Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Where is Justice?

Where Is Justice?
Job 42:1-6[1]
It may be hard for us to admit this, but there are a lot of people out there who simply cannot put their faith in God for a lot of different reasons.  For some, if they had parents who weren’t there for them, it’s hard to trust that God will be there for them.  For others it’s a matter of disappointed idealism.  They embraced the faith heart and soul, but somewhere along the way, the hypocrisy of people in the church undermined their faith.  For others it’s a matter of not being able to reconcile with the fact that the Bible and our faith aren’t always completely consistent. For many, however, the main problem has to do with questioning God’s justice.  When they go out into the world and try to do something to help the people who are suffering, what they see is rampant injustice.  And it breaks their heart to the point that they simply cannot believe in the loving God the Bible and our faith tell us about!
I think Job knew something of that struggle.  He had lived his whole life based on a faith in God that was defined by a simple principle: those who obey God are blessed, and those who disobey God are punished.  Therefore, in the logic of this rather simplistic faith, those who are blessed with prosperity and success must enjoy God’s favor, while those who endure hardship and suffering must have somehow offended God.  That seemed to work for Job for a long time: he had amassed a great fortune and had a large family of grown children.  Then it seemed as if the very ground under his feet gave way.  In one fell swoop he lost everything—everything he owned and everyone he cared for.  In Job’s world, there could have be no more clearer indication of God’s disfavor.
That is precisely what his three “friends” tell him—over and over again.  He must have done something to deserve his suffering.  Job insists that he has maintained his integrity, despite what had happened to him.  And they reply over and over that he wouldn’t be suffering if he hadn’t done something to deserve it.  The bulk of the book of Job consists of them going around and around with this argument—Job maintaining his innocence, and his friends maintaining the simplistic view of faith in terms of  reward and punishment they had all been taught from childhood.[2]
Finally, Job exhausts himself with his struggle, and gives up.  That’s when God appears and asks Job a whole series of questions that seem to “put him in his place.”  “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” God asks Job (38:4).  Again and again, God’s only response to Job’s complaint about his suffering is to ask things like, “Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth?” (38:18); “Do you give the horse its might?” (39:19); and “Is it by your wisdom that the hawk soars?” (39:26).  Of course, as Job realizes, the answer to all of these questions is “No.”  
That brings us to our lesson for today.  Job realizes that he has ventured into matters that are over his head.  In effect, Job asks, “Why am I suffering so, when I have always done right?”  And the answer he receives is “You don’t even understand the question.  How will you even begin to understand the answer?”  The answer to Job’s question is that there is no answer—at least not one he can comprehend.[3]  Job himself admits as much: “I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know” (42:3). And I think that is the answer to our question as well.  When we see the injustice of suffering in our world, and we ask how a loving God can allow this to happen, there is no answer that can sufficiently explain it. 
And yet, there is more to the matter than simply saying we can’t understand and so we have to just surrender to the faith that God knows best.  Because one thing the Bible insists is true of God is that God is faithful.  God never forsakes us, no matter what.  And I believe this was true for Job as much as for anyone else.[4]  God never abandoned Job, even in his misfortune, especially in his affliction.[5]  It is the lesson of Jesus on the cross.[6]  Although some have said that God abandoned Jesus on the cross, I don’t believe that for a second.  God was right there, suffering in the person of Jesus.[7]  And I think part of the reason for the cross is to show us that God is always right there, suffering with anyone who is afflicted in any way or at any time.[8]
The reality of injustice in our world is so troubling that I don’t fault anyone who cannot believe in God because of it.[9]  I have experience a share of injustice in my life.  And at times I’ve been angry and come close to giving up my faith.  But the resolution to that crisis is found neither in giving up on God nor in the simplistic presumption that God won’t let bad things happen to good people.[10]  It is found in continuing to believe in the God who is always there, the God who never abandoned Jesus, the God who never abandoned Job, and the God who will never abandon us, no matter what may come our way.[11]  The answer is found in continuing to believe that God will never abandon you or me or anyone in this world, especially in the midst of suffering.  God’s justice is the justice of compassion, and in my mind that means that no matter what we may have to endure in this world, God is always right there with us, suffering right beside us, supporting us, and working in and through our lives to bring good out of every injustice.  God’s justice is found in God’s faithful presence—God will never forsake us, no matter what!

[1] © 2012 Alan Brehm. A sermon preached by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 10/28/12 at First Presbyterian Church, Dickinson, TX and at A Community of the Servant-Savior Presbyterian Church, Houston, TX.
[2] In the end, as Stephen Shoemaker, in GodStories, 165, points out, God commends Job for his questioning!  From God’s perspective, it’s as if Job’s doubts were truer than his friends’ beliefs!
[3] Anchor Bible Dictionary, s.v. “Job, Book of, ” by James L. Crenshaw, III:861.
[4] Cf. Stephen Mitchell, The Book of Job, xxvii, where he says that in the end Job is able to surrender to that which is beyond his ability to comprehend because, “He has faced evil, has looked straight into its face and through it, into a vast wonder and love.”
[5] In fact, over and over again, in the midst of his doubts, Job continues to express the hope that God will vindicate him.  Cf. J. Gerald Janzin, Job, 264. 
[6] cf. René Girard, “Job and the God of Victims,” in L. G. Perdue and W. C. Gilpin, ed., The Voice from the Whirlwind: Interpreting the Book of Job, 226: “The Jesus of the Gospels becomes, for the Christian tradition, the decisive event revealing the reality and meaning of the God of victims, of the God, the Logos, by which the world is created and constituted and who takes the side of the poor, the needy, the oppressed. What Job calls for, the Gospels focus on.”
[7]Cf. Jürgen Moltman, The Crucified God, 243, where he says that God “suffers the death of the Son in the infinite grief of love”; cf. Jürgen Moltmann, The Way of Jesus Christ, 172-78; cf. also Paul Knitter, Without Buddha, 126: “The God embodied in Jesus suffers not only for the victims of the world; this God suffers like them and with them.”
[8] Cf. Philip Yancey, Disappointment With God, 192.
[9] See Frederick Buechner, Whistling in the Dark, 61-62: “Anyone who claims to believe in an all-powerful, all-loving God without taking into account this devastat­ing evidence [i.e. the Holocaust] either that God is indifferent or powerless, or that there is no God at all, is playing games. … If Love itself is really at the heart of it all, how can such things happen? What do such things mean?”
[10] Cf. Carol A. Newsom, “The Book of Job,” New Interpreters Bible IV:630.
[11] Cf. Newsom, “The Book of Job,” NIB IV:632.

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