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

November 20th, 2004 by isaac · 16 Comments

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.
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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.

But Job never claimed to know the reason for his pain and the evil he experienced. He never tried to stretch his rationality to the breaking point where he thought he could see the world from God’s perspective. Unlike his friends, Job didn’t claim to know how God works with justice in the world. Instead, in remarkable humility, Job cried out, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised” (1:21). At the point where the world was crumbling before his eyes, this point where he felt the helplessness of absolute abandonment, Job praised God. For Job, if all of life is a gift from God, then how can he tell God how to manage those gifts?

But Job didn’t stop with praise. Like Jacob who wrestled the Lord till daybreak, Job wouldn’t leave God alone. He didn’t retreat into the solitude of resignation. Job wasn’t some type of Stoic who believed that an impersonal divine will governed the world, a god who didn’t really care about the affairs of humanity. The God Job knew was the God, who out of the overflow of divine love created a people; a God who entered into a relationship with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; a God who made a covenant with a people, to care for them and use them to be a blessing for all the nations. Although God’s fidelity to Israel may look different than anyone expected (think about Israel’s experience of exile), God promised to remain faithful.

Even though Job felt as if God had turned on him, that God had abandoned him, Job still hoped. This hope that defies all hopeless appearances testifies to the power of the Spirit of God to sustain us. How else can we explain Job’s impossible response? In the depths of his pain, Job bursts out, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth?then in my flesh I shall see God” (19:25). This hope for the Redeemer breaks through all conceptions of reality, it breaks through our layers of commentary on the way the world works. At this moment when Job feels completely abandoned by his God and friends, when death seems to close in on him on every side, he tastes the hope of a Savior.

Job never gets an answer to all his questions about pain and evil. God never gives Job explanations. God never apologizes or justifies the nature of his just rule over the affairs of the world. But Job receives a gift far more wonderful than the answers he wants. He gets a glimpse of our Redeemer, he receives the overwhelming gift of seeing the resurrected Jesus Christ whom, Job says, “I shall see on my side.”

I think Job teaches us that there is nothing wrong with asking God why. I even think God wants a wrestling match. Like Job, our wrestling with God draws us into a relationship with God. Out of the honesty of our limitations, we have no where else to turn but to God who knows all and, more importantly, promises a Redeemer for our liberation. But, unlike Job’s friends, we must never think we can explain why we and our friends and enemies experience pain. Our wrestling match with God should lead us to confess our dependence on God’s grace for our livelihood. In the story of Job, the outcome of his questions to God is an encounter with his own limitation.

I have no doubt Robert’s death brought Mary to the point of questioning God. I am sure she wanted to know why her son was taken from her. But what I find remarkable about Mary’s story is that she didn’t curse God and return to a life of despair. She started coming to a church in Walltown. She became a member about a month ago. She comes to the Wednesday night meeting where we read our Bibles and pray with one another. Her life is a testimony to everyone at Northside Baptist church that our Redeemer lives. Every time I see her I can see the power of Jesus Christ to reveal himself in the midst of pain and evil. I hope, whenever I taste the pain and death of this world, that I will remember Mary?s witness to God’s faithfulness.

In the meantime, we must train ourselves to think like Job and Mary. We must develop good habits of praising our Redeemer. Rev. Daniels at St. John’s Baptist church in Walltown always tells his congregation, “We must praise God anyhow!” This is the sort of gift we receive in the Psalms. In the Psalms we find prayers of lament and praise, passed down from Israel’s mothers and fathers to their children. The people of Israel learned to respond to the evil in their lives by joining in prayers like the one we heard tonight from Psalm 17. Listen to a few of those lines again: “From you let my vindication come… I call upon you, for you will answer me, O God; incline your ear to me, hear my words… Wondrously show your steadfast love, O savior of those who seek refuge…at your right hand.” We must learn how to faithfully wrestle with God from these songs of praise and lament.

The good news is that God does not turn a deaf ear to our cries for liberation from the powers of this present evil age. God responded in Jesus Christ, our Redeemer, who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit. This Redeemer Jesus is Immanuel, God with us—the God who conquered death through the death and resurrection of Jesus, the Messiah of Israel.

When we gather to worship, we confess our frailty, our lack of understanding. And in our frailty we proclaim hope in our living Redeemer who, through the cross, experienced the world’s evil and now sits at the right hand of the Father as our liberator from evil. A 6th century pastor and theologian named Maximus the Confessor put it best. He said, “The one who knows the mystery of the cross and the tomb, knows the reasons of things. The one who is initiated into the infinite power of the Resurrection, knows the purpose for which God knowingly created all.” That is our hope. May the Holy Spirit teach us what it means to trust in the faithfulness of God revealed in Jesus Christ.

Tags: life · sermons

16 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Tamara // Nov 28, 2007 at 6:16 am

    Your sermon is a strong and inspiring reaffirmation of the profound lessons for faithfulness in the book of Job, and one that I deeply appreciate finding this morning.

    Thank you.

  • 2 isaac // Nov 29, 2007 at 1:36 pm

    Tamara, thanks for reading my sermon; and for your kind words. I’m glad it reaffirmed your faith.

    peace,
    isaac

  • 3 anonymous // Oct 12, 2008 at 1:41 pm

    Thank you for your sermon. I am Christian, but it is comforting to know that in difficult times, one thing that everybody can do is give thanks for the things they have been blessed with. If you perceive even your hardships as a blessing, than the outcome is that you will lead a blessed life. Like Job said, we are born with nothing and we will die with nothing. Therefore, it is unnecessary to mourn for that which we have lost – it was never ours in the first place. I think that people of all beliefs would be much happier if they could learn to loosen their attachment to material things.

  • 4 Sichande Edwin // May 21, 2009 at 7:02 am

    This word is really an inspiration to me and have no doudt that this is God speaking to me through you on this web. Iam so encouraged that I now realise that the pain iam going throuhg today, God is there for me. Mans word is limited and it just wears or pull down, but my Redeemer liveth who is Jusus Christ who has committed Himself to care for me and the family. Indeed tests come that I should be a living testimony. In everything I face the name of Jesus be glorified.
    Thankyou God bless you ubandantly
    Amen

  • 5 isaac // May 28, 2009 at 2:34 pm

    Edwin, thanks for reading my sermon. And I’m very glad that you received an encouraging word.

    peace,
    isv

  • 6 Yeukai // Jul 11, 2009 at 1:44 am

    Thank you for this message. I lost my only sister 3 weeks ago and I have found so much comfort in knowing that even in all our sorrows and grief, God loves us and is our stength and portion forever.

    God bless you.

  • 7 isaac // Jul 11, 2009 at 7:05 pm

    Yeukai, thanks for visiting the website and for reading my sermon. I’m glad that my words somehow encouraged you during this difficult time in your life. May God continue to be your comfort—that you may know that your Redeemer liveth.

  • 8 olivia // Jul 24, 2009 at 5:21 am

    Thank you – I needed a word of hope and have found it. Bless you.

  • 9 isaac // Jul 28, 2009 at 6:58 am

    Olivia, thanks for the comment. I am grateful that my words gave you hope.

    peace,
    isv

  • 10 Bonga // May 20, 2010 at 12:07 am

    Thank you for this powerfull and encouraging sermon. In the midst of the tempests and the challenges I’m facing today, I know that my Redeemer lives and I completely my trust in God who is the author and the finisher of my FAITH. I haven’t lost hope and I’m not gonna lose hope for I’ve chosen to see beyond the storms of life. Like you said, Job still hoped…the hope that difies hopeless appearances and testifies to the power of the Spirit of God to sustain…I’m richly bless by this sermon…May God Bless you…

  • 11 Smith // Feb 27, 2011 at 10:22 pm

    In my deep pain and sorrow and crying tonight, I search
    for the sermon on Job, it was good to read the message
    loosing a sibling an only brother to a car accident, it is
    still a shock and the pain is unbearable unless we have faith
    strong enough before we fall apart and our heart will stop
    beating from the grief, please release more comforting
    sermons because we need them to keep us alive and going

  • 12 isaac // Feb 28, 2011 at 7:25 am

    Dear Smith, I am so glad that my sermon was able to meet you in your despair and offer a sliver of Christ’s light. Thank you for your comment. Hopefully some of the other sermons here will also be encouraging for you.

    peace to you,
    isaac

  • 13 Pst Samuel Rambuggan // Oct 23, 2011 at 10:54 pm

    Good morning, my name is Pst Samuel. I am from South Africa. Firstly all praise to Jesus for giving us this word found in Job.

    Secondly thank you man of God for writing such an inspirational word of which i know will touch the hearts and lives of many people around the world. Many have had many questions to God, especially when it comes to the passing away of a loved one. “Why did God allow for this to happen.”

    You have shown that this is a place for us to leave totally to God and even when we go through storms, even tragedies, we need to do 2 things: – Trust God – Praise God.

    Thank you again, i will be praying for you and i know God will continue to use and bless you.

    Blessings in Jesus name
    Samuel..

  • 14 Bennett Binetti // Dec 21, 2011 at 1:57 am

    You are my aspiration, I own few web logs and often run out from post :). “To die for a religion is easier than to live it absolutely.” by Jorge Luis Borges.

  • 15 Elijah Nyolo // May 31, 2012 at 3:34 am

    You are such a wonderful and a blessed preacher. this message has changed my perception about God and His unquestionable undertakings in this world. But more important the hope of a redeemer who alone can stand and defend us in times of turmoils. God bless you Man of God

  • 16 Harry K Brown // Dec 14, 2012 at 6:51 am

    Thank you for this inspirational piece, stay blessed and be focused on God not distancing ourselves from Job’s tenacity and immense FAITH in Christ Jesus, Amen.