Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

Eighth Sunday after Pentecost (A – Proper 14)

August 7, 2011
Text: Job 38:4-18

Job is a comforting book, even if difficult to understand. Comforting, because we see in Job a beloved child of God whom God allows nonetheless to suffer unimaginable loss and misery at the hands of Satan. Difficult to understand, not just because of its poetic Hebrew structure, but also because, like Job, we want an answer to the question, “Why? Why, God, do You allow me to suffer?” And God’s answer to Job and to us is intellectually, and perhaps even emotionally, dissatisfying. God’s answer is that He doesn’t owe us an answer. Instead He asks a series of rhetorical questions that put us back in our place as His creatures and as His beloved sons and daughters. “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know!” (Job 38:4-5; ESV). On and on the questioning goes. It’s like God is being sarcastic. And in a way, He is. But He’s making an important point: Unless you had something to do with creating the heavens and the earth and everything that is, maybe you ought to just leave the running of the universe to the One who did create all things, and who still takes care of all things, namely, God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He doesn’t owe you an explanation for what He’s doing, or how He’s working all things, even evil things, together for your good (Rom. 8:28). Faith waits upon the Lord, even when He is hidden behind tremendous suffering, even when He is hidden behind the cross. Because faith knows that after Good Friday, there is Easter; after death there is resurrection, that the Lord who WAS there when the foundations of the earth were laid, because He laid them, the One who did determine the earth’s measurements and laid its cornerstone when the morning stars (the holy angels) sang together and the sons of God shouted for joy, He will deliver you in His time and in His way and according to His wisdom. And His deliverance will be greater than anything you could ever ask or imagine.

We don’t know who wrote Job, though tradition suggests it may have been Moses. In any case, Job was a righteous man, which means that He had faith in God as His Redeemer, and looked for the coming Messiah, Jesus Christ. He was also a rich man with a large family, seven sons and three daughters whom he loved and for whom he would offer sacrifices lest they fell into sin during their feasts. One day the angels gathered before God, including the evil angel, Satan. And God asked Satan where he had been. Satan answered, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it” (1:7). He was out looking for trouble, prowling around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). “And the LORD said to Satan, ‘Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?’” (v. 8). Twice Satan appears before God and twice God suggests that Satan afflict His servant Job. Yes, it’s actually God’s suggestion that Satan make Job suffer. The first time Job loses all his possessions and his children. In the face of this great tragedy, Job tears his clothes and shaves his head and confesses in faith, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” (v. 21). The second time Job is afflicted with “loathsome sores from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head” (2:7). God gave Satan physical liberty with Job. The only thing Satan could not do is take Job’s life. There he is, the pitiful figure, robes torn and head shaved and body covered with sores, scratching his skin with a broken piece of pottery. Even Job’s wife tells him to “Curse God and die” (v. 9). Can you imagine what great anguish this must have caused Job? Yet he remains steadfast and confesses, “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” And the writer concludes, “In all this Job did not sin with his lips” (v. 10). Far from it. In the midst of tremendous suffering and anguish, Job confesses the faith. He blesses God and worships Him. Job even has this marvelous confession of Christ and the resurrection right in the middle of the book: “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another” (19:25-27). It’s a marvelous confession of life in the midst of death on account of the resurrection of Jesus. It’s a marvelous confession of Job’s own resurrection from the dead on the Last Day. Indeed, Job is a model for us in our suffering.

But that’s not the point of our text. The point is God’s answer to our question, “Why?” Job’s three friends gather around him to commiserate and to answer that question for him. And they get it totally wrong. “Surely you must have committed some great sin to deserve this, Job,” they say. “Confess your sin, repent, and God will relent.” But that is not why God is allowing Job to go through these tribulations. It is true that Job is sinful, but God is not punishing Job for his sin. He said nothing about punishment to Satan. No, what did God say? Job is “a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil” (1:8). God is actually allowing Satan to torment Job because Job is a faithful Christian! He is testing Job. He is molding Job into the cruciform image of His Son, Jesus Christ, who suffered for our forgiveness. He is driving Job to rely on God alone for help and salvation. This is what God does for His Christians. He gives them the gift of the precious and holy cross. Having been redeemed by the innocent suffering and death of our Lord Jesus Christ on the cross, God now gives us crosses to bear, that we may take them up and follow Jesus, relying on Him alone for help and salvation, looking to Him in faith for relief, confessing Him even in the midst of tribulation. For we know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28).

And yet there’s still no easy answer to the question, “Why?” We can say all of these things about our suffering, that suffering shapes and molds us into Christ’s image and that it drives us to Christ in faith and that it will all ultimately work out for our good. But those are all abstract answers. To be sure, they are true answers, but they are not specific answers. They don’t go very far with the mother who has just lost her child, or the husband who has just lost his wife, or the accident victim who has lost the use of his legs. And they don’t go very far with you when you are suffering. Because when you’re suffering, you want specific answers and you want immediate relief. And when God doesn’t give you what you want, it is easy to fall into despair. There is always this struggle between faith and doubt in the midst of suffering. Patience is foreign to our sinful flesh. Waiting on God and His salvation is easier said than done. In fact, it takes the Holy Spirit Himself to give you the faith and patience to wait on God and to confess the faith in the midst of suffering. It has to come from outside of you, from God Himself. That is, of course, the point of the whole business, that you recognize that you have no resources to provide for your own relief or answer your own questions, that you have nothing and that you are nothing outside of God and outside of Jesus Christ His Son. But the specific answer to the question, “why,” you have to leave to God. Because He is the Maker of heaven and earth, and you are not. He is all-knowing and all-wise, and you are not. He knows what is for your good, and you do not. He can accomplish your salvation, and you cannot. Faith lives with the question.

But the question is not wholly unanswered. It is just that it is answered in a way beyond human comprehension, an answer grasped only by faith. The answer is Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the answer of God to all human suffering. Jesus asks Job’s question and yours on your behalf: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46; emphasis added). And the answer is, God forsook Jesus, His Son, in His suffering on the cross, that He might not forsake you in sin and death, not even in the midst of suffering. Having redeemed you in the suffering and death of Christ, He will not leave you without relief. Your suffering will come to an end. God will grant you perfect healing. He will raise you from death to live eternally with Him and with His risen Son, Jesus. And God Himself will wipe away every tear from your eyes. Therefore you can confess with Job, even in the midst of great suffering: “I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.”

There is a happy ending to Job’s story. The Lord restores his health, and as for his possessions, the Lord restores to Job double what he had lost. Job also has seven more sons and three more daughters. And in this way God also restores his children double, for his seven sons and three daughters that he lost in the beginning are not really lost. They are in heaven, with the Lord. And now there are seven more sons and three more daughters. And this reminds us that the Lord does not always restore to us double in this earthly life. Sometimes relief comes at the end, when you are in heaven, with Jesus. Heaven is far better, beloved. In heaven, there is perfect healing for your soul. And in the resurrection, there is perfect healing for your body. So even if you are not relieved in this earthly life, there is a happy ending for you, too. Because the answer to your suffering and the suffering of all the world is the suffering of Jesus Christ and His resurrection. God does not always tell us the “why” of suffering. But He always tells us the solution. It is Jesus, your crucified Lord and Redeemer. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


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