Sermon Series: Things that make a difference
I have always loved buffets. Not so much now, but I especially loved them when I was a meat eater. Buffets offer options and choices, a little bit of this and a little bit of that. Unlike prefix menus where you have to make one choice (and usually you want more than one thing) buffets allow us to sample and if we do not like something we do not have to eat any more. We can pick and choose.
It is unfortunate that life does not always offer us the same options and choices as a buffet. In August Wilson’s play “Fences,” Lyons, the son of Troy Maxon from a previous relationship shares with his half brother Cory that Troy used to say, “you gotta take the crookeds with the straights.” Lyons acknowledges that life has taught him that misfortune is inevitable and that we must accept both the good and the misfortune that life offers.
As we turn our attention to examine a snippet, a scene from the life of Job, we are confronted with the challenge of answering the question what do we do when misfortune happens, or what is our response when life only serves up crookeds for what seems like an extended period of time?
The first seven verses of chapter 2 parallel verses six to twelve in chapter 1. Verse six is almost identical to verse 1 in chapter 2. In both verses we read that on two separate occasions angelic beings present themselves before God. The Bible classifies them as angels. In the Book of Hebrews chapter 1 we learn much about angels. In Hebrews 1:6 we learn that angels are created beings that worship and serve God. In Hebrews 1:7 we learn that they are not bound by time and space. In Hebrews 1:14 the Scriptures teach us that angels are sent by God to minister to believers, and in Hebrews 2:6 & 7 they are ranked slightly above human beings in the created order. If we sync up Job chapter 1:6 and chapter 2:1 we can understand that angels are accountable to God and are required to give an accounting of their actions and whereabouts. It is also pretty clear that they receive their marching orders from God. This is consistent with what the Bible teaches us about them in the Book of Hebrews.
Among the group of angels that presented themselves before God was a fallen angel called Satan. The name Satan means adversary, accuser, or one who stands against. The rendering of the text suggests that Satan too must give an accounting of his agenda and whereabouts. Satan responds to God’s inquiry by saying, he has been roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it. Literally, he has been personally inspecting the earth looking for opportunities. The apostle Peter says, “your adversary the devil prowls about like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” The word prowl means to walk about and carries the idea of stalking in an opportunistic fashion. According to the apostle Paul the devil hatches schemes and plots. He looks for opportunities to create chaos, confusion, incite evil and perpetuate wickedness. Of significant interest is the fact that God’s interrogation of Satan takes place in the presence of the other angels. It seems that God wants his ministering spirits to be aware of Satan’s agenda and proposed schemes.
I must admit that I have struggled with verse 3 for a long time. If we take the verse as it is written it would appear to suggest that God is serving Job up to Satan. “Have you considered my servant Job?” However, the Hebrew rendering of that verse actually reads, “Have you set your heart” or “Have you turned your attention to my true and faithful servant Job?” In other words, are you thinking about Job or are you considering Job? When we examine the question in the Hebrew we see that God was ascertaining from Satan whether or not Job was his intended target. Essentially, God seeks to get Satan to reveal whom he plans to attack. Much wisdom and insight can be gained from knowing what questions to ask and how to ask them.
It is in verse 4 that Satan lives up to his name the accuser. In this verse and also in chapter 1 verse 9, Satan alleges that Job’s love, fear, and respect for God is not genuine but born out of selfishness. Satan alleges that Job honors God because it serves his own self-interest. Satan levels two charges against Job:
a) In chapter 1:9 &10 – “Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan points out Job serves you because of what he has gotten from you. Satan suggests take everything from him and he will stop honoring you.
b) In chapter 2:4&5 – “Skin for skin! A man will give everything he has for his own life.” Satan says Job values his life more than anything else. Take his health and he will stop honoring you.
The basis for Satan desiring to afflict Job was based on Satan’s belief that human beings are incapable of thinking about anything other than themselves and when it comes right down to it, tragedy and sickness will bring human selfishness to bear. Satan hoped to achieve the destruction of Job’s relationship with God through human suffering. Satan believed that the bond between Job and God would be unable to stand up under the burden of human suffering.
The text offers three responses to Job’s affliction. Like the heroic men and women who first responded in the wake of the terrorist attacks on 9/11, our text reveals that God is also a first responder. God responds in both chapter 1 and chapter 2 by limiting the affliction. In chapter 1 God informs the evil one “on the man himself do not lay a finger,” and in chapter 2 God says, “you must spare his life.” In both instances God does not allow Satan’s evil to totally consume Job. God responds by intervening and restraining the work of Satan so that his scheme, to completely destroy Job, does not workout. Some will say, how come God did not thwart or block Satan’s access to Job completely? This is a very good question. The short answer is God knew how much Job could bear. In both chapter’s 1 and 2 God extols the virtues of Job to Satan and points out in chapter 2 the charge you brought against Job earlier proved to be false. This is what led Satan to bring further charges against Job in chapter 2. The bottom line is that God knows how much each of us can bear and clearly God does not allow the evil one to go beyond that point.
Job’s wife provides the second response. Job’s wife’s response is a natural human response after a person has been overwhelmed by calamity and disaster. There is a breaking point within every human being and Job’s wife has reached her breaking point. It is at our breaking point that we both give up and give in. She signals her surrender by throwing in the towel and declaring she has had enough. She has lost everything that is of value and meaningful to her in her life. When she looks at her husband she sees a once powerful man reduced to a pitiful sight and a daily reminder of the loss she has endured. Her pain and suffering has caused her to switch her allegiance and become Satan’s ally. She encourages her husband to give up on God, give up on life, and wait to die.
Job closes out the passage with his response. Job offers two responses, he rebukes his wife and then takes it all in stride. Sickness will either bring people closer together or drive them a part. There are some for whom sickness is too much to handle and there are others who see it as a call to action. Some see sickness as a burden and others see it as a duty, a responsibility or an opportunity to express their love.
Job makes the decision to accept his lot and current circumstances. He states in chapter 1:20 and reiterates in chapter 2:10:
- We do not bring anything into this world and we when we leave this world we will not take anything we have acquired in it with us.
- Whatever we do acquire in this life is because God has been gracious enough to loan it to us. We own nothing – We cannot lay claim to anything – We simply are borrowing what belongs to God. This includes our health, possessions, resources, and relationships.
- When God decides it is time for us to give back what He has loaned us all we can do is let go and all we can say is thank you for the loan.
A few life lessons that this text teaches us are:
1. God is all knowing and always works to preserve the good that God has created.
2. Evil is a reality in our world and it is pervasive, there is not any realm within the universe that it has not touched. Satan is the author of evil and works to destroy the good that God has created. This includes people, the environment, relationships, reputations, etc. Even though evil is present and pervasive it is also limited and never works out its full intent.
3. God knows us better than we know ourselves and God also knows our breaking point. The breaking point of every human being is different and some will be able to endure more than others. Whatever our individual breaking point is God will not allow evil to go beyond that point.
4. Life is not like a buffet. There are and perhaps will be instances where evil touches our lives or those around us, and we will not have a say, but we do have a choice. We can choose to accept or we can fight against its reality. Fighting will do us no good because we cannot change what has or is happening to us. If we choose to accept we will still hurt for awhile, but we will also begin to heal and initiate the process of recovery.
The difference between Job and his wife was that Job was able to see God and thus resigned himself to the fact that whatever comes into his life or departs his life is by the permissive will of God. Job’s wife could not see God because her vision was obscured by the tidal wave of suffering she endured.
The question remains, are we willing to take the crooked with the straights? If we say yes then it means that we have chosen to accept whatever God allows into our lives, both the good and trouble. We accept it because we cannot change it no matter how hard we try. We accept it because the same God who allows trouble into our lives is the same God who allows the good to come into our lives. We accept it because God is not the author of trouble, but is able to bring good out of trouble. Joseph said to his brothers after they had dropped him in a well, sold him into slavery, and he was falsely accused and imprisoned for a long time – you meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.