Job has been blessed with the good life. He has it all. He has what’s sounds like to be a lovely family, grown children who like each other enough to spend time together. And he has enough resources for everyone’s wellbeing—enough sheep and camels and oxen and donkeys. He has been blessed with wealth. He’s also a person known for his integrity, “blameless and upright… one who turned away from evil.” His neighbors know he is a good person, someone they can trust. Everyone respects him. Even God respects him.
Then, in an instant, calamity strikes his life, one disaster after another. He loses everything: his family, his possessions, and finally his health. Marauding enemies kill off his livestock, a tornado destroys the house where his children were feasting, and a disease consumes his body with boils. He’s left with nothing. All he has is his misery.
Many have turned to the book of Job, to the story of his life, for what’s called a theodicy, which is all about making sense of evil. Theodicies are explanations of evil—the ways we try to explain how evil entered the world and enters our lives. If God is good and powerful, and if cares about our lives, then why is there evil—where does evil come from? why do we suffer the effects of evil? why does the world suffer from evils?
These are important questions. Evil and suffering is not just theoretical problem for our beliefs about God. Evil is not an intellectual problem, something for us to work out in our heads. Evil is a problem because our lives are marked by suffering—to lose a loved one, to experience hurt and trauma, to be confronted with the harm we cause others.
So we search for explanations, for reasons—we try to come up with ways to make sense of this world and our lives, what we’ve seen and, perhaps, what we’ve done.
The book of Job is an invitation into that conversation. It’s not really an explanation, but more like a story to help us understand our own stories—to listen for how Job’s experiences resonate with our lives, how his world describes our world, and to notice the gaps, the distance between his situation and ours. And to wonder what God has anything to do with any of this, to notice where God enters to conversation as we try to make sense of evil and suffering.
That’s what we’ll be doing this month. The lectionary gives us a different passage from Job each Sunday in October. This will be a time to read about Job’s experiences and listen to our lives, to notice what his story brings up inside of us. We won’t read the whole book together this month during our worship services. We’ll only get a smattering of passages, some highlights from the book. So, by all means, feel free to read the rest on your own, and please share your insights with the rest of us along the way.
For this week, all I have are these brief notes of introduction. I also want to point out the strangeness of these first two chapters, this scene between God and the accuser. It’s a mythic stagging for the story of Job. The language here is borrowed from legal proceedings. The ha-satan person is a Hebrew word for an opponent or a prosecuting attorney. This person has accused God of bribing people with blessings in order to gain their allegiance. Job is the perfect example of the way that God convinces people to believe. Job enjoys a good life, the best life, he’s got it all. And the prosecutor is convinced that Job honors God because God has blessed him, and that if God takes away the blessings, then Job will turn away from God. Job doesn’t believe for no reason, for nothing, the accuser says. Job trusts in God because of the rewards, because of his good life, the blessings. Take away the blessings, the prosecutor says, and Job will curse God.
For the rest of the book, we follow along as Job sorts through his beliefs, as he argues about God with his friends and prays to God for answers. In chapter after chapter, we follow along as Job’s and his friends’ theologies deconstruct, how his experiences change his faith. He has to let go of some of what he thought he understood about God and the world, all as part of going on with his faith, his commitment to know the truth about himself and God.
To question our faith is part of the Christian life. There’s nothing wrong with doubts, there’s everything right with inviting others to think with you about your doubts. I still remember what one of you said years ago during sharing time—that the Christian life holds our seasons of faith and our seasons of doubt, that church should make space for us to express ourselves wherever we are in our process with God. I hope we can offer that for each other, to be a community where we share our doubts, our questions. Maybe we can even share those together here, as part of our sharing time, if you’re willing.
We’re like Job in that we’re always rethinking our lives because of what we’ve gone through—the stuff of our lives that’s so hard for others to understand. That’s what happens to Job, as we’ll read later in the book. His friends sit with him for a while, which is perhaps the most important act of care for another when they’re suffering. But then they start theologizing, they start making assumptions about his life, and they start explaining to him how to make sense of his situation—as if they know the reasons for his situation, as if they know why God is the way God is. The friends mean well, but they end up hurting him with their words, with their presumptions to know what he’s going through and the way they try to defend God in the face of Job’s suffering.
To be human is to wonder about the reason for things, the meaning of our lives, of what we’re here to do. All of that is part of our faith—to wonder why there is something instead of nothing, and how we’re supposed to live in response to the somethingness of ourselves and the world, that we’re here, that you’ve been given a life, the gift of a life to live.
And we’re always running into our own limitations, the finitude of our human nature, that we don’t know everything about the world, that we don’t know everything about God. We barely know ourselves—why we do what we do, and don’t do what’s good for us. We’re a mystery to ourselves most of the time. We’re complicated. Life is complicated. We’re always sorting through the fact that some things happen for reasons, and some things happen for no good reason. And we wonder how God has anything to do with our lives, what happens to us.
That’s where Job leads us, into the vastness of our lives and this world, all in the context of knowing God, of sorting through our relationship with God.
Worship, what we do here, is how we pray our way into questions about our lives. We pray our way into our problems with evil. We share, before God and each other, as an act of hope—that God will do something, that we will do something, that we’ll become a people who respond with grace to those who suffer, that we’ll receive the mysteries of God’s strength as care for each other and the world, that God will sustain us as we do what we’re called to do, in service to one another.
We don’t solve the problem of evil in our heads. We answer with our lives. We believe in God with our actions, with the love we offer to our neighbors.