Job 23.1-9, 16-17
It is as easy as anything to love God when everything is going well. He feels real. It is as if we know where to find him. It is easy to sing praises to him. But that kind of faith doesn’t do us much good. Because before long along comes a challenge, a day when everything seems to go wrong, and we are left wondering where God is. We cannot find him. We cannot do what St Paul says we should be doing, ‘always be joyful because [we] belong to the Lord.’ Philippians 4.4
We are working our way through the book of Job in the Old Testament. The book about Job is a teaching story, like a long parable. It is the story of a man who was very rich in the world’s goods: he was married with 10 grown children, he had flocks and herds and vast tracks of land. He was very wealthy. And then sudden tragedy struck him: his herds of animals died in a natural calamity, his children all died in a house fire; and Job himself developed a crippling skin disease. He came to know hard life can be.
Before all this disaster happened to Job, he was very faithful to God. He never did anything wrong, and he worshipped God in the way he had been taught, by offering animal sacrifices to God. The parable of Job asks a question: why should these bad things have happened to him? He was a good person. How was he going to feel about God now that he had lost everything important, including his health? Job himself wrestles with this question. His wife had an answer for him: now it was time that Job started cursing God.
One of the places that I served in my career was a conference centre. It was in a very beautiful location, and I felt privileged to be there. But something went wrong personally for me while I was there, seriously wrong. What I remember was hearing from one of our guest speakers at the conference centre about how it is ok to be angry with God. Because God can take it.
The speaker gave us a method for how to deal with our anger. He suggested we should act out hammering the nails into the cross. At first I found the idea a bit shocking. I decided if I was going to try it, I would need to do it alone, where no one could see me. I got down on my hands and knees in my bedroom, and that is exactly what I did with my fists. In my imagination I visualised the cross on the ground with Jesus laid out on it. And with my fists I pounded on the floor as if I was driving home the nails in the Lord’s hands. And I found it a strangely satisfying to let the Lord know exactly how I felt.
Does that sound terribly wrong, something you could never do? Job thought it was absolutely wrong to curse God. He said he would never do that. People in his day knew nothing about psychology. But I think we can assume that he kept his anger all bottled up inside of him.
Job was being tested. The test was whether he just loved God because God had allowed him to be rich and successful. The test was to see if his love for God was based on something deeper than just getting what he wanted for himself.
This is the big question: did Job love God for nothing? Can we have an attachment to God, can a person love God, just because God is God, without expecting anything in return? Why does God love faithfulness from us with no ulterior motives? Is it possible to love God for nothing? Why do I search for God? Why am I attached to God? And can I still be attached to him when my world is falling apart?
These are questions I expect we all might face from time to time. I wrestle somewhat regularly with them. It usually pops into me head when I think about what a privilege it is to do what I do. Do I love God because of the good things in my life, or do I love God for himself?
Does the book of Job shed light on these questions? A lot of chapters have been skipped to get to today’s reading. What happened in between was that 3 of Job’s friends turned up to comfort him in his loss. But they were what we still call ‘Job’s comforters.’ They didn’t really comfort him. They told him he must have been a very wicked person to lose everything, or else God would not have punished him so severely. They told Job he should confess his sins to get right again with God. They were spouting the old religion, that good people get blessed, and terrible things happen to sinners, so Job must be a terrible sinner.
In our reading for today Job replies to his so-called friends. He tells them he is innocent, and that if he could only find God, he would argue his innocence in front of God. He says even the darkness of death will not prevent him protesting his innocence to God. He demands an audience with the Almighty.
Spoiler alert to Job’s story: In the end he does get an audience with God. God answers loud-mouthed Job. Job, the one who refused to accept all the old truths people thought they knew about God - he was having none of this being punished for what he never did. Job would find God in his own way.
And maybe that is what we need to do when our world is falling apart. Maybe we need to no longer listen to what we think we know about God, and find him again for ourselves, as if for the first time. For me it always seems to mean picking up my bible again, and listening to the words of scripture again, as if for the first time. Letting God speak through the Spirit from his word, as he has to his church down through the ages. Letting God speak for God, and letting go of what we may have believed in the past. Because, as we sing in the hymn, Christ is new every morning - great is God’s faithfulness.