I don’t know how many of you enjoy reading Job. As I was reading it for sermon, I thought about people who have experienced significant loss in their lives - loss of their property, loss of their health, and loss of their family. When I was a kid growing up in Korea, there was a Methodist pastor in our neighborhood. I still remember his children because they were my age and we used to meet often. The oldest one was a girl who loved to play the piano. The youngest one was a bright boy who played drum in his church. One day, he went out to the lake to swim with his other friends. I do not remember exactly what happened. He drowned and died. I still remember how much the death of his son agonized this pastor in Korea. He went up to the pulpit to preach on Sundays. But he could not preach messages of grace, joy, and forgiveness. What did he do wrong? Did his son die because he did something wrong before God? He served God and people through his ministry in church because he believed that God called him for ministry. Was his prayer not good enough before God? There are many things that we think should not happen. I believe that one of them would be parents seeing their children die.
As I said before, I don’t know if you have experienced some loss in your life that just did not make sense, and still does not make sense at all to you. Did it make sense to Job then? Who was Job? The Bible says that he was “blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.” He had seven sons and three daughters. Job prayed for his children fervently. He got up early in the morning so that he could offer burnt offerings according to the number of his children, because he was worried that they may have sinned against God in their hearts.” I wonder what will happen if I ask all the parents in our church to come to church at 7:00 am every morning and pray together for their children. I am not married yet but I doubt that I can do this. Job’s action, however, tells me how deeply he loved his children and care for them. One day, his servant came to him and said, “Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their eldest brother’s house, and suddenly a great wind came across the desert, struck the four corners of the house, and it fell on the young people, and they are dead.” (Job 1:18-19)
What would you have done if something like this happened to you? What would it mean for us to have faith in God when we experience something that we never deserve? Would we walk away and curse God? Or would we stay firm still praising the name of God? The Bible says that Job arose, tore his robe, shaved his head, and fell on the ground and worshiped. He said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” I wonder if his words were purely a statement of faith, or expression of his despair, suffering, and pain. I doubt that the pain and suffering in his heart just were gone when he said that “blessed be the name of the Lord.” I know that his pains are not all gone because he says in chapter 3, “Let the day perish in which I was born, and the night that said, “A man-child is conceived.” He cursed the day he was born. He wished he did not exist in the world. He again says in chapter 10, “I loath my life; I will give free utterance to my complaint.” (Job 10:1)
Then Job’s long conversation with his three friends begin. His friends argue that God is a just God who never condemns a righteous person. God never fails to punish the wicked person and bless a righteous one because God is a God of righteousness and justice. Job cries out that he has never done anything wrong before God. On the common sense, we may think that the good produces the good. The evil produces the evil. However, we actually witness and experience that this is certainly not the case. The innocent children die of hunger, HIV/AIDS. Innocent civilians died during the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Innocent people died in 9/11. More people are losing their jobs these days and showing up more at the food pantry. More people are being infected with H1N1 virus and some of us actually die from it. There is an increasing number of homeless. We already had snow a few days ago. The winder is coming. What is going to happen to all those homeless sleeping on the streets? Can we say that they deserve to be in those conditions because they may have done something wrong before God? Have they done something that we may do differently? If you are confused and perplexed by these questions, read Job carefully because it spends the next 40 chapters on Job’s struggling with these questions in response to his three friends.
After the long struggle, God answered Job out of the whirlwind, “Gird up your loins like a man; I will question you, and you declare to me.” (40:6-7) God asks Job, “Can you see what I see? Can you understand what I understand? Can you hear what I hear?” At his encounter with God, Job acknowledges his limit saying, “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.” (42:2) Lord, I do not understand the way you work. Lord, I do not understand the way this world works. Lord, I do not understand because I have a limit in my understanding, seeing, perceiving, and hearing. But I still praise you, Lord. Our limit is not something that we complain. But our limit become a source to praise God.
In verse 10-17 it is said that God restored to Job his property and children. The Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning; he had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand yoke of oxen, and a thousand donkeys. He also had seven sons and three daughters. If we place material blessings as the highest form of blessings, this may sound like a compensation for Job’s misery and suffering. However, I believe that Job’s blessing already came when he met God and heard God’s response to his agony. God, who laid the foundation of this world, is not confined to our understanding of good and evil. We may not understand God’s way because our limit in understanding. But we know that God is still working in this world inviting us to care for the sick, fight against hunger, pray for those who are in agony and pain, serve our community, do no harm, do all the good we can, and stay in love with God.
I asked my mother how the pastor who lost his son in Korea was doing a few years after the tragic accident. My mother told me this incredible story. Still suffering the loss his son, he had a dream one day. He was in heaven seeing the most beautiful things there. And he saw his own son, his son that he had been missing so much, is playing around with joy and happiness in his face. He did not hear anything from God in his dream. He just saw his son in peace and rest. When he woke up, he knelt and prayed to God, “Lord, thank you loving my son and caring for him in your presence.” I do not know if he fully understood why his son died in the accident. But this I know that he experienced God’s grace that night as he saw his son in heaven.
I would like to close my sermon by sharing another story about Horatio Spafford in 19th century. He was a successful lawyer. He had his beloved wife and children. In 1891 his first son died, followed by the Great Chicago Fire that ruined him financially. In trying to recover from these unpleasant accident, he decided to travel to Europe with his family. Since he had some remaining business regarding the Chicago Fire to take care of, his family - his wife and four daughters - left first on a ship. While crossing the Atlantic ocean, the ship sank rapidly after having a collision with a sailing ship. His four daughters died but his wife survived. So Spafford receives this famous telegram from her, “Saved Alone.” He took a ship to reunite with his wife in Europe. On his way, he came to the spot where his daughters drowned. At the spot, he wrote this song and I am going to share it with you this morning.
When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,?When sorrows like sea billows roll;?Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,?It is well, it is well, with my soul.
It is well, with my soul,?It is well, it is well, with my soul.
And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,?The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;?The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,?Even so, it is well with my soul.
It is well, with my soul,?It is well, it is well, with my soul.
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