7/17/16 – Job 14:7-15, 19:23-27 – Faith that Refuses Darkness
Posted on July 21, 2016 | Posted by Pastor Daniel
Pastor Daniel’s sermon for July 17, 2016
Text: Job 14:7-15, 19:23-27
“For there is hope for a tree, if it is cut down, that it will sprout again, and that its shoots will not cease. Though its root grows old in the earth, and its stump dies in the ground, yet at the scent of water it will bud and put forth branches like a young plant. But mortals die, and are laid low; humans expire, and where are they? As waters fail from a lake, and a river wastes away and dries up, so mortals lie down and do not rise again; until the heavens are no more, they will not awake or be roused out of their sleep. Oh that you would hide me in Sheol, that you would conceal me until your wrath is past, that you would appoint me a set time, and remember me! If mortals die, will they live again? All the days of my service I would wait until my release should come. You would call, and I would answer you; you would long for the work of your hands. …
O that my words were written down! O that they were inscribed in a book! O that with an iron pen and with lead they were engraved on a rock forever! For I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!”
Two weeks ago we asked a question, and the answer became an invitation to the book of Job. The question was: Is it possible to have genuine faith in a world that’s far from perfect? Is it possible to hold on to both the darkness of this world, and the light of God?
At the start of this book, Job, good old Job who had faith and prosperity like none other, he’s stripped of his fortune and family and cast into suffering and despair. And there he answers our question with a yes. There is a faith that holds on to both the darkness and the light. A genuine faith. The sort of faith we actually might need in this world of refugees and cancer and police shooting citizens and citizens shooting police and trucks driving through joyful crowds. Job says yes, there is a sort of faith like that. And with that yes we are invited into the rest of the book to explore what that faith might look like.
Last week, Pastor Dan took us to the dark side of that faith, when we come face to face with the suffering of this world. The result is lament. Not to hide away from the sorrow which lurks within us when confronted with such pain, but to acknowledge it, express it, live in it.
Job, good old Job who was the president of the neighborhood association and assistant coach on his kids’ soccer team sort of guy, before the rug was pulled out from under him – Job was a skilled lamenter when confronted with despair. “Let the day perish in which I was born,” he cries.
We’d do well to learn a lesson from Job. These days it seems admitting to sorrow is either weak or it might open us up to more of it. Better to remain positive, we like to say. Yeah? Well, how’s that working out? As we’ve known in our own community all too well this last week, these last couple months, the darkness is there, and we can’t hide from it forever.
But what about the light? The faith we seek does not just acknowledge the darkness in our world, it does not solely lament, but it also acknowledges God. It calls on God, and ultimately finds a way to trust and hope in God, even with words of lament still ringing in the air. In order for this faith to be genuine, it must come to terms with the darkness. And, in order for it to be faith, it must hold on to the light.
Good old Job is in a desperate search for this light, a desperate search for some hope that the suffering will end, that his estrangement from God will end. And, to be honest, this light is hard for him to come by. The first attempt at it comes from his friends – who turn out to be more like frenemies. The friends try to point to a sense of divine justice as a source of light. Surely, they remind Job over and over, surely you must have sinned to be punished so?
It sounds so silly, right? That there must be a just reason for such suffering? But we do it, too. We want to blame cancer on diet, violence on the victim’s attitude, heartbreak on a personality default. We want there to be a just reason for everything.
It’s all nonsense. Our fortune and health and happiness are the result of luck as much as anything. Most of us weren’t born in rural Afghanistan, or with a debilitating disease, or in extreme poverty. The logic of just causes for every bit of suffering is plain old nonsense, and Job knows it.
He knows that if he’s going to find some source of light, some source of hope in God and in reconciliation with God, it will have to come from something other than a sense of tit-for-tat divine justice.
But where? In the midst of his lament, Job searches for some glimmer of light, but can find none. He looks for light in the example of a small branch sprouting from the dead stump of a tree. Perhaps, like that sprout, Job is due for some new life. A good thought, but it doesn’t seem to work for Job. He finds no hope in that idea.
He wonders if he could perhaps just wait it out, wait out the suffering. No, that won’t work. He imagines getting his day in court, proving his innocence. Perhaps then he would get some relief, or at least he’d be able to show his friends how wrong they were. But no day in court comes, and Job does not gain much comfort in the idea, anyway.
He can’t even find comfort in lamenting with others! You know, misery loves company. Because everyone has abandoned him. His family – those who are left – have fled. His friends have done the same. Only these three remain, and they’ve turned on him. At this point in the story, Job’s search for light is starting to seem pretty pointless. He’s alone. He’s got nothing. He’s hopeless.
And then, almost out of nowhere, he finds it. It isn’t a lot of light. Just a small bit in an unlikely place. It might not even be hope, but something that resembles it, something that might just get him by.
Out of nowhere, Job proclaims: “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth.” I know that my redeemer lives.
The redeemer was a very specific role in ancient Israel. The job of the redeemer was to restore the rights of another. Perhaps the best example comes from the book of Ruth, which follows the story of Naomi. Naomi travels far from Bethlehem, her home to Moab. There her husband and two recently married sons die. Left with nothing, Naomi returns to Bethlehem with her daughter-in-law, Ruth. And there, despite her great poverty and despair, Naomi is saved by a distant relative, Boaz, who marries Ruth and restores Naomi to her family and her community. Boaz was a redeemer for Naomi. He brought her back. He restored her place in the world.
“I know that my redeemer lives,” Job proclaims with such unexpected vigor. His hope, or the closest thing he has to it, comes in the idea of a redeemer, one who will restore him. One who will bring him back. I know that my redeemer lives.
But, why? How? How do you know this, Job? What gives you the gumption, the nerve, to say this? Why on earth would you believe there is a redeemer for you? Everyone is gone, or has turned on you, or has died! Even God seems to have turned on you. So who do you have in mind here? I know that my redeemer lives. Really? Who?
We don’t know. Scholars have argued about it for far too long. Our translation of the Bible tries to hint at who the redeemer may be by capitalizing the ‘R,’ a gentle way of telling us it is Christ. Which, of course, we believe to be true as Christians, but the author of Job probably did not. Alas, you can’t just capitalize something and turn it into Jesus.
Here’s a thought: maybe Job didn’t know who the redeemer was. Maybe he didn’t have someone in mind at all. Maybe he hadn’t thought it all the way through and come to a logical conclusion about the source of his hope, the source of his light. Maybe this is just Job’s refusal to let go of the light. Maybe, in the midst of such darkness, he is expressing his own rejection of the idea that the darkness has consumed everything forever. Maybe what’s more important than Job proclaiming a redeemer, is that he shouts it out into the dark.
In a way it reminds me of Ruth again. Naomi had given up all hope. She returned to Bethlehem to die in her homeland, she held no aspirations for life. But Ruth refused to let go. Despite all evidence to the contrary. Despite having absolutely no logical reason for doing so, Ruth decides to go out into the field hoping someone will save her, redeem her – a foreign widow! Ha! The idea is absurd. But off she goes. Ruth refuses to let go of the light.
Or take Abraham, who carries his only son up a mountain to slaughter him, as God asked him to. When Isaac asks “Where is the ram for the offering?” Abraham replies “God will provide.” God will provide?! How ridiculous! But Abraham declares it anyway. In the darkest day of his life, and despite all evidence to the contrary, Abraham proclaims a small piece of light. He refuses to let go of it.
Or take David marching towards Goliath. Or Ananias going to meet Saul. Or the crowds who flocked to John the Baptist. Or Naaman, the king of Syria, going to be healed by Elisha. Or Jesus who marched to his own death proclaiming new life for everyone. The absurdity of it all!
Sometimes faith is a living breathing confidence. The sort of thing that you would risk your life on. The sort of thing that cannot be shaken.
But other times, faith is simply a rejection of the idea that all is darkness. Not necessarily a rejection that you choose, mind you, but more one that wells up from deep within you. It might last only a moment. But in it you discover something akin to hope, some impulse within that says redemption, restoration – restoration to God, to life, to one another – restoration is possible and there is light somewhere beyond this darkness.
Throughout this book, Job acknowledges the sorrow that is within him. He acknowledges the darkness that has consumed him. We can do that, too. We can lament and name the darkness in this world for what it is.
But we can also join Job in refusing to leave it at that. Refusing like that, it probably doesn’t really feel like faith. Not the blind trust we’re used to thinking of when we talk about faith. Maybe it isn’t faith. Maybe it’s just enough to sustain our faith, to keep the pilot light on during those darkest of nights. Maybe when all else fails, and all hope seems lost, we can let that little pilot light that lurks deep within us cast it’s small light into the room, and we can refuse to believe that all is dark and always will be.
Maybe this strange sort of faith is just enough to keep us going.
So, we join Job in proclaiming “I know that my redeemer lives.” We shout it into the darkness, waiting, willing for a voice to reply from the other side.
And it does.
But that’s next week. Amen.