Narrative Lectionary Text: Job 1:1-22
When I was in middle school my little group of buddies and I would love to get together and have sleep-overs at each other’s house.
One night we were at my house. We lived in a first ring suburb of Detroit, and our house was one of those salt box houses built in 1908. It was small and old and had a really cool attic. The only way to get to the attic was to pull down the door from the ceiling in the hallway. It had one of those fold down ladders.
We had been hanging out in the attic and we thought, “We have to sleep up here tonight. It would be creepy and awesome.”
So, we asked my parents. “Please, let us sleep in the attic.”
Now, the place where we had built our little rat’s nest was directly above my parents’ room. My Dad said, “OK, here’s the deal. You can sleep up there on one condition. You HAVE to be quiet after a certain time. Do we have a deal?”
“Oh, yes, yes. No problem. We’ve got this. Quiet as a mouse. We promise.”
We climb the ladder and shut the door, and we are having a blast. And we lose track of time.
Then it happened.
The door lowers from the floor. My Dad’s head appears and slowly turns to face us. We freeze.
“Boys, you are not keeping your end of the bargain!”
That’s about as mad as my Dad ever got, but we heard the message.
Have you ever had that feeling toward someone? Have you ever looked at someone whom you thought you could trust and thought, “You are not keeping your end of the bargain!”
Here’s the real question:
Have you ever thought that about God?
Here you are, doing the best you can to be the best kind of person you can be. You’ve done everything right. You go to church. You tithe. You got your kids baptized and confirmed. You are kind to people, even when they’re mean to you. You try to be generous and positive. You follow the Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule.
And then it happens.
A child dies.
You lose your job.
Cancer rips through your body.
You find yourself in pain and suffering, and you look up to the Heavens and say,
“What is up with this, God? You are not keeping your part of the bargain!”
That is the question of Job. And that is what we are going to spend the next five weeks exploring.
We are going to explore this big question from a different angle each week.
Before I go any further, I want to make a big invitation.
I know it’s hard to commit to five weeks of anything in the summer. People are trying to squeeze in summer vacations before school starts. The cabin calls out to you every weekend.
So, in light of that, I want to let you know that you can engage in this series online at Grace Learning Center.
We’ve created six lessons and a discussion group. The first lesson has lots of background information and artwork to help you get the big picture of Job. Then, each lesson will allow you to listen to the sermon, access deeper notes, and engage in conversation throughout the week. You do this from anywhere that you have internet access.
OK, today I want to do two things.
First, I want to give a picture view and put Job in context with the other wisdom books in the Hebrew Scripture.
Second, I want to drill down and look at the opening scene of the story and leave us with a really important question.
First, let’s look at the big picture.
Job is a book that is part of a collection of books in the Hebrew scripture that are considered the Wisdom Books.
There are three Wisdom books: Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job.
I listened to a podcast from the Bible Project this week that was talking about these books and they framed it in such a cool way, that I want to share it with you.
Imagine if these three books are three people. Each of them are characters that have their own perspective that they bring to life. They are friends with each other. Now, imagine that they are all standing together and you walk up to them and ask them a question. Each of them will give his or her own perspective.
The first one is Proverbs.
She is a young woman who is really smart. She is full of life and energy and hope. She understands that the universe is woven together by God’s wisdom. The Hebrew word is hoch-mah. It is way of living that is fair, and just, and right.
Proverbs tells us this basic message: If you want to have a good, successful, and full life, then walk in the way of wisdom.
The universe operates according to a fundamental equation:
Follow wisdom and do the right thing = live a good, successful, full life
Ignore wisdom and do the evil or foolish thing = suffer bad consequences
Then Wisdom gives tons of advice on every aspect of life. You want to raise good children, have a good marriage, have a successful business? Here’s how to do it. Follow wisdom. Seek hoch-mah.
The Hindu religion calls this karma. Do good things, good things happen. Do bad things, bad things happen.
That’s Proverbs. Young, Idealistic. Full of hope.
Then there’s Ecclesiastes.
He is a middle-aged man. The whole time Proverbs has been talking, he’s just standing there, arms crossed, fingers tapping, eyes rolling.
When we come to him, he pats Proverbs on the shoulder and says, “You’re a nice girl, but so naïve. Yes, wisdom is good, but it doesn’t always work. Let me show you exhibit A, B, C, D, E, and F of stories where good people suffer and die while rotten criminals get away with evil things and get all the power and glory.”
Ecclesiastes is an incredibly cynical book. It says, “I’ve seen it all, and it is all meaningless. There is a season for everything. There is a season, turn, turn, turn.” Yes, that’s where the song comes from.
Well, we’ve heard from idealistic Proverbs, and from cynical Ecclesiastes. Now we come to our final character and the star of our current series. Job.
Job is an old man. He’s been quietly standing to the side, listening to Proverbs and Ecclesiastes share their perspectives on life. When we come to him, he takes a deep breath, and looks at us with a deep wisdom in his eyes.
Job poses this problem.
We know that God is good and just.
Proverbs tells us that bad people suffer and good people don’t.
Job is a good person who suffers.
How can all these things be true?
Here, we lean in to listen. What is it that Job has to tell us that is deeper than Proverbs and Ecclesiastes?
That’s what we’re going to explore in this series. Stay tuned.
I love that metaphor of these three people.
With this in mind I want to take a couple minutes to look at the opening scene of the story of Job and make sure we understand the real question that Job asks of us.
The story opens like a fairy tale.
Once upon a time, in the Land of UZ…
A long time ago, in a land far, far, away…
This is most likely not a true story, but is an ancient parable, designed to explore these deep questions.
The opening scene takes place in the presence of God, like it is a courtroom. God sits on the throne and the Satan comes to him. The term satan means accuser. This character is like the prosecuting attorney.
So, the accuser says, “I’ve been inspecting your people, Lord.”
“Ah, yes,” the Lord answers, “Have you seen Job. Pretty awesome, isn’t he?”
“Well, yes, he is,” the accuser responds, “but wouldn’t anyone be if he was as comfortable as Job is? Job only worships you because you treat him well.
Take everything from him and he will curse you.”
Here we must pause.
This is the real question of Job.
We’ve been billing this series as if the story of Job asks the question, “Why do good people suffer?”
Right? That’s the question we ask.
But, think about this. Why do we ask that question?
In our minds, good people shouldn’t suffer. Why? Because Proverbs taught us as much.
But, when good people do suffer, what is wrong?
God is not keeping up God’s end of the deal!
The real question that Job asks of us, and the question that the accuser asked of Job, was this:
Why do you love and worship God?
Think about that for a moment.
I think that most of us operate under a contractual relationship with God.
The contract has many variations among the different denominations, but they all boil down to this agreement:
I do this for you, God, and then you do this for me.
If I pray the sinners prayer, then you will save me from Hell.
If my parents have me baptized, and then I confirm my baptism, then you will assure my entrance into the pearly gates when I die.
If I follow all the rules, feed the sick, help the poor, and be nice to people, then you will bless me with a happy, healthy life.
So, we go through life doing everything right, and when things go wrong, what is our natural reaction? You are now the guy on the street corner holding up a cardboard sign. What would you write on it?
“God, you’re not keeping your end of the deal!”
Then we turn into Ecclesiastes.
Look how Job responded in v. 21.
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”
So, today, as we conclude this first sermon in the 5-week series on Job, I want to send you home with an homework assignment.
Honestly ask yourself, Why do I love and worship God? Am I in it to get something out of it?
And as you do, I want to give you a word of hope and preview of coming attractions.
The Promise of God is not a happy, healthy life. The Promise of God, the Good News, the Gospel of God and the message of Job is that God has not entered into a contractual relationship with us. If it was that, we’d all be in big trouble.
The Good News is that God’s love is unconditional. We’ll learn in the fourth week that God’s ways are so far beyond our ways that we could never reduce God’s wisdom or God’s love to a formula.
God loves you, because God made you.
Why do you love God?