Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The Good and the Bad

Job 1:1; 2:1-10

Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12


An anonymous puritan author once wrote, “My trials have been fewer than my sins.” It sort of puts things in perspective doesn’t it? Consider for a moment those blessings you have enjoyed in life. What have you done to deserve them? True there may be those who are worse then you who prosper, but couldn’t it also be true that some who are more virtuous than you have experienced greater suffering?

If any man was justified in bringing a complaint against God, it was Job, and yet in our reading today he challenges us with these words, “Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?” If we receive from God his gracious blessings—among them being our life and salvation—shouldn’t we also endure with patience our suffering?

Many identify with Job because they feel the pain and suffering they experience in life is unjust and unwarranted. The scriptures describe Job as a man of perfect integrity. Job was blameless. How many of us can honestly claim the same for ourselves?
If we take an honest assessment of our lives we will no doubt find that God has been enormously patient with us in overlooking the many ways we have sinned against him. As the psalmist writes, “He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.” Shouldn’t we rather grieve our sins more than our misfortunes? And yet instead of giving thanks to God for his amazing grace towards us, we down play our culpability by rationalizing our sins and telling ourselves they are no different than what is common to all people. We say to ourselves, “everyone does it.”

Diogenes was a cynic philosopher from ancient Greece. He is well known for being a kind of wandering hobo who carried a lamp in broad daylight, claiming to be searching for one honest man. His search is sometimes portrayed as a sincere attempt to discover what true virtue looks like, but there may have been (appropriately enough) a more cynical motivation. As a younger man Diogenes and his Father, who were involved in banking, were caught in some impropriety--either embezzlement or debasement of currency, it is not clear which—but as a result he was sent into exile. Diogenes’ crime was actually a rather common one, he was just unfortunate enough to get caught. Some suggest that his so called mission was an act of protest in order to expose the hypocrisy that sent him into exile. In effect he was saying, “No one is truly honest, everyone is out for themselves, why should I be singled out?”

Like Diogenes with his lamp, Satan too has been roaming the earth. He is searching not for honesty, but for some accusation to bring against the righteous. He seeks to justify himself by exposing some fault in those whom God loves or by leading them into sin. The accusation that Satan made against Job was that he only loved God because of the many material blessings he received at God’s hand. Job was a very wealthy man—we are told he was the wealthiest in all the east-- he owned seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen and five hundred donkeys, and had a large number of servants. God had also blessed him with a beautiful family. He had seven sons and three daughters.

Satan’s claim is a pointed one. Do we only love God when things in our life are going well? Is our relationship with the almighty a transactional one, where he pours out his blessing on us and we in return give him worship? Do we love God for his own sake or merely for the things that we receive from him? In order to test the sincerity of Job’s faithfulness, God gives authority to Satan to take away all the good things in Job’s life.  In rapid succession Job’s whole life collapses around him. All his possessions and even his beloved children are taken from him.

It is the general testimony of the saints throughout the ages—those who have known the depths of holiness and the spiritual life—that while the beginning stages on the journey towards union with God are full of spiritual graces and consolations, if one pushes on, one will inevitably pass through what they call the dark night of the soul. This is state of inner bareness in which the blessings of communion with God are taken away. This they say is God’s way of teaching us to love him for his own sake.
Even after Job’s life becomes a desolation, he—remarkably—clings to his integrity and faithfulness to God which brings us to the place in which our reading picks up. After he fails to ruin Job, Satan appears before God again. “Skin for Skin,” he says, “All that people have they will give to save their lives. But stretch out your hand now and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face."

Satan’s proverb is perhaps better translated, “Hide for skin.” This is a reference to animal hide which was commonly used as clothing. In response to Satan’s first attack Job declared, “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.” Satan claims, “A person will give up even the shirt off his back to preserve his life from physical danger. People are inherently selfish and care more about themselves than anything else. Job is no different. He may have endured the destruction of his property and his children, but attack him personally—his flesh and bone—and he will curse you.” 

The sheer amount of suffering that Job endures in such a short time is staggering, many a weaker individual has seen their faith and integrity crumble under such trail. Job’s own wife begs him to, “curse God and die” but as we have already said, Job resigns himself to his lot and refuses to curse God. 

Job experiences deep confusion, doubt, and even anger, but he never allows himself to be overtaken by despair. He clings to his hope in God not only in the good times but also the bad.

There will surely come times when our world feels like it is collapsing around us, times in which it feels like we are passing through a dark and barren valley, the question is will we persevere in faith through those times. Can we trust—in spite of everything our distressed mind and sorrowful heart tells us—that God intends us good and not evil? Where will we find the power to overcome despair?
Job lived in a time long before the birth of Jesus Christ and yet he saw by faith a redeemer, a mediator between man and God, in whom he could place his hope. How much more should we, those on whom the end of the ages have come, anchor our hope in Jesus Christ?

God does not stand far off from us in our time of suffering. He who made everything that exists, visible and invisible, according to our reading today from Hebrews, became for a little while lower than the angels.
He experienced himself everything it means to be a human being, and not just the sweet things but the bitter also. It says, “It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings.”
The perfect obedience of the Son consisted in his willing acceptance of his Father’s will even unto death on the cross. The sins of the whole world were poured out on him. Like Job, he too was handed over to Satan. He was stripped of everything he had and even his very flesh was torn from him. At the pinnacle of his suffering his sorrow was so great and so black he could no longer see his Father’s face or feel his love. He stood with us at the very pit of despair and cried out, “My God why have you forsaken me?!” Yet still, he did not turn back his obedience. He tasted death for every man. He drained the dregs of its bitter cup.

Jesus can give us hope in our darkest times because he has been there. He was lead through the dark night and thrown into the fire of affliction, yet he emerged triumphant.

If God handed over his own son into the clutches of Satan, if Christ who was innocent endured such horror for our sake, rescuing us from the eternal consequences of our sinful rebellion, should we then curse him? No, let us give thanks. These light and momentary afflictions are not worthy to be compared with the eternal glory he has purchased for us.