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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Church news, 10/21: Job questions, God answers

We continued our study of Job in the Oct. 11 and 18 worship services. The Oct. 11 message considered major challenges in the Book of Job that bear on a core question of life: Why do the righteous suffer? Or, to quote the title of a popular book, "Why do bad things happen to good people?"

In the 23rd chapter, we see Job both complaining and searching. He admits being in a state of bitter complaint and yearns to approach God and lay out his argument as a defendant would before a judge. Job believes his reasoned argument would result in a verdict of acquittal for him, but he despairs he will not have the opportunity to stand before the Almighty in this way.

Fr. David pointed out that some might see Job's attitude as lacking in humility. However, Job's righteousness is shown through his trust: he trusted God to hear him and to care for him because he remembered his former blessings.

This wasn't easy under the circumstances. Job is bearing his afflictions, the scorn of his wife and also of his friends. "The problem with suffering," Fr. David said, "is that you feel all alone, even though the Lord is always there for you. There are two voices you can choose to listen to -- the voice of the accuser ('You must have done something to deserve this.') or the voice of the Holy Spirit ('I, the Lord, will never leave you nor forsake you.') Job doesn't waver in his trust, and his faith will be stronger once he receives the answers he seeks."

Continuing the series on Oct. 18, we considered God's answers to Job. Job now has what he sought -- a chance to be face to face with the Almighty. But rather than pleading his case like a defendant before a judge, he is as any person would be under these circumstances: awestruck and mute. "I lay my hand on my mouth," he says. "...I will proceed no further."

Fr. David pointed out that when God says, "Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?" it's Job's friends being spoken of, not Job himself. "Even as a faultfinder, God is there for the purpose of Job's salvation and purification," he explained. "Job comes to a place of humility. He's brought to his knees by the realization of God's power, sovereignty and love, as anyone would be in his situation. His appropriate response to God's questions is, 'Who did I think I was?' He realizes God has a plan for him."

Part of that plan was much bigger than Job could ever see. Because of the traditional order the books of the Bible are in, we forget that Job's story actually occurs early in history. If we put the Book of Job in the correct chronological spot, it would fall between Genesis chapters 11 and 12. It's significant that Job probably spent more time in God's direct presence than any other person other than Adam and Eve, whose conversations with the Almighty in the garden are not recorded for us. So Job stood in our place early in time to give us insight into what an encounter with God is like.

In addition, there was a more immediate plan for Job, and that was to be the intercessor/priest for his friends. He represents them before God and then takes his knowledge back to them in loving correction.

Next Sunday we'll consider whether it's possible to do what Job set out to do, which is prove ourselves right to God. Is this honesty, self-righteousness, or maybe a bit of both?

NOTES: If you received the parish survey and stewardship letter, please respond by Sunday, Nov. 1, All Saints Day. Your commitment to our Stewardship Drive is greatly appreciated. Bon-Ton coupon books are still available from Alison Stone for $5 a book, all of which goes to All Saints. Pay by check made out to All Saints, marked "Bon-Ton" on the reference line.

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