Sunday, October 11, 2015

“Can We Talk?” (Job 23:1-9, 16-17)

What happens when you follow the instructions . . . follow the game plan . . . and, the results suck?  You don’t get what you thought you were going to get . . . you don’t win the game.  Job did what he thought he was supposed to do . . . he did everything according to the rules; and, for a long time, it seemed to work.  He was blessed . . . had lots of children, especially sons, had lots of wealth, lots of herds . . . had it all; which, of course, he attributed to being a person who followed God’s will.  He saw himself as a person of faith who was blessed because of his faith.  At least he did until everything seemed to hit the fan . . .

. . . now he was wondering.

As you know, Job gets caught between God and Satan in a little challenge.  Satan tells God that Job would not be such an upright and faithful person . . . that he would denounce God . . . if he was beset with monumental catastrophe.  Which does happen.  He loses his family . . . loses his wealth . . . loses everything.  From a state of blessing to a state of sin . . . well, at least that is what everyone else thinks—including his wife.  Having lost everything, covered with wicked, oozing, and itchy sores, Job sits in the town dump scraping his itching skin with broken pieces of pottery.  He is the epitome of the sinful . . . at least as it is understood in his time.  As far as anyone is concerned, Job must have committed some sort of sin to deserve the punishment being afflicted upon him.

At least that is what everyone is telling him.  First, his wife.  She tells Job to just admit it . . . get it over with . . . curse God and die.  Which Job won’t accept and tells his wife she is foolish.  Then come three of his best friends. At first they do everything that anyone should do when attempting to comfort a friend in distress . . . they sit . . . they wait . . . and, they keep their mouths shut.  But, even they cannot handle their friend’s situation and condition.  They, too, in the end, let their own thoughts come to the forefront . . . they, too, urge Job to admit that he has committed some deep, dark sin that is causing him all of his hardship.  In fact, they get quite confrontive in their words . . . painful words to the ears of Job who maintains that he has done nothing wrong.

Then finally . . . after a speech by Eliphaz . . . Job has had enough.  He has done no wrong as far as he is concerned . . . he has done nothing but follow the script since day one . . . he is an innocent individual being unfairly prosecuted . . . and, he just doesn’t get it.  This frustration is getting to him . . . beginning to make him angry.  Everything that he thought he knew about faith . . . about God . . . has been blown out of the water.  Now he is wondering if any of it is even true. 

How do any of react when suddenly everything that we believed and thought was true suddenly doesn’t work?  Suddenly is not producing the results we expected?  What happens when one plus one no longer equals two?  Well, I imagine that once we get past the shock of it all, we are more than a little frustrated . . . especially when it comes to our beliefs about faith and our relationships with God.  What happens when the old ways of believing and living no longer work?

Everything that Job believed about God . . . about being a good and faithful person in all of the rituals and laws brings blessings . . . suddenly goes sour.  Job cannot think of one thing—not one thing—that could have or should have brought on the onslaught he is dealing with in his life.  He had done everything exactly like he was supposed to do, and now he was in a deep pile of hooey.  Nothing made sense.  He had no answers to the questions plaguing his mind and heart . . . his wife could not provide them, nor his friends.  In fact, they could not fathom the shift all of this was taking . . . all they could do was to hang onto the past and what they understood . . . curse God, admit one’s sin, and be done with it.

Job couldn’t buy it.

Nope.  Job couldn’t buy it.  Instead he proposes something completely different.  He proposes that he and God get together . . . in some shape or form . . . and haggle this whole thing out.  Shoot, he even suggests that he would welcome the opportunity to even go into a courtroom and fight it out.  Job is certain that he will win his argument and be exonerated in the end.  But the problem is . . . well, the problem is . . . where in the heck is God.  Job can’t find God.  He exclaims: “If I only knew where to find him; if only I could go to his dwelling.”  Job cannot find God.  “But if I go to the east, he is not there; if I go to the west I do not find him.  When he is at work in the north, I do not see him; when he turns to the south, I catch no glimpse of him.”  In Job’s experience, it is tough to hit a moving target . . . but, at the same time he is certain that if he can have an audience with God everything can be cleared up and life can get back to normal.  All Job wants is an opportunity to talk to God.

Now one has to understand that this is a whole new concept that Job is throwing into the mix in the conversation with his friends . . . this is radical stuff.  As far as everyone in the story, with the exception of Job, God is up there.  As long as people do what they are supposed to do, life is good.  When people choose to do the wrong thing, well then, God punishes them.  The good are blessed, the sinful are punished.  As far as everyone is concerned . . . even though no could name the sin . . . Job is a sinner deserving of the consequences of his sin.  That was the common thought of Job’s day . . . one that Job is now challenging.

Simply put, Job wants to sit down with God and discuss his situation . . . he wants to share his confusion over what is happening . . . wants to share his frustration about following the rules and coming up on the short end of the stick . . . wants to question God about why he is being punished if he did everything right . . . wants God to know that this really, really upsets him and he is angry about it all.  All Job wants to know from God is whether or not the two of them can sit down and talk.  Job is certain that he can prove to God that everything that is taking place in his life is unjustified . . . undeserving . . . that he is a good and faithful servant.  Job wants to know from God . . . can we talk?

To say the least, Job’s words are shocking to his friends . . . they are shocking to many of us.  This is no way to speak towards God.  It goes against everything that is believed.  No one should be so uppity towards God . . . demanding an audience . . . demanding a face-to-face confrontation.  No one should use such angry words.  No one should be so confrontive of God.  Isn’t that the way a lot of us feel . . . that we just have to accept the bad with the good and move on?  But, here is Job challenging that notion.  Job is demanding his face-to-face time with God . . . Job wants to get down and get dirty with God.  This is an affront to his friends . . . and, possibly an affront to those of us gathered here this morning.

That is the problem with reading the Book of Job—then and now, it challenges our understanding of what it means to be in a relationship with God.  Is it acceptable to be a person of faith and to question the cards that life has dealt . . . is it acceptable to question God with what is happening with our lives?  Many of us have been taught that it is not . . . we are supposed to pull ourselves up by our boot straps and go on whether or not we are frustrated or angry by the crummy cards we have been dealt.  Too often we think of ourselves as being unfaithful or bad people if we question, challenge, or confront God.

The Book of Job, in my estimation, represents a transition point in the relationship between God and God’s people . . . a transition in the relationship.  One that signifies a more intimate desire and need in both God and God’s children . . . one that moves into a personal, deep, and honest relationship in which both God and God’s children can lay their cards on the table and discuss their relationships with one another.  The difficulty in the situation is to accepting that what we once thought and understood about our relationship with God is completely different.  But it is difficult to let go of that which we hold tightly onto because we believe it is our anchor in a world in which we feel we are adrift.

Job presents another way . . . a different way.  The question is whether or not we can accept it.  Job is not a terrible person for laying it on the line and letting God know exactly what he feels and thinks.  Shoot, he is just being honest.  This is not Job’s problem . . . it is ours.  Through it all Job remains a person of integrity . . . he is being himself as God created him.  God expects nothing less.

And, so should we be when it comes to our relationships with God.

The question becomes . . . does Job get his day in God’s presence?  This is all new territory . . . a new trail.  Do we go back to what we think we know and believe . . . or do we travel down the unknown path with Job?  Poet Robert Frost wrote: “I shall be telling this with a sigh . . . somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”

Which road shall we travel?  Amen.

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