Title: The Question of Why?
Date: 10:45am Worship. 1st August, 2021
Preacher: Rev Phil Swain
Bible Reading: Job 23:1-9,16-17
When life crashes down, a question pops into most people’s minds … why? Why is this happening. This Sunday as we continue to work through the book of Job, we will be looking at the conversation between Job and his three friends where they debate why did this suffering come to Job. Did Job do something wrong? Is God being spiteful? Why is Job suffering? Why? In the midst of the why question, maybe there is also some hope to be found. Join us this Sunday.
Last week we started working through the Old Testament book of Job – a complex and confronting book about suffering – which asks a lot of questions. If you missed last week – what has happened in the story so far is that there is some weird dialogue between God and Satan over the motivation of why people love or follow God. The question raised is whether Job only praises God because of all the blessings he has received and whether Job would still love God if the blessings were not there.
Then in almost the worst story development ever – everything goes wrong for Job, his wealth is stolen, his crops are destroyed, his kids are killed and his health deteriorates to the point that his wife says, “Curse God and die” … but Job does not blame God.
Basically is chapter 1 and most of chapter 2 of Job … however, if we keep reading to end of chapter 2, three of Job’s friends turn up – Eli, Bid and Zo. They heard about Job’s trouble and came to “sympathise” with him. When they saw him they did three things …
- They cried … it wasn’t planned, it just happened. They felt Job’s pain and they cried.
- They sat on the ground with him for 7 days and did not say a word.
Can you see how powerful these two actions are? If you know someone who is grieving or struggling here is some excellent advice for you. Be real … if what you see or hear causes you to feel sad or grief, don’t be afraid to be real and express that.
It actually helps. And also … if there are no words to say … then it is ok not to say anything. I think that Job really appreciated his friends just being there.
But I said they did three things. The grieved, they were silence for 7 days and then 3) They spoke. In this case, this was their downfall. This conversation goes for a long time …
There are 21 chapters between chapter 2 and our Bible reading for today (Chpt 23). If I could summarise 21 chapters worth of conversation in a few sentences it would be:
Job: My life is so bad people should curse the day I was born. I have no peace, no quietness, no rest – only turmoil
Eli: Consider this – when do the innocent have bad stuff happen to them. You know that the good are blessed and the evil are punished … so … apply this to yourself
Job: But I have done no wrong … if I have sinned, God would have shown me
Bil: Does God pervert Justice? No … Humble yourself, admit your wrong and God will not reject you
Job: Indeed that is true – but you are missing my main point. If I was guilty I could plead for mercy – but I am blameless
Zo: Stop mocking God. O I wish that God would convene a court right now … you can’t oppose God and God’s wisdom
Job: I have become a laughing stock to my friends. I wish God would convene a court – then I could argue my case. God please answer me. Show me the wrongs I have committed. Answer me – why do you hide your face? If only you have killed me as well, then I could rest in my grave.
Eli: You are undermining your own piety – your sin is prompting your mouth.
Job: You guys are miserable at comforting me. Will your long winded speeches never end? Look at me, I am dressed in sackcloth, I am sitting in the dust, my tears stain my face … and yet all you do is mock.
Bil: Seriously – you call us longwinded? What about your speeches. Be sensible. Surely suffering is the place where evil men dwell. It is not the place of one who is right with God.
Job: Stop crushing me with your words. I have been wronged. I have nothing to deserve this and yet my friends ridicule me and my breath is offensive to my wife.
All: Actually she has a point
Job: I know my redeemer lives – and he will come and stand with me.
Zo: I can’t stay quiet – your rebuke of me makes me greatly disturbed. All we are saying is the truth – good comes to good people, bad comes to bad people
Job: Listen to me carefully – that might be the norm but it is not always the case. We know examples of a bad person having a great house. Yes – I already know your arguments … that God is saving up his punishment for his sons.
Eli: Stop this nonsense! Are not your sins endless? Submit to God and be at peace with him – and prosperity will return to you.
Job: Where are you God? If I knew where to find you I would go to you. But if I go to the east you are not there. If I go to the west you are not there. Where are you God?
That there is 21 chapters of Job (and they were not kidding about the long winded speeches … most of those one sentence lines were a summary of a chapters worth of text. But you get the idea … Eli, Bil and Zo are just repeating the Old Testament accepted theology that is found in Psalm 1… God blesses those who love him and follow his commandments and curses those who do not walk in his ways.
But Job is saying … but I have followed God’s ways … surely, there must be another reason why this bad stuff is happening.
I think it is human to want to find the reason behind why things are happening. The classic “Why?” question. Why God? Why did they leave me? Why has the cancer returned? Why do I feel this way? Why is this happening? We want to find some sense of reason to our suffering.
It is natural to ask the why question … it is much harder to answer it. Because of the complexity, I don’t like answering the why question … but because I get asked it so many time, I have had to come up with some sort of a response. Would you like to hear what I say to my scripture kids or the youth group kids when they ask the question of why?
I like to say that there are a few different answers, but some are very rare and others are much more likely.
For example, can bad things that happen be the result of God punishing us, or outside spiritual forces (like Satan in the Job story). Well, yes – there are examples in the bible but they are very rare. If you are suffering it is unlikely it is because of outside spiritual forces.
More common is the idea that some suffering happens because of the result of our poor decisions (I break the law and I end up suffering in goal as a result of my own choices) … or the poor choices of other people (that person made a choice to do something bad to me and I am now suffering for it). This can be on an individual level or a accumulated society level. For example, A farmer is suffering through drought because of accumulated poor decisions that have led to climate change. People suffering in poverty due to the accumulated greed of others. The Bible talks about this type of suffering as sin or the result of the broken world we live in … and this is more common as a reason for why suffering is happening.
But I think that there is one reason which is significantly more likely as the answer for suffering than any other. Do you wish to know what it is? That there is no reason at all. That sometimes bad stuff just happens.
Why does a baby die? There is no reason that makes any sense. Why did my dad survive his health battle 5 years ago but Marion’s dad didn’t? I don’t know – I think that sometimes life just happens. I know it is an unsatisfying answer. As much as our human minds want to find reason in life … a lot of the time there is no answer … it is just life.
Job’s friends so much wanted to argue the reason why job was suffering … to say that you must be suffering because … dot dot dot. But Job was saying that there was no reason … or at least the reason that they were suggesting wasn’t right.
Let’s shift focus slightly…
I don’t know if you picked it up in the little play summary … but for Job there was a subtle shift in his focus over the first 23 chapters of the book. As his friends continued to tell him that he must be the problem, his focus went from defending himself to them to wanting to find God. It became less about proving himself innocent to before his accusing friends but rather he just wanted to find God – whether that was to hear God’s wisdom or for God to judge him guilt or innocent or maybe it was just to be close to God, to feel God’s presence close in is time of suffering. The question changed from “Why? Why is this happening” to “Where? Where is God in the midst of my situation?”
And this is where our bible reading for today came in.
If only I knew where to find God;
If only I could find God’s dwelling place.
Have you in your life had this experience … first questioning “Why?” and then moving on to “Where is God?”
During my reading for today I found out something that I never realised before. One person was pointing out that Job’s lament in chapter 23 is very similar to another part in the bible. Listen to the words again.
3 If only I knew where to find God;
If only I could find God’s dwelling place.
8 “But if I go to the east, he is not there;
if I go to the west, I do not find him.
9 When he is at work in the north, I do not see him;
when he turns to the south, I catch no glimpse of him.
7 Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
The suggestion is that this part of Psalm 139 probably was written as a response to the words of Job … that David – the writer of Psalm 139 – knew of the words of Job and consciously was playing with the same format as Job’s lament but putting forward a different truth. David was saying that Job might have felt that God was not near, that God had abandoned him but the reality is that we can’t get away from the presence of God. God was there for Job – and God is there for us.
I think that this is something really powerful for us to hold onto in our times of darkness or suffering. Yes, it might feel like that God is absent but God is not. We are not alone, God is near.
So Job has moved from “Why” to “Where is God” but if you read on in Job I think you begin to see another question beginning to come into focus. “How long?’
How long will this suffering go on for?
How long do I need to wait for Justice?
How long will it be until God will come and prove my innocence?
But it not only justice for Job but justice for all.
Job 24:12 talks about the souls of all the wounded crying out for help. How long will this darkness be until the light comes?
How long will people be wronged until justice prevails? How long must we wait for God to make things right? How long?
This is actually a theme that runs throughout the whole bible …
(Psalm 6:3 “My soul is in deep anguish. How long, Lord, how long?”)
The Israelites in Egypt waiting for God to rescue them … how long, Lord, how long? The people in exile – how long Lord, how long? Waiting for the promised Saviour – the messiah … how long Lord, how long. To Jesus teaching, “blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” right through the martyrs in Revelations 6 … “how long before judgement, Lord, how Long”
Have you experienced this progression? In a time of suffering, tragedy, when things are not working out as planned – the progression of “Why Lord?” to “Where are you Lord” to “How long Lord”?
- There did not seem to be an answer to the question of why … he could not see any reason for his suffering
- And even though Job was not sensing God’s presence near him, as Psalm 139 reminds us, in difficult time we hold onto our faith and cling to the promise that God is always with us … even when we do not feel it.
- So for Job – it came down to that when everything else seemed loss he held on even tighter to his relationship with God. Yes, he might of asked how long this storm would last … but he never let go of his rock in the storm – his relationship with God.
As we will go on to look at next week – God did answer Job … but that is not the main message of Job. The key point of Job is how we in difficult times just need to hold onto God, to cling to our faith that the promises that God knows and God is there.
As one writer put it, “suffering often can’t be justified … there is no good reason for the suffering … but often through suffering a person can be justified – a person can come into a place of being made right with God”. Do you get what he is saying? We might never understand why bad things happen to good people, and we would never wish bad things to happen to people, but sometimes just through the process of difficult times, through the process of a suffering person clinging even more tightly to their faith and relationship with God, a person can find themselves in a better place with God.