I gave a friend a copy of the Bible, the NLT, the New Living Translation version. The week after that he told me that he was reading the Book of Job, which is one of the wisdom books of the Old Testament. A wisdom book it is indeed. Later the following week, I was asked to sum up the theme of a planned sermon in one sentence. In answered that quetion in one word: Theodicy. But then the questioner went on to ask, ‘Theodicy, what does that mean?’. Theodicy means (two words) God and Justice; it's the attempt of an explanation of why a perfectly good, almighty, and all-knowing God permits evil. In other words: ‘If God loves us so much why does he allow us to suffer?’ Thus, we come to the story of Job. If we look at the first two verses of the first chapter of the Book of Job, we will read:
There was once a man who lived in the land of Uz. He was blameless - a man of complete integrity. He feared God and stayed away from evil. He had seven sons and three daughters. He owned 7,000 sheep, 300 camels, 500 teams of oxen and 500 female donkeys. He was, in fact, the richest man in the entire area. (1:1-2:
This is the story of Job, a man living the good life. As most of us know, the story of Job is the story of a man who lived a blameless life and had certainly found favour with God when for no reason apparent to himself, he suddenly suffered a series of terrible misfortunes on quite a shocking scale: In the depths of his misery Job would look back and say:
Those were the day when I went to the city gate and took my place amongst the honoured leaders. The young stepped aside when they saw me, and even the aged rose in respect. All who heard me praised me. All who saw me spoke well of me. (29:7-11)
But now I am mocked by people younger than I, by young men whose fathers are not worthy to run with my sheepdogs. (30:1)
Let’s look at the text again from 1:13-22
One day when Job’s sons and daughters were feasting at the oldest brother’s house, a messenger arrived at Job’s home with this news: “Your oxen were ploughing, with the donkeys feeding beside them, when the Sabaeans raided us. They stole all the animals and killed all the farmhands. I am the only one who escaped to tell you.”
While he was still speaking, another messenger arrived with this news: “The fire of God has fallen from heaven and burned up your sheep and all the shepherds. I am the only one who escaped to tell you.”
While he was still speaking, a third messenger arrived with this news: “Three bands of Chaldean raiders have stolen your camels and killed your servants. I am the only one who escaped to tell you.”
While he was still speaking, another messenger arrived with this news: “Your sons and daughters were feasting in their oldest brother’s home. Suddenly, a powerful wind swept in from the wilderness and hit the house on all sides. The house collapsed, and all your children are dead. I am the only one who escaped to tell you.”
Job stood up and tore his robe in grief. Then he shaved his head and fell to the ground to worship. He said,
“I came naked from my mother’s
and I will be naked when I leave.
The Lord gave me what I had,
and the Lord has taken it away.
Praise the name of the Lord!”
In all of this, Job did not sin by blaming God
So, here we come almost to the beginning of the story, it’s a story that in all its tragic circumstances as in the past and in our present time, raises the question of suffering in the world, in a world that is supposedly unfolding as it should in accordance with God’s divine plan. But why, if God loves us, we ask, do such awful things happen, what is the point of all this suffering? There are forty-two chapters in the Book of Joel, beautifully written and the Book of Joel is probably one of, if not the most poetic books of the Bible, it’s a book that can be dated to around 500 BC but its original form of the story is reckoned to be much older. The Biblical story of Job that we have, does not specifically answer our question of suffering in the world, but in the initial throes of loss and bereavement Job offers a faithful, stoical perspective:
I came naked from my mother’s womb, and I will be naked when I leave. The Lord gave me what I had and the Lord has taken it away. Praise the name of the Lord. (1:21).
We, the readers of this story are in a privileged position, we can be likened to an audience watching a Shakespearean play in that we are privy to the machinations, and the asides of the actors as the story unfolds, but this story is multi-dimensional it plays out both in the heavenly realm as well as on earth and ultimately it plays out in heaven and earth coming together through God’s discourse with Job. Our privilege is that we are presented with an early opening scene with words from the text that are so sparse that they seem descriptively, hardly adequate until the imagination takes flight: The text is at 1:6-7 it reads:
One day the members of the heavenly court came to present themselves before the Lord and the Accuser Satan, came with them. Where have you come from? the Lord asked Satan. Satan answered the Lord, ‘I have been patrolling the earth, watching everything that has been going on.’ (1:6-7)
If we were to turn to the King James Version of the Bible the translation reads:
And the Lord said unto Satan, Whence comest thou? Then Satan answered the Lord, and said, From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it.
Let’s imagine we are sitting here, watching from the comfort of our Shakespearean theatre seats, watching a play, watching a cosmic drama unfold. And from our seats we can see the lit stage presenting to us the drama of the heavenly court. We know that the heavenly court is really situated in a timeless eternity but to help us to grasp the story we are given the mundane expression: ‘One day.’
One day the members of the heavenly court came to present themselves before the Lord and the Accuser Satan came with them. (1:6)
In the theatre of our minds, we can see the Lord our God sat on his throne surrounded by the heavenly host, cherubim and seraphim, angels and archangels. And, there’s God, centre stage, it’s not been a bad day so far, but today is a court day, perhaps it’s like being a Prime Minister at Prime Minister’s question time - and in the heavenly parliament we know who the dark leader of the opposition is! But maybe for God it’s more like being a Judge in the days when the subjects brought matters of justice before the king and sought his adjudication. We may remember the case of the two women contending for the maternal custody of a child at the court of King Solomon and his ensuing judgement and we may correctly suppose then, that some cases are easier to handle than others.
But this is not an earthly court, it’s the heavenly court and there assembled amongst the crowd, the opposition benches, you could say is the Accuser himself, Satan. We all know this fellow, and he never has anything nice to say about anyone. We all know his brooding personality, he’s never happy unless he’s finding fault, Mr Negative who will be your best friend if only you will go along with him and do as he says. Again, the text at verse seven says it all, ‘Where have you come from?’ the Lord asked Satan. As we sit and watch this scene, we see God looking straight at Satan who is seated amongst the crowd, God saying in a bored and perhaps irritated way, ‘Where have you come from?’ Everything was going well, but now we have Satan’s evil, depressing, presence in the court but the Lord as they say is omniscient, He absolutely knows everything, and He is wise. He knows the script and knows that justice has not only got to be done but it has to be seen to be done. Satan answered the Lord. ‘I have been patrolling the earth watching everything that is going on.’ Satan has been watching everything, and remember in this story he is Satan the Accuser, and nothing is ever right for him. What perverse and wicked delight he has in seemingly being able to force the creator God, the Lord our God, to look at the imperfections, the folly and the sins of humanity, knowing that all of humanity is the very thing that God loves most. But there is Job, of course, of whom God says, ‘He is the finest man in all the earth. He is blameless – a man of complete integrity. He fears God and stays away from evil.’ But as we will see, Satan the Accuser is not satisfied and thus begin the trials and sufferings of Job. I will close with these words from Proverbs, another wisdom book of the Old Testament; they are definitely words to hold on to as we will continue to ponder the story of Job and the problem of suffering even in our own lives. Now hear these words of comfort.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. (3.5)