October 12, 2021
Clergy, Kendricks Creek UMC
Job 29:1-6 (NLT)
29 Job continued speaking:
Job Speaks of His Former Blessings
2 “I long for the years gone by
when God took care of me,
3 when he lit up the way before me
and I walked safely through the darkness.
4 When I was in my prime,
God’s friendship was felt in my home.
5 The Almighty was still with me,
and my children were around me.
6 My steps were awash in cream,
and the rocks gushed olive oil for me.”
“From the Whirlwind”
“I think my favorite Bible story is Job. You know the one, right? Where Job is this great guy and God ruins his life just for sport? I like that story.”
My friend was a very outspoken religious skeptic (to put it mildly). He had asked a few of us Christians what our favorite Bible stories were. The previous quote was his response. In his mind, this story of suffering and being forsaken encapsulated the heart of God for the world. If God is so good, then why all the bad?
I’m sad to say my reaction was probably pretty pathetic. Like Job’s friends in that narrative, I undoubtedly scrambled all my apologetic resources to God’s defense. And, like Job’s friends, I undoubtedly did a very poor job.
Reconciling the suffering of the world with the claim of an all-powerful and all-loving God is an old problem. Often, the old solution (particularly in our world) is intellectual arguments. Discussions of free will, human sin, a broken world … all of these are true. At different times, they may even be helpful. But these discussions and points do little to touch the heart of someone stuck in the pit.
Consider Job in our text today: he is filled with that intensity of longing, that ache for his world to return to normal. He waits for the knot in his stomach to be released and the tension throughout his body to dissipate. He laments days gone by when anxiety was not a gripping shadow, grief was not a constant companion, and the goodness and mercy of God followed him every day.
Job longs for the past when life was good. His present is misery, and his future is worse: “I cry to you, O God, but you don’t answer. I stand before you, but you don’t even look. You have become cruel toward me. You use your power to persecute me. You throw me into the whirlwind and destroy me in the storm. And I know you are sending me to my death – the destination of all who live.” (Job 30:20–23, NLT)
The worst part for Job, as is often true for us, is that he gets no answer from God. For all Job’s questions and all his pain and all his protests, God is utterly, agonizingly silent. But, eventually, God does answer. And the answer isn’t quite what Job hoped. While that’s worth considering on other days (feel free to read Job 38-42 at some point), what I find fascinating is not so much what God says as where he says it from: “Then the Lord answered Job from the whirlwind ….” (Job 38:1, 40:6, NLT)
Job felt as though he’d been thrown into the whirlwind, swept up in a calamitous storm, and turned around and upside down; he was lost, anchorless and rudderless on a storm at sea. Where was God in the midst of this chaos? Well, he was in the whirlwind, too.
All of us will face periods of suffering. And all of us will minister to people who are also in the midst of pain and suffering. There is no one who, at some point, cannot identify with Job’s suffering in the storm. But this is the Gospel: in the midst of the whirlwind, God chooses to identify with Job’s suffering too. At the eye of the storm, there stands a Roman Cross.
For all that the cross signifies and means, at least one dimension of the meaning is God’s choice to enter into the forsakenness of the human experience of suffering. In the crucifixion, we see God entering into the fullness of human suffering to make a way through and offer that unexpected, unanticipated hope of Resurrection.