“There’s Just One Little Problem”
A Series on Job
Job 1:1-3; 2:1-10
The Reverend Tasha Blackburn
October 8, 2017
When we read the book of Job, it would be only right for us to say, “Ok, wait, I have a question! The question that most people relate to this book is the question of theodicy. It’s a fancy word that simply means this: Why do bad things happen to good people? Of course this is a gigantic question and it is one that Job addresses but that one is for next week. This week we have another important question before us. It is one that the very beginning of this book poses and it is this: Why are we faithful? Why do we honor and love God? Why do we act in an upright way? This is the question: At the end of the day, why are we faithful?
Throughout the Bible, different authors have tried to answer this question. One of the most popular answers comes from the book of Deuteronomy. Here is what Deuteronomy 28 says: “If you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments…the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth.” And then a few verses later, the author writes: “But if you will not obey the voice of the Lord your God or be careful to do all his commandments…, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you.” The basic point from Deuteronomy? Be faithful and you will prosper; sin and you will suffer.
Now this is very important so please listen carefully: there is enough truth here to be dangerous. For of course our faithfulness reaps rewards and, of course, sinfulness leads to suffering, but does that mean that anyone who is prospering is faithful? And does that mean that anyone who is suffering has sinned? If we take this equation for faith to its extreme we end up with ludicrous discussions just like Jesus’ disciples had with him when they saw a blind man and their first question to Jesus was, “Who sinned, Jesus? Was it him or his parents?”
According to the author of Job these very equations and discussions have reached even to the court of heaven. With the heavenly beings gathered, Satan flips Deuteronomy on its head and says to God:
People are only faithful if they prosper. You take away their prosperity, Satan whispers in God’s ear, and so their faith will go away too.
And Satan may have a point. I didn’t use the word “equation for faith” lightly before. Because if we believe that our faithfulness to God is a kind of contract—one in which we do our part so now God owes us prosperity—then what happens if the contract is not kept? What happens if the equation does not add up?
Becoming a pastor is three years of graduate study. The first year in most any seminary is “sadly” known as the year of divorces. Year after year it happens that married couples who arrived on campus months before, are torn apart by the new equation. The stories usually go something like this: I married a surgeon; I married a radio jockey; I married a banker and I did not sign up to be married to a pastor. It was sad to watch it but it felt like it was almost inevitable because the equation had changed and one spouse felt like there had been a bait and switch. They hadn’t signed up for this so they were leaving.
I remember one case in particular. The soon-to-be pastor had been studying a lot about the famous theologian Karl Barth, and his wife was feeling neglected. She let him know she was leaving by piling every book of Karl Barth’s she could find onto the center of their bed. On top of the stack she left a note that read, “Congratulations! Now you can marry Karl!” I guess she wanted to be clear. None of us do well if we think we’ve been taken.
At this point you might be shouting in your own head: “I would never consider my faith a contract like that! That is other people’s false faith. The ones who host Christian channel shows and tell people God wants them to be rich while they lean on their gold piano. Those are the people who have made a contract out of faith, not me!” And you would be right. The folks who convince others that their faith will lead to wealth have done that. But what if your faithfulness to God leads you to a broken marriage anyway? What if a life of being upright doesn’t steer you clear of health problems? Or keep you from losing a child? Or ever allow you to feel the closeness of Christ’s presence?
If these things happened, would you still be faithful?
Wow. I know I said at the beginning that the book of Job asks a big question about why bad things happen to good people, and it does and it is a big question. But that question is about the nature of God and the world and evil. This week’s question which Job asks with flashing neon lights, this question is about us and it is huge: Why do it? Why be faithful?
Satan is sure that the answer is we are faithful as long as we prosper. As long as we are “healthy, wealthy, and wise” then we will be faithful to God. But Satan must be wrong. It is his way to twist what is best into something grotesque. We are not faithful because this is some kind of contract with God. We are faithful because we are never more like God than when we are.
Remember those famous words in the very first chapter of the Bible? In Genesis 1, God makes human beings and then we read, “So God created human beings in his own image; in the image of God he created them.” Consider that for a moment: we have been created to look like God. Somewhere within us is his very image. Many have wondered what it is in us that makes us look like God. What can we point to about us and say: That’s it! There is the family resemblance.
Some have said that our dominance over creation is what makes us look like God; or our minds are what make us like him. I believe the image of God that has been implanted in each of us is the ability to be faithful because it is right to do so, not because of what we gain from it. God has a history of doing this exact thing. Even all the way back to that garden in Eden he is faithful to Adam and to Eve even when they have been unfaithful to him. God gained nothing from his faithfulness to them. In fact, he has only felt the sting of loss, and yet he remains faithful because it is right to do; because he cannot help it; because it is who he is.
We see God do this over and over again. When his children dance around golden idols of their own making, when they choose an earthly king over him, when the ones he loves turn from him and make him carry his own cross to his death, he remains faithful. One could argue God’s faithfulness has not gained him very much. But he was not faithful so he could prosper. He was faithful because he could not ignore the ones he loves.
It is why we are faithful too. We are not faithful because our efforts will pave a smooth road for our lives. We are not faithful because of what we might gain. We are faithful because we have the very image of God within us and we cannot ignore the one we love. When we do this, we look more like God than ever before and we fulfill what it means to be human too.
Job is not going to make anything easy for us. He will not make anything simple. But he will press us again and again: why are you faithful? Why? Is it to prosper or is it to show a family resemblance to the one who made you? Amen.