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I know that my Redeemer lives: a sermon on Job and the problem of evil

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“I know that my Redeemer lives”: a sermon on Job and the problem of evil November 20th, 2004 by isaac ·

A few weeks ago I preached at my church on Job. When I got home from church I found out that one of the kids in the neighborhood who came over to our house a lot had just died. He was only 15. Brandon died while playing basketball. He just dropped dead and the doctors have no idea why. I have no idea why. I guess I was the person who needed to hear my sermon.

Title: Reasons of things
Date: Nov. 7, 2004
Place: Chapel Hill Mennonite Fellowship

Lectionary Texts: Job 19:23-29; Ps. 17:1-9.

Mary lives in Walltown. She wasn’t dealt the best hand in life. Things have never been that easy. But most recently, her life took a turn for the worse. Late one night this past summer her son died in a gunfight between hostile gangs. Mary found Robert’s cold, stiff body the next morning—Sunday morning—in her friend’s backyard. Mary’s world was shattered.

“There once was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job” (1:1). His life was shattered one day when terrorists consumed all his wealt—they took all Job’s oxen, donkeys, and camels (vv14-15, 17); then a great storm killed all his children (vv18-19); and, if that wasn’t enough to ruin your life, he broke out in painful sores all over his body (2:7). In despair he cried out, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart” (1:21).

His friends soon arrived on the scene and tried to help Job figure out why his life fell apart. Relying on the best of their wisdom they reasoned with Job. They said, “Obviously you’ve sinned. All these evils are God’s punishment for something you’ve done. You must Repent now, and quickly!” But these friends failed on two fronts. First, the writer of the book tells us that Job was “blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil” (1:1). So, no. Job wasn’t suffering as a consequence of sin. Second, Job’s friends failed to offer him the comfort he so desperately needed. Instead of ministering to Job in love, they lectured him. After his friends’ speeches, Job cried out in frustration and despair, “I’ve heard this before; what miserable comforters are you all. How long will you torment me and crush me with words?” (16:2; 19:2).

Don’t we all want answers, or maybe like Job’s friends, want to give answers? We want to make sense of our pain, and the evil around us. We want to find safety in an explanation, in some kind of reason. If we can explain it then we can tame it. We think if we know why it happened, then we don’t have to be afraid anymore. If we can explain the pain or evil and name its cause, then we can place it in our well ordered world, make it fit in our plan for how things should work.

Let’s think of my friend Mary. I want to know why Mary’s son Robert died. I mean, of course I can explain it in terms of some cause and effect reasoning. Like, he died because he was hanging out with the wrong crowd. But that line never satisfies; it always begs more questions. We can start asking why are there gangs in the first place. And if we follow the trail we might find crack cocaine and ask why it had to hit Durham so hard. But there are always more questions to ask, more paths to follow, endless paths that lead everywhere only to turn back on us and shatter us by confronting us with our own limitations. As much as we try, we can’t think our way back to a starting point that explains why our story, or Mary’s story, had to lead to this point of pain and evil. In our anxious quest to escape from the confines of the middle of our story, we pound ourselves and our friends to pieces.

Remember what Job said to his so-called friends? He said, “How long will you torment me and crush me with words?” Job’s friends thought they were helping with the wisdom they thought they had. The world they knew was ruled by a God who exercised retributive justice. In this world, if you did something wrong, God wacked you. That’s why they told Job that the problem had to be his sin. And the solution—and, I mean this makes perfect sense, it’s actually quite logical—the solution had to be Job’s repentance.

But Job knew that the God he worshiped didn’t work the way his friends thought. The God Job knew was a mysterious God who didn’t fit into any world or plan devised by humans. The reason why we can never reach that starting point from which we can see how and why our stories, full of pain and evil, unfold the way they do is because that place belongs to God and God alone. To try to put ourselves in that position, that place of knowing, from which we can explain all evil is to claim divinity, to set ourselves up as our own gods.

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