Suffering., The Book of Job., Theology

OUCH!

Read any commentary on Job and there is lots of discussion about whether Job is historical or pictorial.

Actually I think this misses the point, the story of Job is at times our story, an is the story of those all around us.

Why do bad things happen to good people?

Or why do good things happen to bad people?

Most of us have asked that question, or at least felt it, the psalms are full of this ‘God, why do you permit this?’ –God, why don’t you smite evil people? Asking if God is really a God of love, why do we see unloving actions getting the upper hand

Is God really a God of power, when bad things happen?

Is God really a God of justice when bad people appear to get away with?

When I take a funeral I often tell the story of the footprints poem;

“At the end of his life a man walking on the beach looked back, and he saw his life flash before him, and he saw his footprints, and there next to him where the foot prints of Christ. Then he noticed at the hardest and darkest times there was only one set of footprints and this worried the man, he turned to Jesus and said “Lord, why when I needed you the most, did you leave me on my own…” Jesus replied, ‘my son, I would never leave you or forsake you, those times when you see only one set of footprints that is when I carried you”…

I believe this is true, and ties in with the promises of God from scripture, “I will never leave you or abandon you”, Jesus said “I will be with you always”, “Can a mother abandon her baby at her breast, even though she may, I will not abandon you… see I have engraved your name in the palm of my hands”… yet despite being true, it doesn’t always feel true in the midst of a tough situation.

Jennifer Rees Larcombe wrote a best seller called “where have you gone God?” Philip Yancey wrote another book which asked “where is God when it hurts?” the fact that these two books flew off the shelves prove that this is a live issue for many of us at some stage in our Christian life.

So, here we have Job, probably the first book to be written (and also featuring a monster that sounds like it could be a dinosaur, ask Sam about this!) asking and wrestling with the biggest question of the universe, which isn’t is God real, (the Bible doesn’t even bother to put up an argument for his existence) but rather if God is good (which he is), if he loves us (which he does) and if he is a God of justice (which he is) and if he is powerful (which he is) how come suffering exists…

Actually I’m not sure if Job every actually fully answers these questions, it is too profounder book to pass us off with trite answers or simplistic platitudes…

Yet I think it does give us a really uncomfortable challenge about our pastoral care, sometimes our badly judged words that are meant to bring comfort don’t bring healing but cause hurt…  No wonder the epistle of James and the book of proverbs talk so much about being wise with our words.

It is interesting how false teaching such as Karma is still prevalent in our culture where the victim is blamed for their suffering; karma an grace cannot sit together as it is like mixing oil and water together.

Yet even though we can’t understand suffering fully we do learn that God is not absent from us, that God is powerful –Job shows clearly that the devil is not God’s equal, but significantly less powerful than God, and is answerable to God and is limited by him. Our end picture of God is vast and powerful, and our attempts to put him in a box fail.

A God I can understand, probably won’t be God.

The big picture of Job is someone who lost everything, and yet it is fully restored to him (although that can never make up for the pain of the initial loss and suffering)… Yet something God understands a picture of the resurrected and glorified Christ shows us with the marks on his hands remaining.

The remarkable truth of Christianity is a God who understands suffering from personal experience, as Graham Kendrick once wrote “Hands that flung stars into space to cruel nails surrendered”, which Job doesn’t cover (because it hadn’t happened then) but Job  is a book we have to take to the cross to fully understand it.

As we read Job in the shadow of the cross we see a God who loves and never leaves, a God where justice and mercy kiss, a God who is powerful and beyond our understanding and yet draws close to us as Christ, the suffering servant and glorified King.

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Habakkuk 3, Spiritual Health, Spirituality, Suffering., The Book of Job.

Life is a Rollacosta…

A friend posted this on Facebook just a moment ago… “Our greatest test may be that we must trust Gods goodness even though we don’t understand why our lives are going a certain way. We must learn to trust God, who is good, and not in the goodness of life.”

It is easy to trust that God is good and faithful when (to quote Matt Redman) “the sun is shining down on me, and the world is all as it should be” but much harder when “I’m found in the desert place, when I walk through the wilderness… On the road marked with suffering, though there is pain in the offering”.

We live in a broken and fallen world, and yet despite the worlds mess, broken-ness and grot Jesus is still King, and he’s still on the throne.

Sometimes what is true, and what feels true, are not the same thing…

Although we may feel abandon, God tells us “he will never leave us or forsake us”…

Although our sin may leave us feeling guilty and condemned, God says “as far as the East is from the West so far have I removed your transgressions from you”…

Although some days we feel worthless, scripture says our value is beyond rubies.

Sometimes when we look at messy and difficult situations we forget that God can work all things for the good of those who love him.

I don’t believe that this means he sends bad things, but rather he is able to hijack and redeem the bad to bring good from bad.

There is no person or problem that is beyond the redemptive love of God in Christ Jesus.  That’s true, but sometimes knowing its true in our heads and feeling it is true in our hearts are not the same thing.

Satan distorts our vision at times, plays with our emotions, messes with our heads, anything he can to drive a wedge between us and our heavenly Father, because Satan is ‘the Father of lies’.

Sometimes we do feel tested, sometimes things are a struggle, sometimes God feels silent, and yet despite this the book of Job reminds us that God never lets us go, never stops loving us, never encounters a problem that is too big for him.

One of the greatest poems of faith was etched on the wall of Auschwitz:

“I believe in the sun, even when it is not shining.

“I believe in love, even though I don’t feel it.

“I believe in God, even when he is silent.”

Which reminds me of the verses from Habakkuk 3.

17Though the fig tree should not blossom And there be no fruit on the vines, Though the yield of the olive should fail And the fields produce no food, Though the flock should be cut off from the fold And there be no cattle in the stalls,

Yet I will exult in the LORD, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.…Yet I will exult in the LORD, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.…

Whether we are on top of the world, or feel the bottom has dropped out of our world, God’s faithfulness to us won’t alter at all.

In the midst of even the toughest storms he is there for us.

When I take a funeral I find that the poem about the footsteps often helpful, and I reminded that at first the person on seeing one set of footsteps at the toughest and hardest cry initially shouts out to God, “God why did you leave me when I needed you the most”… and then hears the whisper of the Lord telling him that he is loved and he realises that actually in those moments that is where God carried him.

Hugged with invisible arms… anonymously loving even at the darkest times.

So, in the darkness, in pain, in confusion… lets remember that our God does not abandon us, his arm is not too short to save, or his ear deaf to our call.

He is faithful and true.

He will uphold us with his righteous right hand.

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The Book of Job.

For me Personally…

At All Souls’ we have wanted to go deeper into scripture and have been looking at books no one preaches on!

One book which is often skipped over is the book of Job, probably because it is quite depressing, a Job goes through awful suffering and is “comforted” by some friends who aren’t always that helpful. (As an aside phrases like “plenty more fish in the sea” when a relationship has ended, or “snap out of it” when you’ve got depression, or “well they had a good innings” when you’ve been bereaved are all unhelpful “Job’s Comforter” phrases, so please, please don’t use them!)
In theological circles people get very worked up about whether or not Job is actual or allegorical, to me that actually misses the point of Job. We live in a fallen world, and Job is true not because it happened (although I think it did) but because it happens, and happens all the time all around us (and sometimes to us).
The point is bad things happen to good people, beliefs in stuff like Karma are held up to be ridiculous -bad things happen to good people, and bad people sometimes seem to prosper-.
The book never gives us a clear answer to why suffering happens, but it does show that in the midst of it all God is present and doesn’t leave us or forsake us, nor is he lacking in power, nor is the devil -the architect of evil- equal to God, God is far, far greater in power, might and majesty.
Anyway, Job was the first book of the Bible to be written, and so more theological ideas had yet to be worked out, or at least written down.
Job asks a really profound question, which although buried in the midst of the text is I believe the heart of the book “If a person should die, shall they live again?” -Job 14:14.
It is a great question, probably this question (or a variant of it) is the most asked existential question of humanity.
Often people try to answer this philosophically “more people in the world believe in an afterlife than don’t, and most of the greatest minds have believed there was more to life than we can see, hear, smell and touch”…
We can answer if hypothetically “probably is/probably isn’t” (as marked by a rather bizarre campaign by Richard Dawkins and slightly better response by Alpha from HTB a few years ago).
We can answer it historically, has anyone ever claimed to have risen from the dead? Which I believe will take us to the empty tomb of Jesus Christ. The one who drew deaths sting. The one  who died so for us death is no longer a full stop but rather a comma. Because of Jesus after death comes life for all who trust in him.
Yet how every answer this question, we need to answer it personally, “If I should die, what is going to happen to me, will I live again?”
You see questions of existence aren’t just academic questions, they effect the very core of who we are, it is about what and why we live, and who we are living for… How we answer this question effects everything, whether we have hope of not? Where will we personally spend eternity?
There was a course written a while ago, called E.E. which stood for Evangelism Explosion,  which asked a very simple question “if you died tonight, and God asked you ‘Why should I let you into my heaven?’ Many would answer about being a good person, or flag up their religiosity, but, the only right answer is not to do with what we have done, but in what Christ has done, the unearned gift we could never have paid.
Jobs question, “If someone should die will they live again?” is answered in the resurrected Christ.
Job prophetically spoke of Christ’s defeat of death and sin, when he said “I know my redeemer lives” -19:25 later on in this message, (the shadow of the cross falls outside of time, bringing the great heroes of the Old Testament into the arms of their Heavenly Father).
Amid all the suffering of the world, the message of Job we live in, we know that this isn’t the end of the story, but rather is part of a bigger, more beautiful story, which is fulfilled in Jesus.
I’ll close with some graffiti I once saw… it said “Jesus is the answer” to which someone had written underneath “yeah, but what is the question?” 

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