The Book of Job invites us to wrestle with the question, “Even though bad things happen to good people, can I still trust in a loving and gracious God?” For this first part of a three-part sermon series, we are introduced to Job who is presented with a “test” to see if he will continue to trust in God when bad things happen to him.
In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil.
One day the angels came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with them to present himself before him. 2 And the Lordsaid to Satan, “Where have you come from?”
Satan answered the Lord, “From roaming throughout the earth, going back and forth on it.”
3 Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil. And he still maintains his integrity, though you incited me against him to ruin him without any reason.”
4 “Skin for skin!” Satan replied. “A man will give all he has for his own life. 5 But now stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face.”
6 The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, he is in your hands; but you must spare his life.”
7 So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and afflicted Job with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head. 8 Then Job took a piece of broken pottery and scraped himself with it as he sat among the ashes.
9 His wife said to him, “Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!”
10 He replied, “You are talking like a foolish[b] woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”
In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.
The company board members have taken their seats around the mahogany table. The newly hired CEO stands before her board members for the very first time.
She has an uphill battle on her hands because her predecessor had lied to them about the performance of the company and as a consequence, many people in that company had lost their jobs, and the company was now facing serious financial difficulties.
The first words out of her mouth were, “I just want you to know that my overall goal as your new CEO is to be faithful in carrying out the mission of this company.”
A board member leans toward another board member and softly says, “I’ll believe it when I see it.”
Mom and dad have done everything possible to help their teenage daughter get back on the straight and narrow. They had done their very best in providing their daughter with help to deal with her chemical dependency and belligerent behavior. She had run away from home and now wanted to become part of the family again.
The parents; excited that their daughter was now home, yet still emotionally drained in trying to help her over the past several months, are faced with the troubling question. Can we trust our daughter again?
Trust is an important issue for all of us.
I have a niece who lives in California and she was promoted to a manager position in a health related field. I asked her what it was like to be a manager and if she liked her new role.
And she said, “I’ve discovered that it’s not easy for me to trust people to be able to do their jobs. I mean, I train them the best that I can to help them be successful, but it’s so disappointing when they don’t implement what I’ve taught them. Sometimes, I really struggle with trusting them to do their jobs.”
The premise of the Book of Job is that God actually trusts that Job will keep his faith when bad things will come his way. This isn’t so much a book about whether or not Job will keep his trust in God. This is a book that reminds us that God has faith in us.
From the opening verse, we are introduced to this man, Job. And we are told from the get-go that Job was blameless and upright, one who feared and respected God. And he also happened to be very wealthy.
We are even given the details of his financial portfolio. He had a lot of children, 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 oxen, 500 donkeys, and on and on. Job had everything. Not quite Donald Trump status, but pretty close.
But one day, the Lord gathered all of his heavenly beings together, and one of those heavenly beings, who’s name was Satan, which literally means “the accuser,” tells the Lord that he doesn’t think that Job is truly someone who could be trusted.
And this accuser, this Satan, says, “I’ll bet that the only reason Job follows you is because of the possessions and wealth you have given him. You take away his big screen TV, and in no time, he’ll be cursing you behind your back. You can count on it.”
And the Lord tells the accuser, “You’re on. Go ahead and do what you will to him.”
Well, you probably know the story of Job. It’s become familiar to people both inside the faith as well as outside the faith. And I think that’s because it gets us thinking about our motivation as human beings.
It can be easy to follow God when things are going great. You think to yourself.
“I have my job. I have my family. I’ve got a pension plan and health insurance. And I have a winter home in Florida. I’m young. My life is ahead of me. I’m able to attend this great university in Athens, but what would happen, if for some reason, we wouldn’t have these things in our lives? Would we still pray to God? Would we still follow God? Would we continue to go to church?”
This is a book of the Bible that wants us to think about that piercing question –“What’s my motivation in following God? And when times get tough, will I remain faithful?” The book of Job is really a gut check for all of us. What truly motivates us?
Well, the Greek Philosophers, such as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle have said that the desires of the body, the pleasures and pains of our senses, are what truly motivate us as humans.
Other philosophers have said, “No, instinct is what really motivates us as humans.” And still others have said that our psychological or maybe our physiological needs are what really drive us in life.
And so when Satan challenges God to see what truly motivates Job to be a blameless and upright individual, someone who fears God, a lot is at stake here.
Does money really talk? Are our lives really just about pleasure and pain, instinct and survival?
A church member in one of my previous churches shared his faith story with me one day. It was a story of the good life. He had it all. A good job. Loving wife. Nice car. And lots of stuff that we can buy and make us happy.
But then he said to me, that those things really didn’t make him happy like he thought they would. In fact, he was feeling pretty empty inside, empty because he didn’t know that there was a God in heaven who wanted nothing more than for him to know that he was loved and created for a purpose in life.
And then the good life started to crack. That good job in the company was all of the sudden taken away. The money to buy those things that he thought would fill his emptiness was gone as well.
He was empty before, and now he became even emptier. Like Job, he was facing a faith test. We all face these faith tests from time to time.
This time – it wasn’t pain or pleasure or even instinct. No. He knew that he needed God in his life to fill an emptiness that only God could fill. Even though he was now empty of things, he was now turning toward God.
One of the reasons why the Bible has been able to stand the test of time is because the story in this book looks very similar to our story.
I mean, here you have a God who creates humankind in His image and after he creates us he calls us good. And then we are called to take care of this good world, and what do we do?
We disobey God. Sin enters the world and it leads to the first murder and to sins of idolatry to the point where God sends the flood and destroys the earth.
You would think that God would lose trust in humankind after all of this. “Here, I gave them this beautiful garden to enjoy and they messed that up. And then they go out and kill and do all kinds of bad things.”
But even before God destroys the earth with a flood, he finds this man named, Noah, and he has him build an ark which ends up saving this family so that God’s good creation would be able to continue again.
And after you read the Noah story and how they survive the flood, you think,“Now, we’ll get it right. Now, we’ll keep our faith in God.” But no. We mess things up again. We build a tower, thinking that we really don’t need God anymore. But does God give up on us? Amazingly, no. What does God do?
God chooses Abraham and Sara and makes a covenant with them. I will promise to be your God and you will become a great nation.
And that’s all well and good, but you know the story. Sometimes we end up being faithful in living out this covenant, but most of the time, we end up not being faithful.
And yet, again and again, what does God keep doing? God keeps reaching out to you and to me, inviting us to be faithful in living out the covenant he has made with us. God still trusts us to be the people we were created to be, people who were created in the image of God.
And maybe this is why the Book of Job is included in our Bible. Just when we were at our lowest point and wondering if God still thinks we can be trustworthy, we are introduced to this man, Job.
In these opening verses, God tells Satan, “Go ahead. Push him to the limits if you will. But I’m telling you. He’s not motivated by riches and the good life. You’re underestimating him.”
So how does Job do with the trust test?
Our scripture reading this morning ends with Job losing almost everything – most of his family, his livestock, his possessions, and even his own health.
Picture Job sitting on a garbage heap and in the dust of the ashes that surround him. Even after he’s lost just about everything, he somehow is still able to express his faith in God. He offers this well known classic statement of faith.
“The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”
In your face, Satan. Round one goes to Job.
Sure, there will be more tests to come Job’s way, and we’ll get to those over the next couple of weeks as we continue to focus on this fascinating book of the Bible, but isn’t it good to know that we passed this first major test?
When I say, “we passed this first major test,” you heard me right. Job represents you and me in this story.
The Book of Job has often been seen as a book of the Bible that solves the mystery as to why bad things happen to good people. Unfortunately, neither this book, nor any book in the bible adequately answers this age-old question.
It does however remind us that even though bad things may happen to us, even tragic things, God is present with us in our sufferings. These first pages of the Book of Job point us to a God who actually believes in us and trusts us to remain faithful even when we face times of suffering and pain.
I used to think that the Book of Job was to help me believe in God. I now think it’s more of a book to help me see that God believes in me.
Actually, as I think about it, most of my trust tests haven’t been with whether or not I can trust God. My trust tests are more about seeing myself the way God sees me.
As I think back on my life, these are the kinds of thoughts I have said to myself over and over again. Maybe you have some of your own.
“I’ll never get good grades in school because I’m just not smart enough.” “There’s no way that I’m as good or better than my teammates.” “I am definitely going to fail this exam.” “She won’t go out with me.”
“There’s no way that God wants me to become a pastor.” I don’t belong at this meeting. What do I have to offer?” “They’re not going to get anything out of this sermon.” “Is this blog post really going to make any difference?”
Maybe God sees something in us that we don’t always see. Maybe God sees someone who is created in God’s own image.
Maybe God sees someone who would go so far as to build an ark in the middle of a desert so that God will be able to start all over and bring renewal to the world.
Or maybe God notices someone, who would do the unthinkable – like respond to God’s calling by leaving everything behind in order to begin a new nation, a chosen people, a royal priesthood.
Maybe you find it difficult to see yourself as God sees you…
…someone who has been created in the image of God, someone who is loved, someone who can offer love, someone who has gifts to share, someone who can make a difference in the world, someone for whom God sent His only son to die on a cross…
…and someone who just might believe that the good news of our faith is actually true.
Someone, who one day, will be able to look back on the good times and the bad times, and like our friend, Job, still be able to say…
Blessed be the name of the Lord!