Sermon for March 22nd, 2020
1 Then Bildad the Shuhite answered: 2 “Dominion and fear are with God; he makes peace in his high heaven. 3 Is there any number to his armies? Upon whom does his light not arise? 4 How then can a mortal be righteous before God? How can one born of woman be pure? 5 If even the moon is not bright and the stars are not pure in his sight, 6 how much less a mortal, who is a maggot, and a human being, who is a worm!”
1 Then Job answered: 2 “How you have helped one who has no power! How you have assisted the arm that has no strength! 3 How you have counseled one who has no wisdom, and given much good advice! 4 With whose help have you uttered words, and whose spirit has come forth from you? 5 The shades below tremble, the waters and their inhabitants. 6 Sheol is naked before God, and Abaddon has no covering. 7 He stretches out Zaphon over the void, and hangs the earth upon nothing. 8 He binds up the waters in his thick clouds, and the cloud is not torn open by them. 9 He covers the face of the full moon, and spreads over it his cloud. 10 He has described a circle on the face of the waters, at the boundary between light and darkness. 11 The pillars of heaven tremble, and are astounded at his rebuke. 12 By his power he stilled the Sea; by his understanding he struck down Rahab. 13 By his wind the heavens were made fair; his hand pierced the fleeing serpent. 14 These are indeed but the outskirts of his ways; and how small a whisper do we hear of him! But the thunder of his power who can understand?”
The Book of Job: (Un)Friended
So, one day Job and his three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar were all stranded on a deserted island. They were dehydrated, starving, and starting to get desperate, when Eliphaz discovered an old lamp sticking out of the sand. When he picked it up and brushed off the dirt, a Genie appeared, and offered to grant each one of them one wish. Zophar went first, and wished that the Genie might return him to his home and his family. Poof! Zophar's wish was granted. Bildad (who was very hungry) said, "Forget home--I wish that I were at Luby's with a fully stocked breakfast buffet!" And poof! Bildad's wish was granted. Eliphaz, the wisest of the friends, then made his wish, to be taken to a land of unlimited food, water and other resources, a land where there was no sickness or famine, where he might be nursed back to health and waited on hand and foot for the rest of his days. Poof! The Genie granted him his wish. Finally, it was Job's turn. He looked around at the now *very* deserted island, paused in the quiet and stillness for a few moments and then said. It sure is lonely here now. I kind of wish my friends were back with me again...
For those of you who are physically here with us today, you may be looking around and wishing our friends were back with us again. For those of you watching at home, you may be kind of lonely too, and wishing the same thing. Of course, we're all doing our best to be safe and responsible, and we are thankful for the technologies that allow us to remain connected in ways that weren't even possible 10 or 15 years ago.
In today's scripture passage from the Book of Job, we read the last words that any of Job's friends speak to him in the book. If you've been keeping up with our daily reading through the Book of Job, you may have noticed that the conversation between Job and his friends has been deteriorating for several chapters now, becoming more and more fragmented as they speak about each other and past each other, rather than to each other. After chapter 25, there is nothing but silence from Job's friends. He has effectively become "unfriended."
I want to look at where exactly this breakdown happens between Job and his friends, especially keeping in mind our own friendships. Especially this week, as most of those friendships are moving online, happening via telephone and facebook conversations--places where the rules of conversation and even friendship are different, and to many, unfamiliar.
Bildad's final speech in chapter 25 is a summary of what all three friends have been saying to Job: God is in charge of everything, the good and the bad--it's all his prerogative. The central question comes in verse 4: "How then can a mortal be righteous before God?" In other words, if God alone decides what is right, who are we to say that anything God does is wrong, even if we don't like it, even it seems harsh, cruel, or unjust?
In his closing words, Bildad again uses nature to make his point--if God is bigger, greater, more vast than the moon and the stars (the biggest things he can imagine) then by comparison we are worms, maggots (among the smallest things imaginable). Today you could put it this way: If you think of the vastness of the universe, stretching out for billions upon billions of miles in every direction, existing for billions of years before and after us...our lives are just a tiny speck in all that. Nothing we do, nothing we experience, from our greatest triumphs to our worst tragedies will even be remembered, will change anything, will amount to anything in the grand sweep of the cosmos.
Technically speaking, Bildad and the other friends are absolutely correct. But I love Job's response to all that at the beginning of chapter 26:
"How you have helped one who has no power! How you have assisted the arm that has no strength! How you have counseled one who has no wisdom, and given much good advice!"
Don't let anyone tell you that sarcasm is not part of the Bible. Job's friends are correct in their theology, but Job is also correct that they haven't really given him any advice.
Sometimes, in our conversations with our friends, we get so wrapped up in being right and correct that we forget to be helpful and kind. And sometimes, we forget that what may be the most important thing for us, may not be the most important thing for our friend.
Job actually agrees with his friends about God's absolute power and might: In chapter 26, he affirms this. Yes,
But at the very bottom of the chapter, we find out that Job is asking a very different question than the one his friends are asking.
Bildad's central question about God in chapter 25 is "How can mortals be righteous before God?
Job's central question about God is in chapter 26, verse 14: "These are indeed but the outskirts of his ways; and how small a whisper do we hear of him! But the thunder of his power who can understand?”
Job is more concerned with understanding God than being righteous before God. And even though both pursuits may be futile in the end, I think Job's is the deeper question. It's the kinder question.
- God speaks to us through circumstances, even tragic ones, and through friends, even imperfect ones.