartphones while we wait in line for our $5.00 lattes and shake our heads at the violence in the middle east, the struggles of the refugees in Europe, and the childish mud-slinging of our candidates, and think, “What a shame.” Then we rush off to take our kids to the next soccer camp.
Do we suffer?
Of course we do suffer. I know it is dangerous to compare suffering. We have children that make bad choices and it breaks our hearts. We have disease and death in our families. We have marriages that break apart, substance abuse, job loss, and defeat. These are very real sources of pain and suffering that cause us to wonder if God really cares.
But, at the end of the day, we can wallow in our pain in the comfort of our homes, eating a nice meal, numbing out on Netflix, knowing that at least our insurance will cover the doctor bills.
The Real Question of Job
So, as I think about our suburban context and our insulation from the majority of pain that the majority of the world experiences on a daily basis, I am challenged by the opening scene of Job.
The Accuser stands before God.
God says, “Check out Job, he’s pretty awesome, isn’t he?”
“Yeah, he’s great, Lord…”
“But? Please go on.”
“He only loves you because he has everything. You’ve placed a hedge of protection around him. Who wouldn’t love God in those circumstances?”
In other words, the Book of Job asks us this penetrating question:
Why do YOU love God?
A Formula for Success?
There was a common belief among the people of Israel that there was a formula for success. It went like this:
Obeying God’s Rules = Getting the Good Life,
Disobeying God = Suffering and Pain.
There is a biblical precedent for this formula. It is what Moses taught the people in Deuteronomy. He said in Deuteronomy 30:11-20 “I set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life.”
It is the main message of Proverbs. “Follow wisdom and you’ll be blessed, follow Folly and you’ll be cursed.”
I think this mentality is alive and well today, especially among we who live in the sheltered cul-de-sacs of middle-class suburban churches. We go to church, follow the rules, get our kids confirmed, and God keeps us safe and warm.
Why Do We Love God?
When I first started thinking about this sermon series I defaulted to the standard reason for Job. We look around at the world’s suffering and ask, “Why does God allow all this suffering?” But then, today, I wonder whether the message of Job is different for the suburbanite.
Perhaps the accuser is looking into our white, middle-class eyes, pointing a bony finger, and asking, “Why do you love God?” What would you do if today you lost your house, your job, your pension, your cars, your smart phone, your internet, your reputation, your membership at the club, your children, and your health?”
If you were sitting on the corner, covered in sores, what would you write on the cardboard sign? Would you write, “God bless” or “curse God?”
I must confess, these are difficult words for me to write, because I am a comfortable, middle-class, white man. I do not know the suffering of Job, nor do I ever want to know it.
Pray for us as we travel through this book.
I invite you to join us in the online discussion group for this sermon series.