The easiest excuse is it has never been assigned in the curriculum. But even now that it has I have been tempted to skip it and go with something easier and less intense. After all, how many of us want to spend the next several weeks talking about suffering? Haven’t we had enough suffering in the last year? Wouldn’t we rather have something more upbeat and affirming?

Another reason is almost superstitious for me and maybe for you as well. It is the sense that if you start talking about something bad then it may happen to you or someone else. It’s easier and more comfortable to just skip over those conversations and hope for the best. No reason to bring it up as it might just stir up things. If it could happen to him then it could happen to me.

I’ve taught lessons where people will say afterwards, “Thank you for that lesson. God really used that this week in my life.” There is a part of me that doesn’t want that to happen to anyone this week. I don’t want you or me to suddenly be faced with the suffering of Job. I don’t want to be prepared in any way to lose everything.  I really don’t want to think that what we are talking about this morning will be part of your life this week. Again, if we don’t bring it up then maybe it will just pass over.

Yes, I want to live a life that is pleasing to God but not so much that he says, “Have you considered my friend Fred or Tom or Lisa or Dianne.” I’m totally content to be invisible in the cosmic war between good and evil – justice and injustice – God and Satan. I don’t want to be a bad person but I also don’t want to risk being pointed out as someone so good they could handle anything Satan could do. I just want to be good enough to pass with maybe a B+ average. I’m not looking to be a hero.

I don’t want to be faced with explaining the deepest questions of life because I know I’ll fall short. I’ll disappoint myself and you. In other words, give me the easy ones. But that’s when I fall back on something Eugene Peterson wrote in his introduction to the Book of Job. The book is not about explaining the hardships in life.

“Job gives voice to his sufferings so well, so accurately and honestly, that anyone who has ever suffered – which includes every last one of us – can recognize his or her personal pain in the voice of Job. Job says boldly what some of us are too timid to say. He makes poetry out of what in many of us is only a tangle of confused whimpers. He shouts out to God what a lot of us mutter behind our sleeves. He refuses to accept the role of a defeated victim.

“It is also important to note what Job does not do, lest we expect something from him that he does not intend. Job does not curse God as his wife suggests he should do, getting rid of the problem by getting rid of God. But neither does Job explain suffering. He does not instruct us in how to live so that we can avoid suffering. Suffering is a mystery, and Job comes to respect the mystery.

“In the course of facing, questioning, and respecting suffering, Job finds himself in an even larger mystery – the mystery of God. Perhaps the greatest mystery in suffering is how it can bring a person into the presence of God in a state of worship, full of wonder, love, and praise. Suffering does not inevitably do that, but it does it far more often than we would expect. It certainly did that for Job. Even in his answer to his wife he speaks the language of an uncharted irony, a dark and difficult kind of truth:  ‘We take the good days from God – why not also the bad days?’

“Reading Job prayerfully and meditatively leads us to face the questions that arise when our lives don’t turn out the way we expect them to. First we hear all the stock answers. Then we ask the questions again, with variations – and hear the answers again, with variations. Over and over and over. Every time we let Job give voice to our own questions, our suffering gains in dignity and we are brought a step closer to the threshold of the voice and mystery of God. Every time we persist with Job in rejecting the quick-fix counsel of people who see us and hear us but do not understand us, we deepen our availability and openness to the revelation that comes only out of the tempest. The mystery of God eclipses the darkness and the struggle. We realize that suffering calls our lives into question, not God’s. The tables are turned: God-Alive is present to us. God is speaking to us. And so Job’s experience is confirmed and repeated once again in our suffering and our vulnerable humanity.”

So, because I have no choice and cannot squirm my way out of it we are going to spend the next several weeks in this book about the great mystery of suffering and ultimately a book that helps reveal the even greater mystery – the mystery of God and his ways.

Chapter 1.

It’s not all that important to locate the land of Uz. It could be anywhere. What is important is to see the character of Job. He is blameless and upright. That is not the same as sinless but it does mean he stays away from doing anything dishonest or self-serving. His word is his bond. He shuns evil.

He is rich and rich in a way that we often do not recognize today. Unfortunately, many of our examples of the richest men in the world do not meet the personal standards of Job. They are not what we would call among the greatest men of the world. Their personal accounts fall short of their bank accounts. And the distances between their character and their wealth seem to only increase over time. We are disappointed when we read the revelations of their secrets and shortcomings in the paper. Because they are rich we expect them to be better people but they are not. But, Job was. He was not only rich but he was upright and full of integrity. He was the greatest man among all the people of the East.

If he did have a secret it was this. He worried about the effect of the wealth and the lifestyle it provided his family. It reads his sons and daughters feasted every day of the week but when they were finished Job would get up early every morning afterwards and offer sacrifices for each of them as he worried that they may have sinned by cursing God in their hearts. Why would they do that? Why would they not be continually grateful for what they had to enjoy? It is not uncommon though and we see it even today. So, Job was more than a father to them. He was also their priest and he assumed great responsibility for the spiritual welfare of his children. But he was not blind to the hazards of their lifestyle and how they had benefited from his success. He did not hold back from them but he also was concerned about how easily they could stray.

And then the scene shifts to the sons of God coming to present themselves before the Lord. I like to think of it as the angels reporting in on what is going on around the universe. “Everything is beautiful today. All the 100 thousand million stars in the Milky Way are working. In fact, all of creation is singing your praises this morning. Thank you for letting us be a part of it.” And then there is Satan’s report. He is the permanent bearer of bad news. He’s always roaming up and down looking for the slightest thing wrong that he can highlight. He’s known by his real name – The Accuser – and he lives up to it. We know that Satan comes to report on his personal mission to fill God in on all the bad things going on in the earth. That’s what gives him pleasure. After all, whatever might discourage or disappoint or cause God sorrow is exactly what motivates Satan. Whatever form of joy he can experience is only at the prospect of causing hurt to God. Unfortunately, for him, he can never experience genuine joy. He cannot even imagine what it is so he has to satisfy himself with spite, bitterness, blame, revenge and reveling in the failure of others.

It’s not Satan who brings up Job. After Satan’s bleak report of the world God says, “Have you noticed my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” I’m sure Satan knew about Job and it frustrated him to think there was someone who was upright and blameless. After all, no one is really blameless. Everyone has their price. Satan was incensed at the idea of anyone who chose to shun evil. And, of course, he sees his chance to prove God wrong about this great man. All accusers hate good men. All cynics hate goodness.

What is a cynic?

“One who not only reads bitter lessons from the past but who is prematurely disappointed with the future.”

“A cynic is one who never sees a good quality in a man, and never fails to see a bad one. He is the human owl, vigilant in darkness and blind to light, mousing for vermin, and never seeing noble game.”

“Cynicism is “the intellectual cripple’s substitute for intelligence.”

“Cynicism masquerades as wisdom, but it is the farthest thing from it. Because cynics don’t learn anything. Because cynicism is a self-imposed blindness, a rejection of the world because we are afraid it will hurt us or disappoint us.”

The cynic says, if you take away what is good in his life he will turn on you. There is nothing good in him. There are only good things around him. Take out the rewards of acting good and he’ll curse you to your face. The spirit of Satan is when a man says to his bereaved friend while visiting the grave of his son who was killed in battle, “I don’t get it. What was in it for them?” A cynic knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.

It’s a bet for Satan but it’s not a bet for God. For God, it is a statement of faith in what he has created. It is his belief that it is possible to be be upright and blameless because Job was created in the image of God. He may not be sinless but being “only human” is not an excuse for being a failure. Men and women have the capacity for greatness and integrity even in a fallen world. God takes us seriously

And then the pounding comes. It’s not a slow process or a war of attrition, is it? It is all at once – one thing on top of the other. Even while the one messenger is speaking the next messenger arrives telling of more devastating news. Three messengers arrive to announce each tragedy.

The oxen and donkeys were carried off and all but one of the servants was brutally killed.

The sheep were burned up and all the servants perished with them.

The camels were carried off by raiding bandits and all the servants were murdered.

Finally, in the middle of a feast a mighty wind swept in and destroyed the house of your oldest son. In the collapse all of your children are were buried in the rubble and died.

“At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said,

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.”

In all of this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.”

Everything – except his wife – taken from him with no explanation. No one had done wrong. No one had cursed God. No one had cheated, lied, or broken any of the rules. It was simply senseless destruction of everything in his life.

Was it a house of cards? Was there a great secret or flaw that he had been hiding all these years? Was it simply a horrible coincidence that all of these things happened at once and in one great rogue wave wiped out everything in his life?

But he is not speechless in shock. He is not overcome in a senseless stupor. Yes, he grieves by cutting his hair and tearing his robes but his first words are those of worship – not despair. He is not being fatalistic or hopeless. He simply says, None of this was earned by my goodness. It has always been a blessing from the Lord. Everything I have is his to give and then, for whatever reason, to take away. This is my only possible response to such a loss.

In all this, Job did not sin. But this is just the beginning.