Sunday, October 4, 2015

“The Integrity of Faith” (Job 1:1, 2:1-10)

Talk about your bad days.  In the story of Job we learn that he is the ultimate and perfect model of perfection when it comes to faith . . . God even says so: “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.”  The guy was the epitome of the good and faithful servant, and he even has God’s seal of approval to prove it.  At least that is the way that the story begins . . . but, as the story continues . . . well, we have to wonder.

The story begins with a gathering of the angels in the presence of God.  Showing up at the party was Satan.  God strikes up a conversation with Satan by asking him what he has been up to . . . “Just wandering around the earth,” replies Satan.  God then wants to know whether or not Satan has run into his good and faithful servant Job in any of his wanderings.  God kind of goes off on expounding the virtues of Job . . . but Satan isn’t buying any of it.

Basically Satan tells God that anyone can be as good and faithful as Job when God is placing a protective force shield around him or her . . . tells God that anyone can be like Job when they have a protector like God taking care of everything.  Take away that protection, says Satan, and Job is nothing but a regular old slob like the rest of the human race.  Though the writer doesn’t say so, it seems that God takes offense to what Satan is saying . . . kind of rubs God the wrong way.  A challenge . . . or should we say, an experiment . . . is issued.

God tells Satan to prove it.  Have at Job.  But, says God, there is a limit that what you can do.  Basically all Satan can do is to mess with what Job has . . . his wealth, property, and family . . . but, Satan cannot lay a hand on Job.  So, that is what Satan does . . . pretty much wipes out everything Job owns including his family.  Well, not quite all of his family . . . Satan leaves Job’s wife alone . . . sort of a source of comic relief to the story.  Through it all, Job remains faithful to God.  He doesn’t complain.  God smirks.

That was round one.  Satan is not satisfied and points out that nothing—personally happened to Job.  True he lost everything he owned.  Lost his family . . . but, those things can be replaced.  They are only a temporary discomfort, says Satan.  Now, suggests Satan, if something were to effect Job physically and personally . . . he wouldn’t be the perfect and faithful servant that God thinks he is. 

Again, God tells Satan to prove it . . . with one stipulation . . . Satan cannot kill Job. In round two Satan afflicts Job with a terrible skin disease from the tips of his toes to the crown of his head . . . terrible, painful, itching, oozing sores.  It is so bad that Job takes to the town dump where he sits, taking broken pieces of pottery, scraping his body of its decaying flesh.  Then, to make matters worse, his wife shows up . . . moaning and groaning, nitpicking, complaining, and telling her husband to give it up . . . curse God and be done with it.  But, Job refuses.

During the beat down that Job receives from his wife she asks him a serious question . . . a question that we all need to hear and consider: “Are you still holding on to your integrity?”

Job’s wife might be seen as a bit of comic relief in the story, but at the same time she is really a loving and caring wife who cannot stand to sit by and watch her spouse suffer as he is suffering . . . losing everything including his health.  She would rather see him die than to continue to live a life of suffering.  Not only does she question Job’s stubbornness to being faithful to God, she also offers him a solution to his problem: “Curse God and die!”

Job refuses.  Job responds: “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble.”

Ah, you’ve got to love a person who stands on his or her integrity.

Integrity is defined as “a quality of being honest and having strong moral principles.”  Job demonstrates integrity . . . he sticks to his guns . . . he is not going to blame God for any of the calamity that has afflicted him or his life.  He is going to embrace it all as a part of the relationship he has with God.  Pretty much he implies the wonderful Doris Day quote: “Que sera, sera, whatever will be will be.” 

But, the wife isn’t buying it.  In her mind and heart she believes that no one should have to endure such suffering in life . . . that no one deserves it.  The heck with integrity . . . curse God and end the suffering.  And, you know what, it is not difficult to identify with Job’s wife.  All of us have uttered such thoughts when we have stood by watching people we love endure great suffering and calamity in their lives.  We have thought it when we see the suffering in the world around us.  We have thought it and even said it out loud when life becomes more than we think we can ever endure.  Integrity does not solve or remove the suffering and pain of life.  It only seems to make it go on and on and on.

And, like Job’s wife, we have also realized that sometimes we hang on to things that only prolong the suffering and pain . . . realize that enough is enough . . . even when it comes to faith.  Job’s wife may be portrayed as a nag, but she hits the nail on the head when she tells her husband that the solution to the problem is to just let go . . . let go of your integrity and get it over with. 

Remember that joke about going to the doctor and complaining about your elbow hurting when you do this?  Remember what the doctor tells you?  Quit doing that.  That’s the problem when it comes to integrity . . . we just can’t stop doing it.  Job cannot stop being a person of integrity when it comes to his faith.  In that regard, God is right.

Yet, at the same time, most of us know the story of Job.  Most of us know how the story rolls out.  We know that the statement about Job’s patience is not true . . . that Job was not a patient person as we listen to his words of . . . well, words of complain when we honestly consider them.  In this heavily theological book, there are many issues that are dealt with, but the most important one is the integrity of faith.  Is Job really a person of integrity when it comes to his faith?  Listening to his words throughout the book it sounds as if he is whining and complaining with the best of them.  Does he really believe that the words that he is speaking are congruent with being faithful?

I guess we will see in the weeks to come.  True, the word integrity does mean a “quality of being honest and having strong moral principles”; but, at the same time, it also means “the state of being whole and undivided.”  In this morning’s story we are faced with an issue that all people of faith have dealt with for ever . . . how can we be a people of faith when we moan and groan and complain about the way that we think that God treats us?  Can we be disappointed in God and the way that God treats us?  Can we be angry at God?  Can we be a people of faith and curse God?  Isn’t that the issue we are dealing with as we read and hear the story of Job?

Again, we will see.  In the next week take the time to read the story of Job . . . read his words . . . read God’s words.  Ask yourself what does this story have to do with me . . . with my faith?  Think about it.  Pray about it.  And, let’s discuss it.  Because I content that in the end . . . Job does have integrity of faith.  I content that it is okay to be disappointed in God . . . to be upset with God . . . to be angry with God.  I content that we can be all those things and still be a people of integral faith.  I believe that Job did that.  I believe that because—in the end—Job remained a person who was whole and undivided . . . he was being who he was, who God created him to be.

The question echoes . . . “Are you still holding onto your integrity?”  I hope we are because, as Job will show us, it comes down to holding onto who we are—as created by God.  It comes down to honesty . . . honesty about who we are . . . honesty with God.  Amen.

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