Job: A Sermon for the Suffering | 6-5-2019

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[This was a sermon I gave to the youth group at my local church when serving there as a youth leader. It was about 25 minutes and was focused on helping students explore mental health by examining the lives of four different individuals in history. This week was focused on Job.]

During this short miniseries on anxiety and depression, we are looking at mental health in history from the perspective of people in the Bible. First we learned about Jonah and Elijah, so now we’re gonna look at Job’s struggles with mental health when he gets struck by tragedy. But first let’s get a little back story on who Job was exactly. In Job 1:1-5, we read about who Job was before the tragedy:

“There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job; and that man was blameless, upright, fearing God and turning away from evil. Seven sons and three daughters were born to him. His possessions also were 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, 500 female donkeys, and very many servants; and that man was the greatest of all the men of the east. His sons used to go and hold a feast in the house of each one on his day, and they would send and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. When the days of feasting had completed their cycle, Job would send and consecrate them, rising up early in the morning and offering burnt offerings according to the number of them all; for Job said, “Perhaps my sons have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.” Thus Job did continually.”

So he was the richest man in the east during this time and was a godly guy. He would have been a millionaire in our time and the equivalent of a CEO of a profitable business. Also, Job was deeply close with God and interceded or prayed on behalf of his children everyday first thing in the morning. Overall, Job was what we would consider a good person.

What’s important to understand is that this is a story that is a condensed version of what really happened. In fact, it’s structured nearly identical to other stories of suffering from Egypt written during the same time period. Basically, it’s a true story told through the form of a narrative or what they would call a parable.

Think of it this way: Jackie Robinson was a real person in history who played for the Brooklyn Dodgers. The movie 42 is a biopic that tells the true story of Jackie Robinson playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers, but only shows you the main parts of that story. Essentially, this is the SparkNotes version of Job’s life.

Next in the story, messengers report back to God about what is going down on Earth. One of these guys named the adversary (i.e. Satan) doesn’t buy what he sees as the “good guy” persona of Job. He’s just too good to be true. He loves God because his life is really good.

So God brags that Job is the best and challenges Satan to take everything away from Job, except taking his life. So Satan does just that by killing Job’s employees, his farm animals for his business, and even his own children all within the same day. When he hears the news of what happened, Job reacts at the end of chapter 1 starting in verse 20:

“Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head, and he fell to the ground and worshiped. He said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, And naked I shall return there. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD.” Through all this Job did not sin nor did he blame God.”

Couple of things to observe here. First, Job follows how people in his culture would react in the face of tragedy. What he does first is a very cultural and normal way of reacting to tragedy at that time.

He then humbles himself by acknowledging that God is ultimately in control of everything and that God can do whatever he wants. This is true when we read Psalm 115:3 or Psalm 135:6 where King David also proclaims the same truth about God. Lastly, Job did not sin at all during this time. In fact, he doesn’t sin at all throughout this whole situation of suffering. Yet he does repent at the end of the book for not relying on God more than he could have when he was suffering, but we’ll get to that later.

[This isn’t necessarily the case. As some have argued, Job did sin during this season of trouble. Notice the passage says “In all this Job did not sin with his lips,” which some have noted as an argument that he did inwardly sin either in his heart or mind. This would add up with why he repented for not trusting God in the latter end of the book. There wasn’t enough time to cover the nuances of this idea, so I opted out of including it in this sermon.]

When this first attack doesn’t work, Satan goes back to God where they talk back and forth before Satan attacks Job again. This time he does attack him physically and these disgusting sore boils develop all over his body. Let’s see how those around him react.

“Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die!” But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips. Now when Job’s three friends heard of all this adversity that had come upon him, they came each one from his own place, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite; and they made an appointment together to come to sympathize with him and comfort him. When they lifted up their eyes at a distance and did not recognize him, they raised their voices and wept. And each of them tore his robe and they threw dust over their heads toward the sky. Then they sat down on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights with no one speaking a word to him, for they saw that his pain was very great.”

So now we get the worst wife of the year nagging Job about still trusting God, even though he has lost so much already. He claps-back and says that if we only trust God during the good times, then we don’t actually trust Him. We’re just following Him for selfish reasons or to get something back in return.

When his friends hear about what happened, they show up to be there for Job. When they arrive, they see the condition that Job is in and they cry with him before joining him in silence. When someone is having mental health issues or suffering in general, one of the best things you can do is just be there for them. Sit there, actively listen to their struggles, and be the comforting friend they can lean on when they are hurting.

When Douglas Groothuis’ wife was dying of dementia, he wrote in his book, Walking Through Twilight, how we can mourn with others as Christians:

“If we take the cross of Christ, we can become more like Christ, more aware of others’ suffering, and more willing to listen and help. I learned that I can keep praying when I am not happy with God. I once believed that prayer was reserved for certain emotional states. To be joyful or thankful is to be prized, but God is still there when those emotions escape us (2).”

The rest of the book of Job is a collection of conversations between Job and his three friends counseling him. They give him bad counsel, even though they had good motivations as Job grapples with all the questions he has for God as to why he is suffering. In the end, God confronts Job and asks him a series of questions that confront his lack of trust in what God is doing. When that’s over, God restores everything and gives Job twice as much wealth as he had when he lost it all. After everything that happened, life is now even better for Job because he trusted in God in spite of his doubts.

The story of Job is a very unique story. There is no indication in the text that God ever tells Job why he had to suffer the way he did. He was never aware of the cosmic conflict between God and Satan. The book of Job is a study on suffering and does not focus on a single solution, but that’s not the point either. The main point of the book was to show two things: how to go through suffering and what it looks like to truly trust in God.

Romans 8:28 says that “we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to his purpose.” In life, we go through a lot more bad than good. We cannot control what happened to us in the past, but we can control our reaction. As Viktor Frankl writes as a survivor of the Nazi concentration camps, “When we are no longer able to change a situation… we are challenged to change ourselves (3).”

We can’t change how our life started, but we do have the ability to trust God and move forward through our struggles. You could get bitter or get better, but the difference is to switch those letters. Job’s friends and wife chose bitterness, but he chose getting better. Not perfection, but God made him better.

Sometimes it is not for us to know why there is suffering, but rather what can we learn from this suffering? Sometimes suffering is used to make us better people. Job had doubts and trust issues with God, but by the end of the story they are resolved.

God is our guide through suffering, even when we don’t understand why. The moral of the story of Job is that there must be a progression through suffering: from victim to victor. One of the most difficult truths in life is that in order to grow we must embrace suffering and not avoid it. Anyone who has ever overcome adversity or suffering chose to face it and go through it versus avoiding it all together. Tonight, let’s choose triumph in our tragedies through the power of God. Let’s pray and we’ll break into small groups.

This was a tough sermon to crack. First of all, it’s the book of Job and that is an extremely difficult book to understand given its age compared to the other books in the canon. Also, the fact that it’s a summary of the whole book, which is near impossible for one sermon.

The second main challenge was trying to key in on the mental health aspect, which I feel like I failed the most at for this one. Not addressing the issue as much as I could have. It was a sermon that lacked singular vision and needed to be refined a lot because it’s just not presentable in the shape that it is in currently.

A sermon is never ready to share, but some sermons are either more ready or less ready and this was less ready than other sermons I’ve taught. Not a favorite of mine, but another opportunity to learn and improve for the future. With that, Godspeed and Jesus bless.

Footnotes

  1. www.pexels.com
  2. P. 19, Walking Through Twilight
  3. P. 112, Man’s Search For Meaning
    • Key quote on the Fall and our sin nature: “Our generation is realistic, for we have come to know man as he really is. After all, man is that being who invented the gas chambers of Auschwitz; however he is also that being who entered those gas chambers upright” (P. 134, Man’s Search For Meaning)

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