Job is the person each of us aspire to be. Who here today doesn’t aspire to be blameless and upright? Who here doesn’t aspire to be one who fears God and turns away from evil? Who here doesn’t aspire to seven sons and three daughters? Who here doesn’t aspire to having seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen, five hundred donkeys, and very many servants; so that we are indeed the greatest of all the people of the east? Who here doesn’t aspire to these things, indeed?
I mean seriously, this dude Job has it all together. Job is a legendary figure in ancient Israel known for his unfailing righteousness. Ten great kids. Plus, he has all.the.things!
And it isn’t like he just had it all handed to him. He worked for it. He earned it. Plus, he’s very righteous and goes to offer burnt offerings on his kid’s behalf just in case they’ve done something wrong. Job said, “It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.” It’s an interesting sidenote that Luther did something similar, confessing sins that he might have committed in his heart. You know, just in case.
All is going along nicely until… until… the heavenly beings show up. It’s hard to describe the heavenly beings, mostly because the book of Job doesn’t describe them. I suppose the best way to talk about them is they exist to serve God. More to the point, Satan shows up with them.
Now, anytime Satan shows up in the Bible there are some things to consider. As we noted earlier the book of Job is reckoned to be the oldest book in the Bible. That should probably come into play when we think about Satan. Our usual though about Satan is as what? _______ The trouble is, that concept of Satan didn’t yet exist in the Hebrew author’s way of thinking. So what then? Well, the literal translation of the Hebrew is more accurate to say THE Satan or more literally, THE accuser. Satan is functioning more as a prosecuting attorney in the court of God than the devil who oversees hell.
So we have Satan on the scene. Satan has been out and about, traipsing over the world when he lands in the mythical land of Uz, ready to rat out Job. The trouble is, Job is a blameless and upright man. Not because Job describes himself that way but because God describes him that way. Now think about that for a second. God says that Job is, “a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil.” Could God describe you that way? A blameless and upright person? The short answer for a Lutheran is no, for the record.
For whatever reason, and the text doesn’t tell us, God asks Satan the Accuser if Satan has ever considered Job, a blameless and upright man. Satan gives God a classic response as to the character of Job. Of COURSE Job is blameless and upright. Job is under your protection and you make everything work out for Job. He’s got 10 great kids, 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels and… well, you get the idea, right? Faith and commitment to God are easy when everything goes your way but what about when things aren’t going your way? Hmmm?
God responds to Satan. Oh, so you think Job is blameless and upright because he doesn’t have any challenges in his life, do you? Fine. Do what you will to Job and see how he responds. Just don’t touch Job.
Uh oh. Strange plot twist here. Satan is going to accuse Job of not really being blameless and upright and will test Job without touching Job. Somehow this doesn’t seem like it is going to go well for someone. If Job can’t be touched but is going to be tested it sounds like somewhere along the line someone innocent is going to be touched with a very heavy hand.
This is what is known as a literary device. The author of Job is getting ready to get our attention. Because what happens next is pretty horrible. That list of all.the.things. that Job has is about to disappear. First the oxen and the donkeys get wiped out. Then the sheep. Then the camels. Then the all of Job’s kids. This sounds shockingly horrible.
Which is the author’s intent. If we read it in terms of this actually happening we’re forced to consider a God who treats people and animals like that mean and rotten kid in the movie Toy Story just to prove a point to Satan. If we don’t see God as mean and capricious, and I don’t think that is what Job’s author is getting at, then we have to consider another reason for what happens.
Why is it then that Job has lost all.the.things that seem important in his life? What are we to understand from Job losing all.the.things? Most likely, because all.the.things aren’t all.that.important compared to our relationship with God. Even Job understood this, at least in part. He’d lost EVERYTHING in his life other than his wife and a couple of friends that will be joining us next week and still he did not sin or charge God with wrongdoing. In spite of all that he had lost, Job managed to hold onto his faith in God.
That’s a fairly poignant lesson for us today. In the midst of all that is wrong in the world, in the midst of all the things that shouldn’t be happening, in the midst of violence and horror, we still have hope that through our faith, we believe that God is still ever present with us in our fear.
Last week I was at the Oklahoma City Memorial for the 1995 bombing. As I listened to a recording of a hearing that was in progress when the bomb went off and I heard the sounds of the actual explosion, and I as read and saw the stories of all that happened that day and the weeks following and I as stood holding my one year old granddaughter looking out over the field of chairs representing the 168 lives that were lost in that act of violence I had to wonder what was wrong with the world.
I stood their wrestling with my feelings, torn between hope and despair at what our world looks like it came to me that all is not hopeless. There are challenges and bad things going on and the last month has been particularly bad. There are horror stories of violence going on that can shake our faith and leave us wondering.
And yet in spite of all of that bad news, there is still good news if we’re not too distracted to see it. God is still present, Jesus is still alive and we’re still called and sent into the world. Bad things have been recorded throughout all of history and yet for the last 2000 years or so, the body of Christ has brought the light of hope to the world.
To quote J.R.R. Tolkein, “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.” As people of faith we can bury ourselves in newsfeeds that give us nothing but despair. Or we can live out our faith. We can live out our faith as we go into the world sharing the love of God in Christ Jesus. That is the choice before us today and every day.