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Wisdom for the Good Life, II (Inscription 44)

Job: When the Good Life Doesn’t Work


February 27, 2011



·         Read FB Notes, Skim Piper et al

Scripture reading: Job 1:1-5

Intro: Lent

Before we begin, I want to let you know about an opportunity and a challenge I have for the church.

Q   How many of you know what Lent is?

Lent is one of the oldest Christian traditions, beginning in the 3rd century. It basically consists of a partial fast for 40 days leading up to Easter (based off of the many “40’s” in the Bible – Jesus in wilderness, Jews wandering, etc).

·         It is not in the Bible, but most Christians observe Lent and find it to be a valuable Christian discipline.

Most of us grew up in informal churches and have never observed it, others grew up observing Lent, but as an external exercise.

Several of us on leadership have decided to observe Lent and we wanted to invite you to join us, so we can do it together.

Of course the first question is “why on earth would I do that?” Here are the reasons I want to do it:

1. I take Christ’s death and resurrection more seriously.

Forty days remind me that Jesus gave up his life for me. Fasting represents mourning, a chance to mourn his death. At the same time, it gives me greater reason to rejoice at his resurrection (cf. Orthodox Christians don’t eat any meat for 40 days).

2. Fasting is an act of repentance – I want to take this time to repent of my sins which put Jesus on the cross.

3. Willingly giving some physical thing that is perfectly acceptable up helps me shift my focus from my physical appetites to my spiritual needs.

So here is how it works – I would encourage each of you to choose one thing to give up:

·         Meat

·         Candy

·         Alcohol

·         Coffee

·         TV

·         Internet


It should be something that you will miss. The beginning on Ash Wednesday, March 9th, you go without that thing until Easter.

·         Here’s the cool part: Sunday is a celebration, so it is not right to fast on Sunday – you get Sundaysoff.”

I am going to create a Facebook event where we can share what we are giving up and what we are learning. If you interested, check it on the communication card.


·         Guide each of us about Lent

·         Speaks to us through Job, comfort us.

When the Good Life Doesn’t Work

·         This is the second in our four-part series on the Wisdom, “Wisdom for the Good Life.”

Job is one of the most moving and poetic books of the Bible. It contains some of the most moving poetry of the Bible, and also some of its most disturbing questions.

·         Job serves as a vital balance to the Pentateuch and Proverbs.

In them, the principle is if you’re righteous you’ll be blessed, if you’re wicked you’ll be cursed, and it’s usually true.

Q   But what do you do when it doesn’t work?

Q   What do you do when innocent suffer and the wicked prosper?

It is one thing to ask why God allows people to suffer, it is a very different thing to ask why I am suffering, why people I love are suffering.

Sometime we are slightly petty and self-serving, “I love God, why isn’t he taking better care of me?” (EG: My transmission). But other times it is deep and bewildering pain: Why did God allow this innocent child to die?

·         The book of Job addresses these questions, and God himself answers them, but in a very strange way.

But even if that doesn’t bother you, and you don’t think you are ever going to suffer, you still need to pay close attention because sometime we are Job and sometimes we are Job’s friends,

·         I pray that we can be better comforters than they were.

The Prologue: Setting the Stage

The story starts out by showing that Job was truly a righteous man, to humorous extreme in 1:5. Maybe I should be praying that God forgive my kids every time they go out in public.

Remember, the whole system they were used to was “If you are righteous you will be blesses, if you are wicked you will suffer.” It is called the retribution system.

And it is working for Job, he is very righteous and accordingly very wealthy. Up to this point, everything in this story makes sense, until Satan, of all people, asks a really good question.

Job 1:6-11   One day the angels came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came with them.  7 The LORD said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the LORD, “From roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it.”  8 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.”  9 “Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied.  10 “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land.  11 But stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.”

In other words, Satan asks, “How do you know that Job really loves you? What if he just loves you for what you give him?”

·         The problem with the retribution system is it’s easy to serve God because what he gives you, instead of because he is God.

So God says, “Game on.” In one day, four messengers run to Job:

1.  The first said, “Sabean raiders have stolen all your oxen and donkeys and have killed your farmhands!”

2.  The second said, “Fire has fallen from the sky and burned up all your sheep and all your shepherds!”

3.  The third said, “Chaldean invaders have stolen all your camels and have put your herders to the sword!”

4.  The fourth said, “A windstorm has blown down the house of your oldest son and has killed all your children!”

Job 1:20-22   At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship  21 and said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.”  22 ¶ In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.

This isn’t good enough for Satan. He says once Job suffers physically, he’ll break, so God lets him kick it up a notch:

Job 2:7-10   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 top 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 holding on to your integrity? Curse God and die!”  [You can see why Satan didn’t kill her.]10 He replied, “You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.

Does it bother you that that God would allow so much suffering for what amounts to a cosmic bet? I think we miss the point of the story if we get hung up on that.

·         That is the not the point of the book; the question of Job is, “Why do the innocent suffer?”

If it helps, Bible-believing scholars disagree as to whether Job is a historical account or a long parable. It is not clear how God intended for us to understand it, but it makes little difference – the themes are clear.

When friends like this...

As Job is suffering, his friends come to comfort him, and at first they do good job of it, just sitting with him, not saying anything for seven days, then Job breaks the silence.   

Q   Have you ever talked to a person in great pain?

Q   Have you ever noticed they don’t always say the nicest or most theologically sound thing?

·         Job has an inappropriate outburst; because he will not curse God, he curses the day of his birth, for like a whole chapter.

Q   How do you respond to those inappropriate outbursts?

Q   Do you let them express their pain or try to fix them?

·         Now Job’s friends are all guys, so they want to fix it but as soon as they open their mouth, they make everything worse.

Chapter 3 to 31 consist of highly poetic discourse between Job and his friends, they keep saying “You must have sinned big to be punished this way.” And he keeps saying, “No I haven’t.”

As it goes, the more desperate they get; getting increasingly personal and nasty. They start making up charges solely on the basis that Job must have done something to deserve this.

Health and Wealth

Q   Why are they so vehement about this?

They are defending their worldview. All their life they have believed that if they do good they will be rewarded, and here stands one man that can bring the whole system crashing down.

·         If Job can suffer innocently, so can they.

As I listen to Job’s friends, I hear the voice of Prosperity Teachers, those who teach that if you obey God and have enough faith, God will reward you with “Health and Wealth.”

·         Read it what way, and you’ll get the emotion of the book.

Don’t be quick to dismiss them; you’re closer than you think:

Q   How do you respond to panhandlers? Do you assume they are scammers, or addicts?

You are probably right. Probably, but not certainly. But we want to believe that because we don’t want to believe that it could happen to us.

You have to understand, his friends are so close to right. They are very close to the Bible. God usually rewards righteousness, a godly life is typically better than a wicked life.

·         But not always; sometimes it doesn’t work.

The first great lesson of Job is that sometimes we can do everything right and still suffer, so be slow to judge, slow to assume you know why someone is suffering.

·         The key word is compassion.

Shallow theology

There is another lesson for “Job’s friends”: I’ve been reading Job for years and have given myself a pass, because I don’t believe “Health and Wealth.” But this time I was struck by something very different:

Job 16:1-4  Then Job replied:  2 “I have heard many things like these; miserable comforters are you all!  3 Will your long-winded speeches never end? What ails you that you keep on arguing?  4 I also could speak like you, if you were in my place; I could make fine speeches against you and shake my head at you.

He’s saying, “I’ve been where you are. I’ve had all the answers, but now they don’t make sense. It all seems so shallow now.”

Perhaps I was more sensitive because I recently gave someone some well-intentioned advice, which was “correct,” but completely unhelpful to a person in pain.

This is a huge temptation to people who are have not “been through it,” who have managed to live “healthy lives,” and avoided a lot of the pain.

·         Remember, people in pain sometimes say inappropriate things.

You can be completely right and have all the theology and facts, but be completely wrong in how and when you share.

·         Again, compassion is the key word here.

Reading Job is forcing me to slow down and be more careful how I respond to people in pain. I hope it does the same for you.

I told you so

After many speeches, the friends run out of steam. Their shallow, incomplete theology just can’t stand against the harsh realities of Job’s sufferings, so they stop talking.

And at the end, God himself rebukes them and says Job must pray for them or else they’ll be in hot water. This must have pretty sweet for Job, but we are getting ahead of ourselves.

suffering with Job

Let’s go back look through Job’s eyes. None of us have suffered as greatly as Job, many of us have suffered a great deal through no fault of our own, and some of us are currently suffering.

Q   What does Job teach us about suffering? Job did two things right, and one thing wrong:

1. Patience and praise

He suffered patiently. No one knows how they will respond to the worst until they are there, but I hope this will be me – patience and praise.

·         Let Job’s patience be your model for as long as possible, but at some point you may break – even Job did.

2. It’s okay to be angry

It appears that all of this went on for months, and Job’s patience waned. Speaking of God, he says:

Job 30:19-23   19 He throws me into the mud, and I am reduced to dust and ashes.  20 “I cry out to you, O God, but you do not answer; I stand up, but you merely look at me.  21 You turn on me ruthlessly; with the might of your hand you attack me.  22 You snatch me up and drive me before the wind; you toss me about in the storm.  23 I know you will bring me down to death, to the place appointed for all the living.

Q   Have you ever felt like this?

It’s ok. To hurt, confused, or even angry is okay. This echoes the Lament Psalms. God filled the Bible with examples like this, telling us that it is okay. Even Jesus cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:16, quoting Ps. 22).

·         God welcomes honest expression of pain.

3. Judging God

Q   If you know the story, you may wonder: If it’s okay to hurt and even question God, why does God rebuke him?

We need to dig a little more: After all of Job’s friends were done, another guy enters the scene, a young kid named Elihu. At the end God rebukes Job’s other friends, but not him, which tells us he was closer to the truth:

Job 32:2    [He] became very angry with Job for justifying himself rather than God.

See, in Job’s cry, there is something missing, something that is found in all of the Lament Psalms:

Psalm 43:5   5 Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.

The laments always contain an expression of praise and trust, to say, “I really don’t understand, this really sucks, but you are good, I trust you. I will hold fast to you”

·         It is one thing to say “I don’t understand,” it is another to say, “You are not good, I don’t trust you.”

Job is setting himself up as a judge over God, and that is where he sins, when he justifies himself, not God.

Q   Have you done that?

Q   Have you said “There is no possible way that God can be good if this happens”?

Why does God allow earthquakes?

Whenever there is some sort of natural disaster or some calamity, you hear things like that. After the tsunami in Asia in 2005 Alan Colmes said either:

1) God couldn’t stop it because he isn’t powerful enough, or 2) else he wouldn’t stop it because he isn’t good, or 3) since these contradict the Biblical idea of God, he doesn’t exist.

This is the either/or we are confronted with in suffering, and Job buys into it – he is basically saying that God is not good.

·         But these are not the only options.

Throughout Job, Job kept on wanting God to show up, almost as if to put him on trial, and in chapter 38 God shows up, and Job gets more than he bargained for.

Remember, the central question of Job is “Why do the innocent suffer?” Here is God’s chance to answer this question that plagues humanity.

I freely admit it is one of the two biggest objections to Christianity that I personally face. So I am paying really close attention to God’s answer. What does he say? Does he say:

·         It wasn’t me, it was the devil.

·         It’s sin; your standard of righteousness is below mine.

·         Hey, I am going to give you back double what I took.

·         You didn’t have enough faith.

None of those, none of the answers you’d expect. All he does is spend four chapters like this:

Job 38:3-7   3 Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me.  Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation? Tell me, if you understand.  5 Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it?  6 On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone   7 while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?

Question after question (72 by my count), a withering barrage, and all of them have one point – I am God, you are not. You are not capable of understanding everything.

Let’s say Sarah wanted to drive our car. I’d tell her “no.” Now imagine that she says, “You are such a hypocrite. Here you are telling me not to drive, but you drive all the time.”

I’d say, “Do you know how to stop the car? Do you know how to stay on the road? Can you reach the peddles? Can you control the car?” What’s My point? You are not capable of doing this.

Q   Do you find God’s answer satisfying?

Q   Doesn’t it feel like a cop out?

To an extent, God doesn’t care, any more than I would “care” if Sarah said it was a cop out. It’s true, that enough’s.

·         If God created this unfathomable universe, then it is highly likely we wouldn’t be able to understand him.

The Third Option: Trust

Q   Remember Colmes’ two options? God is not able or not powerful?

God is saying there is a third option – you can’t understand, so trust me. I can’t understand, and there are many questions I can’t answer, but I believe he is good.

·         If nothing else, the Incarnation, Jesus becoming one of us and sharing in our suffering, convinces me God is good. 

We can make guesses about why God allows suffering, and the Bible gives hints – much suffering is caused by sin (even by someone else’s), the universe is imperfect, and filled with pain to remind us this isn’t our home.

·         We can discuss and struggle to understand, and someday I will do a sermon about that.

But we can’t know, and that is the point. But we can’t know, and that’s the point. Job came to understand:

Job 42:3  Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.

Psalm 131  My heart is not proud, O LORD, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me.  2 But I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me.  3 O Israel, put your hope in the LORD both now and forevermore.

We can’t know it all. Rest in God, like a weaned child. Why a weaned child? Because a weaned child doesn’t want anything, he can just rest, and be with the mom.

·         If the key word for Job’s friends is “compassion,” then the key word for Job is “trust,” hold fast to God. 

A happy ending

Job ends with God restoring Job’s possessions and doubling it. Even his life span is doubled. Some say this ending makes it trite, “they lived happily ever after,” it seems to contradict the message of Job, because he is blessed in his righteousness.

·         But that is not the point; the point is that God is good, even if you can’t understand it at the time.

The only way to express that within the context of this story is a happy ending. But the promise is not that we will have a happy ending here on earth. It is that God is good.

This is what are left with:

·         If you are Job’s friends, be compassionate, be careful with what you say. Even good theology can more harm than good.

If you are Job: I am sorry, I know my words today may sound like Job’s friends. But still I say, trust. God is good, even when you can’t see it.

Q & A


Look at Communication Card:

·         Study Psalm 131.

·         Read Eccl.

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