“I Had Heard, Now I See”
Category: Sermons
Tags: Sermon - 10/28/2018


Job 42:1-6, 10-17
“I Had Heard, Now I See”
October 28, 2018
            C.S. Lewis wrote a book called The Problem of Pain in which he analyzed the theological and philosophical sides of suffering, its place in nature and in human development, and so on.  (There’s a copy in the church library if you want to read the whole thing, which is worth doing.)  For my money, though, the wisest part of the book is found in one part of one sentence in the preface, where he says,
“I was never fool enough to suppose myself qualified, nor have I anything to offer my readers except my conviction that when pain is to be borne, a little courage helps more than much knowledge, a little human sympathy more than much courage, and the least tincture of the love of God more than all.”[1]
In fact, that is what Job really learns at the end of his troubles.  And it is enough.
            There are long, long passages that we have not looked at, where Job’s friends try to help him come to grips with his questions about pain and about injustice and about the fairness or unfairness of life.  At first they know enough simply to keep him company, and as long as they do that, Job experiences some of that human sympathy that Lewis said was more helpful than courage.
“Now when Job’s three friends heard of all these troubles that had come upon him, each of them set out from his home—Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. They met together to go and console and comfort him. When they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him, and they raised their voices and wept aloud; they tore their robes and threw dust in the air upon their heads. They sat with him on the ground for seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.”  [Job 2:11-13]
They should have stopped there.  But after a week, they had had enough.  They begin to offer explanations of what has gone wrong.
           His first friend starts out hesitantly:
“If one ventures a word with you, will you be offended?”
                           (Right there you can hear trouble ahead.)
“But who can keep from speaking?” [Job 4:2]
Once the silence is broken, the friends barely shut up, and much of what they say in their well-meaning way still comes out as a series of accusations.  “Look, Job, you must have done something wrong to deserve this.  You must have brought it on yourself somehow, even if you don’t remember or realize it.”
“Can mortals be righteous before God?
   Can human beings be pure before their Maker? 
Even in his servants he puts no trust,
   and his angels he charges with error; 
how much more those who live in houses of clay,
   whose foundation is in the dust,
   who are crushed like a moth.”
  [Job 4:17-19]
And if God is punishing him, he should be happy that God is trying to teach him and correct him instead of wiping him off the face of the earth.
“See, we have searched this out; it is true.
   Hear, and know it for yourself.” [Job 5:27]
I’m not so sure those messages are very helpful: “It’s your own fault, and it’s for your own good.”  Try that out on someone who has emphysema: “You shouldn’t have started smoking, so this is your own fault, but at least it should teach you to stop.”  Realistically, as true as that might be, how often does it happen?
            Then there is another friend who reminds Job that they had all been taught very clearly that God sends suffering upon people either as punishment or correction.  So by disagreeing with the standard beliefs that they repeat to him, Job is only making things worse for himself.  He’s adding to whatever personal sin he has committed and (even worse) Job is publicly undermining general morality and respect for religion.
“Should the wise answer with windy knowledge,
   and fill themselves with the east wind? 
Should they argue in unprofitable talk,
   or in words with which they can do no good? 
But you are doing away with the fear of God,
   and hindering meditation before God.”
 [Job 15:2-4]
So now he’s being told that he’s suffering because he’s an unrepentant sinner, and his declarations of innocence have to stop because they present a danger to the faith of anybody within earshot.
            Job doesn’t give in.  He sticks to what he knows in his heart is true.  It turns out that God approves of this.  At the end of the book, God doesn’t let the three friends off the hook;
“the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite: ‘My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends; for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.’” [Job 42:7]
Finally, here is the core of Job’s experience and what sets him apart from others.  The difference is that Job, throughout everything, has dealt with the Lord as a living God, one who is not just some sort of theoretical being way out there, acting as referee for the universe, untouched or unmoved by what happens to us here on earth except as a rule-keeper.  There is no place in biblical faith for karma, the impersonal idea that you get what’s coming to you, good or bad.
           In the end, for Job, God is real and free and active in a way that the others don’t quite get, and even more real to him than before his troubles all began.  Job’s friends give him standardized answers, and he will not accept them.  God, when he spoke to Job from a whirlwind, said that he wasn’t going to get an answer; Job could and did accept that.
“Then Job answered the Lord: 
‘I know that you can do all things,
   and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. 
“Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?”
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
   things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. 
“Hear, and I will speak;
   I will question you, and you declare to me.” 
I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
   but now my eye sees you; 
therefore I despise myself,
   and repent in dust and ashes.’”
[Job 42:1-6] 
His troubles had led to a direct encounter with the Lord himself, and that was enough, and more than enough, to make it worthwhile. 
            Really, what we have to offer when others are suffering cannot be platitudes or simplistic explanations that ultimately don’t hold up.  We do not know the mind of God about every situation in our own lives, let alone the lives of others.  What we do know, however, is what we have experienced directly for ourselves, which is the love God didn’t just tell us about, but showed us when he sent Jesus to suffer and die with us and for us.  That is not something theoretical, but something historical.  It happened.  And one of its consequences is that any time of trouble we face has its limit – none of it is eternal and none of it is inevitable– and all patience would have its reward.  We, too, have been given an answer which is so deep that we cannot entirely summarize it right now, but it is an answer that is enough.
            As for later, it will take care of itself, if for now we have Christ.
“For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face.  Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.  And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.”  [I Corinthians 13:12-13]

[1] C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (New York: MacMillan Publishing Company, 1962), 10.
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