I’ve always liked the book of Job, which we have in today’s readings (Job 38:1-11). Because what’s in Job is instructive for us as we live our lives in this fallen, sinful world, surrounded by decay, pain, suffering, and death. In Job what we see and experience in our own lives; we see someone who’s gone through similar things before us.
Now, Job is a good man. He worships the Lord and has faith. And yet, he undergoes immense suffering. He is tormented by the death of his children which pains him greatly and causes him immense sorrow. And yet, even in the midst of this sorrow he says, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed by the name of the Lord.”
Job is then plagued by sores and bad health, and in his suffering his wife comes to him and says, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.” She thinks that God has deserted Job to allow him to suffer so greatly. But Job replies to her, “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?”
Job is still trusting in the Lord, despite all that he is suffering; what a hard thing to do.
Then, his three friends come to visit him. They are named Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. The text says that they came to show Job sympathy and comfort him.
They sat in silence with him for seven days without saying anything. Then, finally, Job spoke and cursed the day of his birth. The suffering finally got to him; it was all just too much. His family was gone, he was suffering ill health, and nothing seemed to be going right. He wished that he had never been born. Haven’t you had days like that as well? Haven’t you looked for answers too? Doesn’t it sometimes become all just too much?
In response to Job’s cries, his friend’s try to help. They offer various opinions on why Job is suffering and what he needs to do to make things better. Eliphaz says that God punishes those who do evil and saves those who do good. He tells Job that although bad things are happening to him, good will come from it if he only grasps hold of the Lord. Bildad says something similar: if Job will seek God and plead with Him for mercy and if he is pure and upright, then God will make everything better and everything will turn out for the best. Zophar also says that God punishes evil and that Job must have done something bad to be punished by God. He needs to figure out what he did wrong and make it right.
Now, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar came to Job to offer him sympathy and comfort. If you were Job and you had just lost all your children, and your wife scorns you, and you are covered from head to toe with sores, would you find any of this comforting? His friends are telling him variations of things like: God is punishing you for some sin you’ve committed, but things will get better and everything will turn out for the best. Is this a comfort for Job? Would it be a comfort for you?
I don’t really think so. In fact, Job isn’t comforted by his friends. He says, “… how can a man be in the right before God? … Who will say to him, ‘What are you doing?’” Job recognizes that none of us have a claim to God’s favor. We always rely on His grace. We can’t make God do something for us, no matter how much we think we deserve it. Job is being honest in this conversation and not simply accepting the platitudes of his friends.
Then, Job brings his complaint directly to God, saying to Him, “Does it seem good to you to oppress, to despise the work of your hands and favor the designs of the wicked?” Job wants to know why God is allowing this to happen, demanding to know why bad things happen to good people. Most importantly: to me, to us? Why are we suffering? Does God not care that we are perishing?
Then, another man named Elihu, who had been listening the whole time to the debate among Job and his friends, offers his opinion.
The text says that Elihu burned with anger at Job, because Job justified himself rather than God, and that he also burned with anger at Job’s three friends, “because they had found no answer, although they had declared Job to be in the wrong.” So, Elihu wants to justify God and find an answer, a reason that is, for Job’s suffering. He is younger than the other men, but he claims to have wisdom from the Spirit of God and claims therefore to be speaking for God.
Elihu therefore says, “… far be it from God that he should do wickedness, and from the Almighty that he should do wrong. For according to the work of a man he will repay him, and according to his ways he will make it befall him” (Job 34:10-11). He also argues that God sends trials upon a person to strengthen that person and bring him back to the Lord. So, he claims to be speaking on God’s behalf (Job 36:2) and wants to justify God’s actions so that God appears in the right.
Now, I don’t really find Elihu’s argument any more comforting than the arguments of Job’s three friends. Elihu is still basically telling Job that either he did something wrong that God is punishing him for, or that God is strengthening him through these trials.
You probably hear people say similar things in our own day. When something bad happens to a person, otherwise well-meaning people try to offer a reason for why that happened. They mean well, just like Job’s friends and Elihu mean well. They say things like, “Well, it happened for a reason” or “God will bring good from this;” these at least have some scriptural support, such as Romans 8:28 where Paul says: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Sometimes too, people say things like “You’re better off anyway” or “It happens to everyone” or “God only gives you what He knows you can handle” or even sometimes “You must have done something wrong.”
These are the types of things that Job’s friends and Elihu tell him. In the first 37 chapters of the book of Job, they try to explain to Job why he is undergoing suffering. And in all of these chapters all of their answers fall short. Not one of them is helpful and comforting and sympathetic to Job. They have failed in their desire to offer Job sympathy and comfort.
So, then, in chapter 38, the Lord finally speaks. Right after Elihu – who claimed to be speaking for the Lord – finishes speaking, the Lord Himself says, “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me.” God then basically says, If these people are so smart, then surely they must have been there when I created all things. They must know everything, since they claim to be speaking for me!
But, they don’t and they aren’t. In all their words that they gave to Job, and in all of Elihu’s words where he claimed to be speaking on behalf of God, not one of those words came from God Himself. They are speaking things that the Lord Himself has not revealed to them. They speak where God has not spoken.
That’s the problem, really, with all of these explanations. Not one of them comes from God. God doesn’t really tell Job and his friends or us, why Job is suffering. There is no real explanation; Job’s friends are just speculating at the reason. And God doesn’t tell us specifically why we suffer in this life. Even in that verse I quoted from Paul to the Romans, there’s no explanation for why you in your specific circumstance are suffering. Yes, God works all things for our good, but the ultimate good is our resurrection on the Last Day to eternal life with Him.
So, for our particular suffering in our particular circumstance, there is no real explanation given to us. When we try to explain why, beyond simply stating that we live in a fallen world with sin and death, then we speak where God has not spoken; we are just speculating. We get caught in the trap of trying to explain what we see in terms of God’s hidden will.
You see there are some things we know about God and some things we don’t know. Everything we know is what He Himself reveals to us. Everything else is hidden from us, and we – in our fallen, fallible, human reasoning – cannot discover what God chooses to keep hidden. Therefore, we cannot explain what God has not told us. We ultimately don’t have a real answer to why we suffer particularly – again, other than the fact that this present world is fallen due to sin.
But, the fact that there is no explanation for why we suffer in life isn’t a very satisfying answer, is it? We want to know why. We offer up our opinions as to why, and other people offer their opinions too, just like Job’s friends. But, these opinions come from words without knowledge. They come from fallen human reasoning. They even come from a pious desire to justify God. We want to justify God’s actions so that He appears in a positive light.
There are three fundamental things that we believe about God. We believe that He is all powerful; we believe that He is all knowing; and we believe that He is all good. How, then, do we explain the presence of evil in the world? How do we explain why bad things sometimes happen to good people and why good things seem to happen to evil people?
When we try to answer these questions, what we’re essentially doing is trying to justify God. The theological term for this is theodicy; that just means trying to make excuses for God. We’re trying to say how He is all powerful, how He is all knowing, and how He is all good, even when things in the world don’t seem to demonstrate this. We want to answer for God’s actions so that He doesn’t appear in a bad light, and in doing so we often end up calling evil “good,” as if the loss of someone’s loved-one can ever be called “good.”
However, God needs no justification. He created the world, He is Lord over creation. And, like I said, we make a distinction between what God reveals to us and what He keeps hidden; that is, between His revealed will and His hidden will. We do not to speak for Him where He has not spoken. Some things we just cannot know for certain.
This causes us to recoil and cry out to Him in pain and anguish and even anger, “Do you not care that we are perishing?”
The disciples cried out like this in the Gospel reading for today (Mark 4:35-41). They’re on a boat on the Sea of Galilee when a storm comes up. The waves are breaking into the boat, and it’s filling with water. And there’s Jesus. And what is he doing? He’s sleeping. He seems not to care. Doesn’t God care? Isn’t He awake? Doesn’t he see what’s going on? The boat is going to sink, and he isn’t even going to do anything about it.
So, the disciples wake Jesus up and say, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”
Jesus woke up “… and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.” Then, Jesus turned to the disciples and said, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” And the disciples “… were filled with great fear and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him?’”
Do you see that the cry of the disciples is the same as the cry of Job and the same as our cries? Doesn’t God see? Doesn’t God care? Can’t He do anything?
Do you see that in the answer that God gives Job, God says that it is He who says to the sea, “Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed?”
And in Mark’s Gospel we see exactly this. Jesus stays the waves and rebukes the wind and brings everything back under control. Even the wind and sea obey him, because he is Lord over creation. He is the incarnate Word of God through whom the Father spoke all things into existence. He is the strong Word made flesh.
And He is the one through whom God is restoring creation. We live now in a fallen world, a world with sin and decay and death and evil. But, this is not how God created the world. He created it good and perfect, but humanity fell into sin and brought these enemies into His creation.
So, we’re living in this post-fall world. And we cry out to God, “Do you not care that we are perishing?” Where was God during the great calamities and wars of the earth? Where is God in all the pain and anguish in the world? Where is God in my own life as I’m suffering?
The fact is that God is with us on the cross. He died for us, suffered for and with us; our Redeemer came down to us. We meet the revealed God in the cross as God in the flesh suffers and dies for us and then we receive this flesh and blood in the Holy Supper. We don’t have the answers to why bad things happen to good people, we don’t have answers for why God allows evil to persist in this world, but what we do know is the same thing that Job knew, because God reveals it to us: “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” (Job 19:25-27).
Job placed his hopes in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting, and we do as well. For we know God’s grace and mercy and love through Jesus Christ, our Redeemer. And he has promised to be with us always to the end of the age and that at the end he is returning to resurrect our bodies and to bring us into everlasting life with him in a restored creation. The fact that he comes to us even now in the flesh and blood of the Lord’s Supper is a pledge of this. So, we grasp hold of this comfort and this promise as we endure trials and sufferings in this life and face pain that we don’t have the answers for. We look to Christ, because even the wind and sea obey him, and he is coming again to fully restore all creation and cast out sin, death, and evil. The God who created all things is returning to restore all things through His strong Word.
(Image: Folio 46r from the Syriac Bible of Paris (Bibliothèque Nationale, MS syr. 341), Job; 6th or 7th century AD; by Unknown – Syriac Bible of Paris, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=334333 )