Preached at United Reformed Church of Clifton
on Sunday, July 19, 2020.
Sermon #5 in a Series on the Book of Job: “What Good People Do When Bad Things Happen.”
To hear the sermon preached follow this link https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=1007742719682088. The sermon begins at the 10 minute mark.
It’s good to be together again this morning. It has been 17 straight weeks that we have been unable to worship together. As a church we have been fortunate that Covid-19 has touched has lightly. Although a few of our members came up positive, only one person was hospitalized and then only for a couple of days. We are especially thankful that none of our members died from the pandemic.
Today we have a chance to find a new normal. We don’t know what all that will entail, but for now we can see a light at the end of the tunnel.
For the past few weeks we have been studying the book of Job. We’ve watched as he struggled with the meaning of his life, argued with his friends, and finally had a face to face encounter with God. Interestingly this morning finds Job also exploring a new normal. After an encounter with God, Job gets everything back. He is surrounded by his extended family who comfort him and help him get back on his feet. God restores his wealth and even gives him another perfect family with 7 sons and 3 daughters. On top of that Job lives another 140 years. On the surface it looks like he lives happily ever after.
And yet there is something uncomfortable about this ending. It’s nice that Job again has some children but does that make up for the children he lost and the pain he has experienced? How are we to understand this ending? That’s the question I want to ask with you this morning and I want you to see three things.
- Nothing can ever make up for what we have lost.
- Nevertheless, even after loss, life can begin again.
- Loss transforms our perspective.
Nothing can ever make up for what we have lost.
Over 30 years ago, my youngest sister Cheryl was pregnant with her first child, Leanne. However, at 8 months something went wrong and Leanne died in utero. To this day my sister remembers her first child and thinks about her frequently. Cheryl went on to have 3 wonderful boys: one is Nazarene pastor, one is math teacher and one works in missions to help plant churches in Latin America. She has four grand-children and a fifth on the way. However, she hasn’t forgotten Leanne and nor would I want her to.
I suspect that Job felt the same way. Every year, on the anniversary of the windstorm that took his children, I suspect that he was filled with sadness. (This is especially true, because this horrific catastrophe had occurred on one of their birthdays.) Nothing can ever make up for what we have lost. I’m sure Job mourned his children’s deaths the rest of his life.
For all of us in this life, grief is a constant companion. Whether we have lost a child, a spouse or a parent, we have all known grief; and we will experience yet more grief before it is our time to leave. Job himself gives voice to our sorrow.
A mortal, born of woman,
few of days and full of trouble,
comes up like a flower and withers,
flees like a shadow and does not last. (Job 14:1)
And yet grief is not the end of the story. Grief serves a useful purpose, for grief is the way our hearts continue to say, “I love you,” to those whom we have lost.
Grief is also the door that opens our heart to hope. The Christian knows that death does not get the last word so when we remember our loved ones we also cling fast to our hope of eternal life.
Even after loss, life can begin again.
Although life is never the same after we have lost someone, it can begin again. The 10 children Job gets at the end of the book can’t replace the ones he lost. However, they are still a blessing in their own right. Professor Katherine Schifferdecker says this. “In spite of all his loss, Job chooses to live again. He takes the risk of having more children and of giving them a blessing. (Working Preacher)”
When Leanne died, my sister was so devastated that she was unable to conceive again for three years; her body shut down due to grief. However, she eventually had three boys
More importantly she gained a depth of compassion for others who were also grieving. Frank G. Honeycutt, a Lutheran pastor in Walhala, South Carolina says,
I recall a conversation with a thoughtful parishioner who said, “I’m not sure the powerful and important emotion of human compassion is even possible on this earth without some level of suffering among us.” I needed that to sink in a bit, but she’s right.“Jesus Doesn’t Explain Suffering, The Christian Century, https://www.christiancentury.org/article/critical-essay/jesus-doesn-t-explain-suffering?fbclid=IwAR1ktudf10-mMqpDZUBp1FV51hK-weV–gXCP10Qz_XDtcI_-AeY8R3GnB
Life without suffering is indeed appealing. (I write these words as my younger brother, age 60, is living his last days of almost three agonizing years with brain cancer.) But a world without compassion is something fundamentally different than life as we now know it. Compassion cannot exist in our lives without the presence of suffering.
When we experience loss we can choose to crawl into a hole and die, or we can choose to move forward and build a good life, showing others compassion.
Job took the risk of starting again and he also showed compassion. In Job 42:8, God told Job to pray for and offer sacrifices on behalf of the very men who had raked him over the coals. Job showed compassion even to those who had tried to shame him.
Interestingly it was only after Job prayed for his friends that God restored him. God didn’t restore Job because of his intercession for his friends. Rather, his compassion is the evidence of Job’s restoration. It is in the caring for others that we begin to find our own healing.
Loss Transforms Our Perspective.
When Job started a new family he once again had 7 sons and 3 daughters. What’s interesting however, is that althoug this passage doesn’t name the 7 sons, it does give the names of the 3 daughters. Although on occasion women play important roles in the Old Testament, only rarely are they mentioned by name. So for this book to give the names of Job’s daughters is both unusual and surprising.
Tremper Longman says,
Perhaps in this ancient society, the benefit of having seven sons was obvious enough. So, to highlight Job’s happy condition, a few words are given concerning his daughters. They are named, and their names highlight the joy of Job’s new condition. The first is Jemimah, which means “dove”; the second is Qeziah, which means “cassia,” [an expensive spice akin to cinnamon]; and the third is Qeren-Happuk, which means “horn (container) of eye paint [which was used to accentuate the beauty of the women in that day].” With these names, we are not surprised to hear that “there could not be found in the land women more beautiful than the daughters of Job.Longman, Commentary on Job
These names show that Job took great delight in his daughters and paid them special attention.
Even more surprising is the fact that Job gave his daughters an inheritance alongside his 7 sons. To give a daughter an inheritance was just unheard of Job’s day and it would have surprised and perhaps even scandalized the people around him. And yet Job violates the social norms of his day and treats his daughters as equal to his sons. It is a great affirmation of his love for all of his children and an especial blessing to his daughters. Job’s suffering and his encounter with God have led him to broaden his perspective that all of his children are precious and he shows it by his actions.
Anyone who has had a close encounter with death knows that it drastically changes your perspective. Your family, your friends and even life itself becomes more precious.
Years ago, I met a Reformed Church pastor (whose name I have forgotten) while I was participating in a conference. He was of staid Dutch heritage. He told me that when he was child he knew that his parents loved him, but they never said the words, “I love you.” When he had a family of his own he followed his parents’ example and did the same thing with his children. Only when he was diagnosed with cancer did he realize how much he wished his parents had told him of their love. His brush with death changed him radically. From then on, many times every day he told his children and his wife, “I love you.” His brush with cancer was a life-altering experience that deepened his love for his family and drew them all closer together.
I think something similar happened to Job, not only with his family, but also with his relationship to God.
When Job spoke to God at the beginning of this chapter Job said, “Now I hear you with my own ears and I see you with my own eyes; therefore, I despise myself, and repent.”
Now the word “despise” here has some problems. Because I don’t God wanted Job to grovel at his feet. Gerald Janzen points out that the Hebrew word is ma’as which has two different meanings. It can mean “to loathe or to abhor or to despise” as the NRSV translates it. However, it also can mean “flow or to run” and it has a close cognate of masas, which means “to dissolve, or melt.” Says Janzen
The verb then describes a typical first response to divine revelation. Like Job, Habakkuk had challenged Yahweh’s apparent indifference to the sufferings of the righteous. But then Habakkuk had his own visionary experience God. In Hab 3:16, Habakkuk, says to God, “I hear” and then he graphically confesses how he is undone. It is the same with Job. Yahweh has spoken; Job has said, “I hear, … I see (42:5).” And now all of his questions and charges are dissolved. His structures of understanding are melted down in the presence of Yahweh. It leads to a transformation that both requires and enables him to give up what he had formerly thought.Gerald Janzen, Commentary on Job
Job had charged God with unfairness. But now that he has met God, he simply says “You are God. I am not. That is good enough for me. I dissolve and repent.
I find this idea of dissolving in God’s presence intriguing. I recently learned that when a caterpillar becomes a cocoon, it doesn’t undergo a gradual transformation. Rather the caterpillar’s body totally dissolves until it is a liquid “soup,” and out this soup, a butterfly takes shape.
That’s what happened to Job. He was dissolved. He never got an answer to any of his questions. But through an encounter with God he no longer needed an answer, for he had a renewed relationship with God. He became a butterfly.
What do good people do when bad things happen? Through an encounter with God they are dissolved and made new. Out of this newness they learn to live again, to take risks, and become more generous and giving with those around them.