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The Ballad of a Man Named Job-Part 2

Thomas J Parlette

“The Ballad of a Man Named Job-Part 2”

Job 23: 1-9, 16-17

10/25/15

 

We’ve all had bad days. And some times, you just know when it’s going to be a bad day. For instance:

–         You know it’s going to be a bad day when your car horn sticks on Route 90 and you are behind a caravan of three dozen Hell’s Angels.

–         You know it’s going to be a bad day when you arrive at work and find a 60 Minutes camera crew waiting outside your office.

–         You know it’s going to be a bad day when your birthday cake collapses under the weight of the candles.

–         You know it’s going to be a bad day when your twin sister forgets your birthday.(1)

–         I know I’m going to have a bad day when I walk into the office and both Sue and Carol point at me…

 

Yes, we’ve all had bad days. And maybe Job knew it was going to a bad day when his three friends, Zophar, Eliphaz and Bildad showed up on his doorstep, shaking their heads and wagging their fingers.

Last week, in the first installment of the Ballad of Job, we looked at the first two chapters of Job’s story. Job was a good and righteous man, wealthy and blessed with a large family. God was very pleased with him. Until one day, Satan comes to see God and argues that of course Job is faithful – look how much you have given him. Take it all away, and Job will quickly lose his faith and curse your name. But Job keeps his integrity, and remains faithful, even though all these awful things happen to him. But he still wonders Why. He has never sinned in his life, and yet God has punished him like this. It makes no sense to poor Job.

In an effort to help Job make sense of his situation, his three friends arrive and spend 20-some chapters of the book explaining to Job that he must have done something bad, he must have sinned somewhere along the way, to deserve all this misfortune. Their advice to Job is to fess up, repent of his hidden sin and hope to get back in God’s good graces.

Which brings us to Job’s response in this passage for today. Job knows that he has done nothing wrong, and refuses to repent of something he never did. “My complaint is bitter,” says Job. Other translations use phrases such as – “My complaint is rebellious” or “My complaint is rebellion” – but however you put it, you get the drift here. Job is angry. He has a laundry list of complaints to make to God. More to the point – Job wants his day in court. Job wants an official explanation, on the record, as to why this has happened.

Perhaps Job might consider filing his complaint with The Bad Business Bureau. You can find it online at www.ripoffreport.com. It’s a place where the disgruntled consumer can register a complaint – and they stay on the record forever. Nobody edits the site, no one censors the gripes – and unlike the Better Business Bureau, complaints are not removed when they are satisfactorily resolved.(2)

Job’s problem is that he can’t just turn on the computer and jump into a chat room with God. He is not getting an answer from God, and certainly no resolution. Job expresses his frustration that he can’t even find God, much less get a court date. “I go forward – God is not there. Backward, but I can’t perceive him. On the left, he hides. I look right, but I can’t see him” God is no where to be found.

You know, when I learned about the Book of Job in Sunday School, Job was held up as the model of patience and obedience. Through all his suffering, Job patiently accepted everything God allowed to happen and still held on to his faith – so we should all exhibit such faithful patience. This was always the lesson I heard, the limitless patience of Job.

It’s like the old story about the mother in the grocery store with her three year old girl. As they passed the cookie section, the child asked for cookies and her mother told her “No”.

The little girl immediately began to whine and fuss, and the mother said quietly, “Now Ellen, we just have a few more aisles to go. Don’t get upset. It won’t be long.”

A few minutes later, they were in the candy aisle. Of course, the little girl began to shout for candy. When she was told she couldn’t have any – she began to cry. And the mother said, “There, there Ellen, don’t cry. Only two more aisles to go and then we’ll check out.”

Finally they got to the check-out, where the little girl immediately began to clamor for gum, and burst into a terrible tantrum when again, she was told “No”. The mother patiently repeated her mantra, “Now Ellen, we’ll be done in just five minutes and then you can go home and take a nap.”

A man behind them followed them out into the parking lot and stopped the woman to compliment her. “I couldn’t help but notice how patient you were with little Ellen back there.”

And the mother broke in – “Ellen? I’m Ellen. My daughter’s name is Tammy.”(3)

Yes, we’ve heard quite a bit about Job’s patience. And yet, when we read this passage today, Job doesn’t seem so patient. He doesn’t come across as that meek and mild, humble servant that many of us learned about in Sunday School.

Instead, he seems just the opposite – rather impatient, a little grumpy perhaps, bordering on the sacra-religious, talking to God that way. Job is definitely angry with God, and isn’t afraid to show it. It’s difficult to take away an image of a patient Job from this particular passage.

But we certainly meet a man here in scripture that we can identify with. When our prayers go unanswered…When the test results are not what we had hoped…When the diagnosis comes back negative…When our loved ones just won’t listen…Well, maybe we know how it feels to be angry with God. Maybe we know how it feels to want to stand before God, air our complaints and demand an explanation. Maybe we know how it feels to think God is not listening, to feel like God has let us down.

The poet W.H Auden once said that, “Our dominant experience of God today is of God’s absence, of God’s distance.”(4) That is true for many people these days, as it was for Job so many years ago. All Job knows is that in spite of being upright and faithful to God, terrible troubles still came upon him. He has no idea why, and when he complains and hears nothing in response, he can only assume that God does not care to answer – or perhaps isn’t even listening.

Yes, we find within ourselves much empathy with Job on this point. In his essay, “God in the Dock”, C.S. Lewis describes how we tend to deal with God these days.

In ancient times, people approached God as an accused person approaches a judge. But in modern times, the roles have reversed. We put ourselves on the judge’s bench, and God is in the dock, or in court as a defendant as it were. If God should offer a reasonable defense for being a God who permits war and poverty and disease – well, we’re ready to listen. The trial might even end in God’s acquittal. But the important thing is that we put ourselves on the bench and expect God to answer us.(5) We want to put God on trial and get some answers to that question “Why?”

But let’s not forget that we know more than Job. We know that God is still there throughout this whole story. God is allowing these horrible things to happen as a test. Job doesn’t know that. He didn’t get to see that opening scene in God’s heavenly throne room when God and Satan made that wager about his faithfulness. That means that what may seem to Job as God’s indifference is really God’s restraint to allow the test of Job’s faith to continue. It’s not that Job needs a Bad Business Bureau or a small claims court to trumpet his protest against God, but that God needs someone like Job to stand the test and still trust Him.(6)

And that is what Job ultimately does. Though he is filled with a sense that he is suffering unjustly and that God will not give him a fair hearing to plead his case, he does not lose his faith, and eventually he receives a response from God that meets his need.(7)

In the end then, Job’s story is a faith story, it is a story about trust. We might generally describe faith as a movement toward God that goes beyond evidence or reason. Faith takes us to a place where the language bends and the best we can do is jump for metaphor and analogy. Job is in such a place, trying to find words for his bitterness. He was going through a long dark tunnel in which his prayers seemed trapped, and he was unable to get an answer from God. Yet, in the longer view of his life, in what he had seen and heard and felt before the troubles came upon him and what he would see and hear and feel later – he had found and would find again, that faith is not forever unsupported – only that in some of the deepest valleys, faith is all we have to keep us going.(8)

Anne Lamott is a favorite writer of mine. She is a single mom living in California. She and her son’s father split up back when she was pregnant, and for several years, there was no contact between them. Her son, Sam, had never met his father.

But by the time Sam was 7, he began to wonder about his father and what kind of man he was. Eventually, Sam said he wanted to see his father, and Anne, who had no idea where he was, agreed to help her son.

Her initial efforts were unsuccessful, so she and Sam began to pray every night that they would find Sam’s father. That’s when Anne began to complain to God – “Would it have been so much skin off your nose to give my child an answer?” she prayed, sounding much like Job himself. Though she tried everything she could think of, nothing worked. They could not find Sam’s father.

But then she recalled something she’d heard from essayist Wendell Berry: “It gets darker and darker, and then Jesus is born.” Recalling that line she said, “I decided to practice radical hope, hope in the face of not having a clue. I decided that God was not off doing the dishes while Sam sought help – God heard his prayers and was working on it.”(10)

Radical hope in the face of not having a clue. That was just what Job did too. He practiced a faith that moved beyond reason and evidence and into the arena of radical hope.

As it turned out, Anne Lamott did eventually find Sam’s dad, and a meeting was arranged and now father and son see each other often and have a healthy, ongoing relationship.

But there was a point in the search when it took faith to keep trying, to keep believing that God was still there, listening and working on things. And that’s where we all find ourselves some times – needing faith to keep trying. Faith to trust that God is still there, looking over our shoulders – silent, perhaps – but still working on things.

There is an old story that tells about a woman who was desperately trying to find God. The more she searched, the more frustrated she became. One night, she had a dream in which she was standing before a thick, plate-glass window. And the more she looked at the window, the more it seemed that she could see God on the other side. Over and over again, she pounded on the glass, trying to get God’s attention. In desperation, she began to call out God’s name, until she finally found herself shrieking at the top of her lungs, trying to make God hear her. Then a clam, quiet, divine voice at her side said – “Why are you making such a fuss? That’s just my reflection in the glass. There’s nothing between us – I’m standing right beside you.”(11)

If the Ballad of Job teaches us anything, it shows us that there is no need to shout our frustrations and complaints. God is right there next to us, working on the problem in his time – not ours.

May God be praised. Amen.

1.    Mary Lautensteger, “Heart to Heart” CSS Publishing Inc., p357.

2.    Homiletics, Vol 18, No 5, p47.

3.    Ibid… p50.

4.    Ibid…p48.

5.    Ibid…p48.

6.    Ibid…p48.

7.    Ibid…p48.

8.    Ibid…p49.

9.    Ibid…p49.

10.Ibid…p49.

11.Preaching Well, Vol III, No. 12, p3.