Giving Us the Devil
Job 1:1, 2:1-12; Psalm 8
The Rev. Michael J. Ader
Last time I was at Six Flags I heard a little boy bawling, “That’s not fair!! Why can’t I go on that ride too!” “Because you’re too little,” a woman who was probably his mother explained. “Next year when you’re bigger you can go on all the rides. “But I want to go on that one now!!” he complained.
My heart went out to this kid and this mother. Both wanted to have their desires satisfied: the child to experience the thrill of the ride and the mother to watch her son’s joy. But safety came first.
Was it fair? Kids seem to learn at a very early age about fairness. They seem to be born with a built-in sense of fairness.
Imagine that another person watched this scene unfold. “If only I had the problem that young mother had.” Let’s imagine this second woman had recently been diagnosed with cancer and would never even know the experience child birth. “It’s not fair,” she might say under her breath as she walked away. “What did I do to deserve this?”
Then again what do the millions those unemployed Americans who have dedicated so much of themselves to the company only to find that those in upper management had sold them out for personal gain, out-sourcing their business to poorer countries where labor costs are cheaper. Imagine their depression and their anger. “It isn’t fair.”
Earlier this week hundreds, tragedy struck a village elementary school in China when a landslide covered, killing 18 children in one classroom. In Hong Kong a commuter ferry struck a small pleasure boat heading out to see fireworks, causing the ferry to capsize and killing 39 with another 100 injured. “It isn’t fair.” And it goes on and on and on every day.
This is World Communion Sunday. I share these today because not only do we share tragedies with others, but also our faith in Jesus Christ. Life can be unfair. Who sets the rules? What does it mean to be fair anyway?
Fairness is always on our minds. Parents try to be fair in raising children; husbands and wives want to be fair in their relationships; some employers are bound by labor unions to be fair to employees; BBCC members try to act fairly with one another in their interactions.
Today we are looking at the introduction to the story of Job. This is a story that makes us think about making sense of what goes on in the world around us, especially the bad things. What do we make of it? What do evil and suffering have to say to us about God’s fairness?
Throughout church history the existence of bad things in the world has been a real problem. We want to believe three things.
- First, we want to believe that God is good. God is at work in the world to bring about good.
- Second, we want to believe that God is all-powerful. That God made the universe out of nothing and that God can do anything that God wants to.
- And third, we are forced to admit that there is evil in the world. But it just doesn’t seem that those three things fit together.
So the problem is,
- if God is good and God is all-powerful, why all the trouble?
- It doesn’t make sense that this kind of God would want there to be evil around.
- And if God is all-powerful, that would seem to mean that if God wanted to get rid of evil, God could.
So why is there evil? That has been a question that Christians have struggled with that throughout the centuries.
This struggle is played out in the book of Job. Satan is the one who is directly causing all Job’s problems. But Satan is doing those things with God’s permission. So if there is anyone to blame for what was happening to Job, the final responsibility would SEEM to be with God.
So we can wonder, “Is God really good all the time?”
The Bible suggests that for some reason God decided that it is better for good to come out of evil rather than not to allow evil to exist. But certainly God could create a universe where there was only good. But God has determined that it is better for there to be a universe where there is evil, one from which out of evil good may emerge. All of the events in our lives, even the bad ones may be used to bring about what is good.
One of the best examples is the story of Joseph and the coat of many colors. Joseph’s jealous brothers threw him into a pit. Rather than kill him, they decided to sell him as a slave to some passing travelers. This story concludes with Joseph becoming an important and powerful advisor to the Egyptian pharaoh.
To continue the story, Joseph’s father and family endure great suffering during a time of famine. They all travel to Egypt, and it is Joseph who is able to make sure that all their needs are met. His brothers worry that Joseph might take revenge on them for selling him into slavery years before. But Joseph said to them:
“What you did you meant for evil; but God meant it for good.”
What do you think? Were the brothers’ hatred and the acts it produced something good or evil?
It was evil.
When they sold Joseph to those passersby, was that good or evil?
That was evil.
But in time, Joseph was able to look back on all those things and realize that God had worked with those evil events to bring about a great good in the end.
This idea that God works through situations of suffering goes against the way that many of us think about God. Too many of us think of God as a heavenly Santa Claus, all kinds of good things to people who believe in God and as long as we believe, then life should be a “yellow brick road” leading straight to heaven, a road that should keep us free of any discomfort or suffering.
Does the Bible teach that? Consider Jesus. No matter how much he suffered at the hands of others and died on the cross, God was with him the whole time. In the end he was raised from the dead and lifted up into heaven: a pretty good and wonderful thing. Even as Jesus went to the cross, God was bringing about good. (Simon, Roman soldier, many who watched and prayed)
Many of us have the attitude that when we are sick or have problems we can call on God, and God will come and help us. But that attitude assumes that God wasn’t around when the problem started in the first place. God wasn’t on a coffee break, and our prayer is our way of telling God to get back to work.
Job is a model for us, not just because of his patience through the bad stuff, but because of his honesty with God about what he was enduring. God cared then. God cares now. God will care in the future. God can take all we have to dish out.
Sometimes sharing of the pain as Job did with his comforters, like our own, while not taking the suffering away, it changes us. It’s so often not the answers to the hard questions, but sense that we make of it provides the peace because someone was there who cared and helps us understand God’s love. They remind us of it. That’s often the role church members’ play for one another at time of crisis and joy. Being there. One day we will finally understand how God was at work during each moment of our lives. We will understand how all this has brought about great good in the end.
John Calvin, the Protestant reformer of the 1500’s who is considered to be the founder of Presbyterianism, liked to use this image. He told people to think of our journey through life as like a journey through a labyrinth. While a labyrinth is a maze with dead ends, life’s labyrinth does not have any dead ends. As long as you keep moving forward on your path, you’ll eventually get to its end.
That’s what our lives are like.
- At times we might feel like we’re going nowhere.
- At times we might feel that we’re headed backwards or in the wrong direction.
- But as long as we trust in God, we can know that God will bring us through this labyrinth that we call life, to our final destination when it is finished.
On this World Communion Sunday, we journey to Christ’s table remember what we have endured on our life journeys. We also rejoice in the fact that Jesus Christ has been present along the way. That includes this bread and the cup we will share. It heals us of our suffering; and we are united by its love the world over.
May God bless us all.