When Days End With Why: How low can you go?

My apologies for the delay in posting, I got sick this week and fell behind. I'm up and around again, getting ready for the weekend. I hope you all like the new design of the blog too!

Today's text:
Job 23:1-9, 16-17

When last we met, a conversation had begun between God and Satan in heaven. It would be the first of two such conversations. The results ended with Job losing all of his children, his possessions and his home. Then it progressed to where he suffered from a painful skin disease. We find Job here, with three friends coming to comfort him:
When they saw him from a distance, they didn't even recognize him. They cried out loud and wept, and each of them tore his own clothes in grief. They threw dust on their heads. Then they sat down on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him because they saw that he was in such great pain. (Job 2:12-13 GW)

Job is alone and isolated… though it is three of his friends who sit around them. Thankfully they have enough sense to keep their mouth's shut. They make it seven days before Job finally breaks the silence. But Job's words are harsh. They are challenging and in the minds of his friends, borderline blasphemous.

A reason must exist! It has to exist! Pastor Mark Westmoreland notes “the real struggle here, the one we all fear and dread: If there is no reason, suffering is random, and no one is safe. And everything they believe is at risk.” DROWN IT! SHOUT IT DOWN! REASON IT! CONDEMN IT!A back and forth conversation begins between Job and his three friends. It is one that probes deeply into the problem of pain and suffering and where God is in the midst of it all.

In his book, A Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawking tells the story of A scientist who “once gave a public lecture on astronomy. He described how the earth orbits around the sun and how the sun, in turn, orbits around the center of a vast collection of stars called our galaxy. At the end of the lecture, a little old lady at the back of the room got up and said: "What you have told us is rubbish. The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant tortoise." The scientist gave a superior smile before replying, "What is the tortoise standing on?" "You're very clever, young man, very clever", said the old lady. "But it's turtles all the way down!"

His friends see that Job is trying to knock over their stack of turtles but the truth is Job is simply dealing with the question of “WHY?” It isn't their turtles he cares about, Job's turtles are the ones in a mess. And too often, when others are in the midst of the low lands, we try to explain the suffering of others. We find ourselves on holy, sacred ground, and for the guest, fragile ground.

I read the story of a chaplain at Scottish Rite. It is a story most of us as pastors could tell, except for the end. The chaplain was sitting with a woman who had recently experienced the death of her daughter. A friend came in to visit and tried to say something helpful: “God never gives us more than we can handle.” The mother responded, “Does that mean that if I were a weaker person my daughter would still be alive?”

When you've got it all going for you; when you're living “the dream,” there are answers that “pop-Christianity” can hand you and it will taste fine. But don't bring that stuff to the table of the one suffering or you'll likely to have a food fight.

Then Eliphaz from Teman replied to Job, "Can a human be of any use to God when even a wise person is only useful to himself? Is the Almighty pleased when you are righteous? Does he gain anything when you follow the path of integrity? Does God correct you and bring you into a court of law because you fear him? "Aren't you really very wicked? Is there no end to your wrongdoing? (Job 22:1-5 GW)

Admit it Job – You are a sinner, you've done something to deserve it! And Job in essence says, “Maybe I am, but God went a bit overboard don't you think?!?!”

Job is alone in the crowd. Alone in his suffering. Have you ever felt that? Hear the words again of Walter Wangerin who said, “The one for whom Why has no answer is even further isolated by those for whom Why has no interest.”

You can talk about it, explain it, reason it out but you can't MAKE anyone take interest in asking why. I can't do that today but I can tell you I have asked why and because I have talked with you, and I have lived life long enough, I know that many of you, if you aren't now, have asked why? And the answer/answers or lack of anyone who cared left you hollow – like Job – alone in the crowd.

But not alone.

Following Jesus' teaching, John tells us in 6:66 As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore. Mark gives us this simple statement to remind us that at Jesus' arrest: “...they all left Him and fled. (Mark 14:50 NASB)” That meant Peter - “The Rock” and John, “the disciple Jesus loved.”

Throw your pity party all day long but you need to know, there will always be a guest in the corner. I love the way Author, Anne Lamott, described her coming to faith in Jesus as something like a stray cat following her home. Finally, she opened the door and said in essence, “Fine, you can come in.” Will you let him?

In times of suffering we often hear Paul's words saying, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28 NASB)” They ring hollow until we remember that those words were written by a beaten, bloody man alone in a prison cell.

It doesn't mean it is fun or something to look forward to but it does mean NO SUFFERING goes on that God cannot redeem. By faith, Job stands his ground asking for meaning to his “Why?” The question is will you?


Mark Westmoreland said...

Thanks for your good work, Ken, and for your comment on my blog. I appreciate the credit, but your work has gone far beyond my own. This kind of collegiality, however, is one of the great gifts of our shared ministry. It's wonderful when it's done well.

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