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SERMON: Why Me? Why Such Advice from Friends?

Unhelpful Advice

So… just a quick Job recap… chapters 1 to 3 is a story – a story with truth, it’s a story of which Job is the main object of the story, but the primary characters are God and Hassatan…

Chapter 3 ends with Job cursing the day he was born and his friends sitting in silence as he mourns…

Job says about the day he was born.

Let gloom and deep darkness claim it. Let clouds settle upon it; let the blackness of the day terrify it.  That night—let thick darkness seize it! let it not rejoice among the days of the year; let it not come into the number of the months. Yes, let that night be barren; let no joyful cry be heard in it.

In Chapter 4 Eliphaz breaks the silence and throws his two cents in. He says that Job must have done something wrong to merit this punishment. Innocents, he says, are never punished. “And hey, if God even gets annoyed at his angels, how can humans pass the test? Basically, humans have no chance.” Meanwhile, Job is still maintaining his innocence and integrity…

In Chapter 5 Eliphaz is still chatting away. Now he says that God doles out both good and bad, and that the righteous have nothing to fear from God… is this supposed to be good news?

Chapter 6 has Job hitting back. He isn’t buying it. He’s in pain, he’s covered with sores and ashes, and he wants some answers. His complaint is valid, he says.

Job gets that his friends are confused. After all, in their worldview, the righteous are not punished. But he’s not satisfied with that answer.

This brings us to Chapter 7 where Job decides he won’t take this lying down.

This is his “why me?” moment. He asks God why he specifically has become God’s target. He’s in such pain that even death would be better… and I don’t know about you, but I’m really starting to feel for the guy…

His friends speak on behalf of tradition and in an attempt to protect God from scrutiny. Their logic is one based in traditional theological understanding… and Job, for the most part accepts their understanding of his suffering – but he feels he’s entitled to an explanation of the charges of disobedience made against him.

His integrity is such that he will not deny his “lived reality” (his righteousness) in order to preserve the tradition of orthodoxy or to maintain the reputation of God.

Job’s integrity requires truth-telling about his own lived experience even if that clashes with settled traditional explanations exposes those explanations as inadequate.

The tension in this part of the book of Job is the tension that is key to the whole book and that is there is no way to reconcile traditional theology held up to this point in Jewish history, to the wretchedness of Job’s life.

Therefore I will not restrain my mouth;   I will speak in the anguish of my spirit;   I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.  Will you not look away from me for a while,   let me alone until I swallow my spittle?

And into this anguish well meaning friends continue to offer platitudes and belief that are at best, not helpful and at worst, just plain hurtful and even damaging.

Think about a time you’ve been in distress or pain… think about the words that have been spoken to you…

“Its was God’s will…”

“Everything happens for a reason.”

“God doesn’t give us more than we can bear…”

In the face of suffering or a friend’s grief do we say what we want to say or only what we think we should say…

I suggest that we need to remember that we are creatures who try too hard to have everything make sense, and in doing so we sometimes have manipulated the image of God to suit our need for answers…

Perhaps we would do well to wonder… “How much do we need to understand God in order to have God as part of our lives? How much do we need understand God in order to feel God’s presence in our hearts?

Job makes a major shift in the story… and it is a shift that we might do well to consider… it is a shift from debating with his friends to speaking to God. Said another way, a shift from talking about God to talking with God…

Job’s friends are great theologians, they are wonderful speakers about God but they hardly ever addressed themselves to God.

In the face of the tragedies of the past few weeks… the fallout from the verdicts in the trials of Gerald Stanley and Raymond Cormier and the continued grief of indigenous communities over the deaths of Colten Bushie and Tina Fontaine… and just west of here, the community anxiety over the hit and run death of Brady Francis…

Then there is the ongoing investigation into the deaths of men in the gay village area of Toronto, the school shootings in Florida… and the list goes on…

I’m wondering if we could pause our sense that we think we know God’s ways, and instead speak to God about our hurt and sadness.

We need to take time to speak to God about tragedy to pray about tragedy before we speak to one another. If not we run the risk of speaking the wrong thing or saying the wrong thing or turning what was to be a caring conversation into a debate… thereby ignoring the grief and the real life pain that’s happening.

If we take it to God first our hearts will be opened and better prepared for loving each other and finding the right way through a tragedy and find new forms of relationship.

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