Job and Suffering
The Reverend Sunil Chandy
Christ Church Westerly
Job 2:1-9, 16-17
In 2012 I took part in a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, led by Bishop George Councell. And one night we had cocktails at the American Colony Hotel in Jerusalem- we are Episcopalians after all.
Bishop Councell recounted the story of Hotel that was established by HG Spafford, a prominent Chicago lawyer who lost much of his fortune in the Great Chicago fire of 1871. Two years after the fire, in 1873, Spafford decided his family should take a holiday to visit the great evangelist Dwight Moody in England. But a business issue caused a delay for him- so he sent his family ahead: his wife and their four young daughters. On November 22, 1873 their ship was struck by another sailing vessel and 226 people lost their lives, including all four of Spafford's daughters. Mrs. Spafford survived the tragedy. Upon arriving in England, she sent a telegram to Mr. Spafford that began "Saved alone.] Spafford then sailed to England; going over the location of his daughters' deaths and after a period of mourning went back into his cabin and wrote the Hymn "It Is Well with My Soul"
The hymn includes these lines:
When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll,
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.
This verse and the hymn is testimony of faith. I was reminded of this hymn after reading the first lesson from the Book of Job.
The story of Job is a fascinating and powerful story. The book of Job is one of my favorite books in the Bible! I heard my father preach one of his last sermons on Job and ever since this book has been a source of inspiration and challenge to me.
Many Biblical historians believe that the book is an allegory. For it describes the relationship of humanity, to God, in a world filled with great suffering.
The story revolves around the faithful servant of God- Job. In the prologue of the book about 2 chapters we learn about righteous Job. He is a prosperous man with a large and beautiful family, loved by all. Including God. According to the biblical account, God marvels at the righteousness of Job but Satan, a member of God’s court and asserts that Job only trusted God because things were going well for him. Satan argued that if his prosperity and family were taken away, Job would curse God.
And In response, God permits Job's goods to be lost and all his children to die in a great windstorm. His suffering devastates Job, he would not give up his allegiance to God. God again marvels at Job’s righteousness to Satan but Satan as seen in today’s lesson replies “Skin for Skin! All that people have they will give to save their lives.” Hurt him min body and he will curse you! With that Satan was allowed to inflict Job with painful lesions, boils that caused his skin to fall off like ash. It is at this point that His wife tells, Job, curse God and die. …But he does not but rather he wants God to explain himself! Four of his friends Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, Elihu come from different parts of the world and they sit with him for 7 days in his grief. That would have been good but after the 7 days they open their mouths and ruin every thing! They urge him to acknowledge that he had sinned and deserved what happened to him. They even argue if he didn’t sin, his children did and he was being inflicted by a just God because of them. But Job protested in his innocence and argues back that he did not sin and he always offered sacrifices for his children just in case...
For forty chapters Job does not curse God, but he does want God to explain himself. In the end, God did come to righteous Job! But God did not come with comforting words; God did not explain himself to Job. God instead told Job to “Gird your loins man! And in an angry toned reminded Job of the mighty actions of God in the universe. He asks Job a series of questions about the universe, the sky, the stars, the beasts of the land and the creatures of the sea. He asked if Job knew how they were created and held in balance. Job was throughout these questions simply silent. At the end of the book God’s reply Job, with humility and trust, accepting that there will be no explanation to his suffering.
Job repents for questioning God's ways. Job again asserts his trust, even the face of the great calamities that had befallen him.
The struggle of Job brings us face-to-face with the question that people who face tragedy often struggle with: Why did this happen to me? What did I do to deserve this? And if you are a person of faith you might be tempted to ask what did I do? How did I sin, in order for this to happen to me? Or further if I am a good person a faithful person why did God do this to me? But the book of Job tells us that might be the wrong question. For it is the question Job asks. And it is the question for which he never receives an answer it is a question for which he repents! For life my friends is filled with suffering. It simply is. It does not matter if you are good or bad, a faithful Christian or not—if you live—you will suffer!
What we might understand out of this book of wisdom is that God sees our suffering. It is in the midst of this suffering that God is present.
For us when we encounter suffering, cancer, a loss of a loved one, the loss of a job, frustrations and upheavals. Even acts of violence, such as the killing of nine people in an Oregon Community College two days ago- an act of violence that was prefaced by the question from the shooter to his victims- “Are you a Christian?”
We may ask- why God? But a better question may be “Where can I find God in this? And what can I learn from this tragedy? This challenge?
Job learned at God does care because God comes to Job and Job is satisfied. For Spafford, who lost everything, God came and was the rock he held onto through the storms of life and the rock that brought him peace.
For us God may be the one whom we place our trust in and who helps us through our time of chaos. The one who directs us to create a better and hopeful world!