Job and the Judge
Sermon for St Peter’s and St Christopher’s Tawa 14 October 2012
Rev. Felicity O’Brien all rights reserved.
Job 23:1-9.16-17, Mark 10:17-31
The text from Mark and that from Job have a common thread – they are both about rich men.
The rich young ruler in the Gospel was sad that he would have to give away his wealth to follow God. Maybe Jesus could look deep in his heart, and knew that his wealth held a place that God should hold, that wealth had become an idol for him.
But I’m not going to say much about him – I’m going to talk about the reading from the book of Job today.
Job was also a rich man, with seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen, five hundred donkeys, and very many servants – he would have needed them!
We are also told that he had sons and daughters. These seem to feature second to the animals, but perhaps we shouldn’t read too much into that!
God knew Job’s heart too. As we heard last week, God knew that there was no one like Job on the earth, ‘a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil.’ God knew that in spite of Job’s wealth, it had not become an idol for him.
Today’s reading comes some 23 chapters in. There is a pattern in this book. Satan has received permission from God to afflict Job, the righteous believer. Satan’s contention is that people won’t love God except out of thankfulness for blessings, or fear of punishment, so this great experiment takes place. There are three major cycles of speeches, where Job’s three friends give him their advice as to how to proceed, with Job answering each one. Today’s reading comes in the middle of the third cycle – his three friends have spoken and been answered three times each, and in today’s reading Job is really sounding fed-up. He has reached rock-bottom, and wants to have a go at the source of his problem.
And that source is God. “If only I knew where I could find God, Job says, I would lay my case out before him, and demand answers! (My paraphrase).
God is pictured here as a judge, someone who can listen to a reasoned argument, in the legal sense.
What I find most interesting about this picture is that Job initially has no sense of fear at approaching God, – no trepidation at approaching his creator. Maybe his upbringing had trained him to trust God. We are training our children here in Tawa to trust in God’s great love for them. That’s why they have learnt that annoyingly catchy song at the holiday programme that they presented to us last week – the line ‘Do the Happy Dance’ seems to go around in my head all day, reminding me that God is charge and we can be glad about that. Job wasn’t in a place for a happy dance, but he still trusted, he still had a sense of a sovereign God as his bedrock.
He has come to a point where there’s nothing left to do, but to face his creator and presumably afflicter squarely in the face, and demand justice.
Have you ever been in the situation where you knew justice had not been done, but you didn’t know how to be heard? One of the first phrases children seem to learn is “it’s not fair!” There’s an inbuilt sense of justice, and even when we are very young we know when it has been violated.
My Dad had the usual answer for “it’s not fair” when we were kids – “life’s not fair, get used to it.” And yet, we feel that life should be fair, there should be no unmerited punishment, no unmerited tragedy.
Job couldn’t find any reason why his life had fallen apart around him – he searched his past to see whether there had been any sin that God was potentially punishing him for, and found none. His sense of the way things should be led him to imagine going right up to God and laying his case out on the table. Maybe he felt that he never really could take his case to God, – verse 3 of our passage says “Oh, that I knew where I might find him!” It sounds a bit like bravado then on Job’s part – ‘if I could only get my hands on him’ – knowing full-well that he couldn’t.
Job continues in his imagining of the great courtroom scene – he’s looking for answers. “I would learn what he would answer me, and understand what he would say to me.” This sounds like wishful thinking doesn’t it? Does God give clear, straight answers that are what we want to hear? Sometimes, but often what we hear is the exact opposite of what we want God to say to us, or it comes from way out on left-field, leaving us wondering at the mystery of God. Here Job is trying to define God, trying to tame him, if you like.
Job thinks some more about how the scene would pan out – God won’t contend with him, that is, argue, but would listen. This is interesting. Job trusts the justice, the righteousness, of God. He is certain that God, whom he cannot find anywhere, will listen, that he has the right to speak to God. In Job’s day folk felt that they had to speak through a priest to speak to God, and Christianity has had eras of this emphasis too. But Job was aware of God as his own personal creator, and we too know, if we look around us, that the God who made all that amazing universe must be approachable – God isn’t hidden away, but has fingerprints all over everything.
Job is confident in his case, that justice will prevail, that there is nothing in his life that can be used against him. He is confident that he “should be acquitted forever by his judge.” Does this sound like arrogance? Or unswerving faith in the character of God, and God’s justice?
Job goes on to talk about God’s unavailability – he can’t find him anywhere. He doesn’t imply that God is absent, or that God doesn’t exist, but that the mystery of God is bigger than human understanding. The four directions where Job is looking for God correspond to the points of the compass. But there’s another interpretation – if I can’t find you to my north, my south, my east or my west, maybe that’s because you are right with me? Maybe the God who Job felt was nowhere to be found was right by him all the time.
Here he starts to expand his view of God – the just judge in the earlier verses seems to have a got a whole lot bigger, scarier maybe, certainly less able to be contained by a human-based image of a judge in a courtroom. Job seems to shudder as he considers how he can’t just knock on the door of God’s chambers at the high court and have a chat.
But hang on, he’s forgotten his inkling of God’s approachability.
God can be accessed, much more easily than a judge can.
I remember going to court some years ago, dealing with the custody of my boys, and to even have a hearing with the judge was quite a palaver. Lawyers had to write applications, I had to swear affidavits, funding had to be got, forms filled in, and many months went by, and many trees were felled for all the paper, before I finally had access to the judge. Even then I wasn’t allowed to speak unless he asked me to.
God isn’t like that at all! Any time we want to speak to God, we just have to do so. Whether out loud, or in our head, God always hears our prayers, -that’s what prayer is, talking to God. And prayer doesn’t have to be pious or nice, or use big theological words. Whenever we talk, scream, rail at God, God is available, God is listening. Job knew that God would give heed to him. There’s nothing wrong with having a big moan at God when you need to. God loves us so much that he really wants us to be real, not hold any part of ourselves back from his love. And if we’re hurting, if we can’t understand why our life is going to pieces, God is concerned and loving.
I have been studying some of the Psalms recently, and there are many Psalms of lament. Psalm 22, set down for today, is one of them. These give us a good pattern if we need a bit of permission to really let our hair down when we pray. The typical pattern is a complaint to God, then remembering what God has done, then another complaint, often putting the blame squarely on God’s broad shoulders, then another time of remembering. These psalms take us from a place where we can express our grief, our anger, our pain, to a place of re-orientation to where we see God as part of the solution rather than the problem, and they are very healing.
What can we take away from this part of the book of Job? I love Job’s frankness at imagining the courtroom scene, where he has it out with God, once and for all. He wants to present his evidence, and is confident of a fair hearing, and a fair trial, that he will be vindicated. He doesn’t feel that God is completely remote, or uninterested. But he does vacillate between this sense of the immediacy of God, and a sense of God’s awesome power and hugeness. He is starting to gain some perspective about his own place in God’s scheme. When we have the readings in the next two weeks from later in the book, there will be more about that – God answers Job, from out of the whirlwind, with some of the most majestic poetry in Scripture.
Job will not always stay in the state that Satan’s afflictions have left him – but I won’t spoil the story for you, because there are two more installments to come!
The last part of our Gospel reading today talks about how those who give up everything for the sake of the good news will receive a hundredfold now, in this age, and the list includes those very things Job has lost – family, possessions – and it adds another thing they will receive in the age to come – eternal life.
So what does that leave us with? That God is in charge of all our stuff, our possessions, our families, our wealth, and that love of these things must come after love for God. That we can trust God even if we lose everything, but that when we do, we will regain a family – the family of God – which will endure for ever.