By Pastor Krista Givens
September 10th, 2017
Today we continue our sermon series on HOPE. This series grew out of a feeling that we as a species – human beings around the world – were sinking into a pit of despair. Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, wildfires across the West, an 8.1 earthquake in Mexico, the rise of terrorism, white supremacy, bigotry and hatred: just one of these is enough to send us into a spiral of despair; enough to propel us to cry out (like the author of Psalm 130):
1 Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.
2Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
to the voice of my supplications!
When we are faced with tragedy – personal or collective tragedy – : the death of a spouse or a child, the loss of a job or a marriage, a natural disaster or a man-made disaster, we stop and look around. We ask questions and sometimes we even change our lives in response.
Tomorrow is 16th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington DC. A day in which 3000 people were eliminated from the earth in an instant… but the effect of this terrorist act has impacted the world and our very souls.I feel changed by this event, like Hope is harder to find. What is there to be hopeful about? How can we continue to live in a world in which the atmosphere of violence and fear is so overwhelming?
So I ask again, “what – in this dark world – gives you hope?”
When faced with divorce, death, illness, challenges that seem like too much to endure, we have the capacity to be witness to the grace of God; we have the capacity to be the people we were created to be; we have the capacity to see the hope rising like a phoenix from the ashes of despair.
Our scripture lesson today is the story of Job. No story in the bible – excepting perhaps the death of Jesus himself – rivals the suffering of Job: a righteous man, a man with everything going for him, a man who did everything right… and a man who endured tragedy after tragedy, losing everything…except his faith. In his story we can see a small seeds of HOPE planted along the way.
Job was a righteous man. Job had a wife and 10 children – seven sons and three daughters. God was well- pleased with Job –he is an example of the perfect piety.
Well, the “sons of God” and Satan (literally called ‘the adversary’) present themselves to God, and God asks Satan his opinion on Job. Satan says, “Well, this man is only faithful only because You have protected him and blessed him with possessions and family and prosperity. But, “ said Satan, “if he lost his possessions, then he would turn away and curse God.”
So God says… “Okay, let’s see.” And so, all of Job’s possessions are destroyed; 500 yoke of oxen, 500 donkeys, 7000 sheep, the 3000 camels were stolen, destroyed by fire, killed… In addition, the house of the firstborn collapsed, due to a mighty wind, killing all of Job’s offspring – his 10 children – but even so, Job did not curse God. Instead, Job shaved his head, tears his clothes and says, “Naked I came out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return: Lord has given, and Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord”. (Job 1:15-22)
And so it goes, Job is afflicted with boils and bleeding sores, all kinds of physical and emotional torture and still he continues his faithful devotion to God. His wife prompts him to “curse God, and die” but Job answers, “You speak as one of the foolish speaks. Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?” (Job 2:10) His three friends spent seven days sitting beside Job trying to convince him to curse God. But in the end curses – not God – but the day he was born.
How often have we felt like Job – wondering why we have been afflicted with so much. We’ve been good, righteous even, and these awful things have happened….. Throughout his troubles Job does not lose his faith, but eventually, after being worn down by poverty and loss, by death and disease, eventually he demands some explanation from God. “I believe in you, my Lord, and I worship you rightly. I have given you my life and I believe all good things come from you. So if you are good, why do you afflict me with such tragedy?”
What can we learn from this awful and cruel story? Using the example of Job, we can find hope beyond tragedy:
- ENDURANCE: Why did he keep going? Why didn’t he just give up? 13th century philosopher and theologian Thomas Aquinas explained that our natural human reaction to evil is sorrow. And sorrow, when we can’t escape it, easily degenerates into despair. The endurance of suffering, therefore, involves active resistance to being overcome by despair. This is an energetic and courageous clinging to something good, a decision to hope. Thus, in contrast to his wife’s resentment and resignation, Job’s courage enables him to say, “The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21). (1)
- COURAGE: I think it is a natural human response for us –when confronted with such awful circumstances – to seek out acts of courage in the stories of “What really happened.” The firefighters who run into burning buildings, the police who step INTO the firefight, the volunteers who show up to help, the strangers who – in an instant – transform into heroes. St. Augustine defines courage as “love readily bearing all things for the sake of the object beloved.” (2) When we endure tragedy – we have a choice: fall into despair, or bear all things because of the power of the love we feel for the object of our love. We must have something to love more than the suffering and pain we fear. “The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him,” G. K. Chesterton once said of courage, “but because he loves what is behind him.”(3)
- FAITH: And finally… we can find hope in the FAITH that perseveres even through tragedy. That is not to say Job just took it… he just accepted his trials without questioning. He did question. He railed against God. He got angry at God. He was furious at his loss and all the suffering he endured. But he remained in relationship with God and that relationship – that faith – did not die with his sons and daughter, did not die when his possessions were destroyed, did not die when the towers fell, did not die when the floods overtake us. That relationship – between God and humankind – endures.
And we may never get an answer to our “Why?” God responds to Job by saying that there are so many things Job does not know about how this world was formed or how nature works, that Job should consider God as being greater than the thunderstorm and strong enough to pull in the leviathan with a fishhook.
We live now in the shadow of the towers, in the ashes of the years of wildfires, in the aftermath of horrendous tragedy. We live in the midst of that unanswered WHY with no impending answer…
And yet, the most frequent command God gives us in scripture is “Do not be afraid…. Fear not.” God commands us to live – not in fear –but in the knowledge that love and faith can endure throughout the sufferings we endure.
In 1873, Horatio Spafford, an American lawyer, wrote the hymn we sang earlier in our service, “It Is Well with My Soul.” It was written after a hard two years in Horatio’s life: His only son died in 1871 at the age of four from scarlet fever. Then, his financial life was ruined when his property was destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Then in 1873, he had planned to travel to Europe with his family on the SS Ville du Havre, but sent the family ahead while he was delayed on business concerning zoning problems following the Great Chicago Fire. While crossing the Atlantic, the ship sank rapidly after a collision with a sailing ship and all four of Spafford’s daughters died. His wife Anna survived and sent him a telegram that read, “Saved alone.” Shortly afterwards, as Spafford traveled to meet his grieving wife, he was inspired to write these words as his ship passed near where his daughters had died.
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.
In the face of grief, in the face of tragedy, we have a choice: we can choose sorrow, despair, and the unending undertow of fear and anger. OR we can move beyond our sorrow and anger and fear and see the strength, endurance, courage and faith that is ever-present, as is God… We can choose to look at our life and see that whether in times of peace or in times of sorrow, God is with us. That it all times of life – even in the face of death and destruction – God is with us to comfort us, to give us hope, to guide us from hatred into action. And until then, we wait. As Psalm 130 instructs us:
5I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
6my soul waits for the Lord
more than those who watch for the morning,
more than those who watch for the morning. 7O Israel, hope in the Lord!
For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
and with him is great power to redeem.
8It is he who will redeem Israel
from all its iniquities.
1. REBECCA KONYNDYK DEYOUNG, “Power Made Perfect in Weakness”, Copyright © 2005 Center for Christian Ethics at Baylor University, found on http://www.baylor.edu/christianethics/SufferingarticleDeYoung.pdf
2. St. Augustine, De moribus ecclesiae catholicae et de moribus Manicheorum (On the Morals of the Catholic Church), XV.25, found in De Young.
3. G.K. Chesterson, Illustrated London News, January 14, 1911, found in De Young.