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, Eliphas, 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...
Today's sermon is called (un)friended, in part because chapter 25 represents the very last words spoken to Job by his friends. Over the last several chapters, the friends' speeches have been getting shorter and shorter. They've been going in the same order: First Eliphaz, then Bildad, then Zophar. Round two: Eliphaz again, then Bildad, then Zophar. Round three begins with Eliphaz, then Bildad's incredibly short speech in this chapter, and Zophar doesn't even bother with a speech in round three. It's almost like they are giving up, frustrated and largely ignored by Job, in his grief and anger with God.
From here until the end of the book (16 more chapters), the friends have nothing more to say. No more words. No more arguments. Job is, effectively, unfriended.
That's an interesting word by the way--unfriended. It didn't really exist 15 years ago before Facebook. We used to use the expression "I made a friend" which implies some effort, some work. But today we click a button and "friend" someone, then click a button again to "unfriend" them. By the way, that's a great example of a phenomenon called "verbing" or "verbification" -- taking a word that is usually used as a noun, then turning it into a verb. Like when you "google" something. Or when you "concretize" your plans. Or when you "science" the heck out of something. In the immortal words of Bill Watterson, "Verbing weirds language."
But I digress. Shall we bible some more?
Bildad's final speech in chapter 25 is kind of 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. 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). I would 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. In fact, he goes on in the next ten verses to agree with them about God's vast and cosmic might: Yes, God binds the waters in his thick clouds and covers the face of the moon. Yes, God calls the heavens into being and makes the pillars of the earth tremble. But at the very bottom of the chapter, Job asks a very different question than his friends are asking. Bildad's central question is "How can mortals be righteous before God? And the presumed answer is, they can't. Job's central question about God is in 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.