The story of Job has been in our lectionary (our 3-year overview of the Bible) this past month. I’ve yet to include it in worship, however, because it cannot be easily diced. It’s understood best as one sweeping story. So to catch us up a bit: Job is a man who is right with God. And because of The Satan’s slimy character, a demand is placed on God to put Job's faith to the test. Because God believes in Job, it happens. Job loses family, health, wealth, everything. And during this time, Job's friends sit with him and try to answer that age-old question: why? In the end, none of their answers satisfy the deep question of why bad things happen to good people. So after 37 chapters of Job's suffering and questioning, God breaks the silence with words that give perspective to Job's life- and each of ours:
Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind: "Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me. "Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements — surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy? ["Can you lift up your voice to the clouds, so that a flood of waters may cover you? Can you send forth lightning, so that they may go and say to you, 'Here we are'? Who has put wisdom in the inward parts, or given understanding to the mind? Who has the wisdom to number the clouds? Or who can tilt the waterskins of the heavens, when the dust runs into a mass and the clods cling together? "Can you hunt the prey for the lion, or satisfy the appetite of the young lions, when they crouch in their dens, or lie in wait in their covert? Who provides for the raven its prey, when its young ones cry to God, and wander about for lack of food?"]
Who is it, Job, is it you who created every animal and human and thunderstorm in its infinite variety? Is it you, Emily? Can you satisfy the appetite of the young lions? Is it you, church, who has put wisdom in the inward parts? I didn’t think so.
God, that feels harsh, especially when life is throwing us too many curve balls already. But there’s a reason Job’s story is in the bible. There’s something happening here that speaks to the depths of what it is to be human, to suffer without answers. God speaking out of a whirlwind feels so appropriate, because the challenges we face are a bit like bracing ourselves against a strong SD wind, feeling the sheer magnitude of a force greater than ourselves at work. And Job’s story asks us to consider God not on the outside looking in, but right in the eye of the storm with us, facing the chaos by our side. If this is true, and we believe God is with us in the storm, how might that change the way we pray through challenges and suffering? How might it shape how we see God in this world, in our own lives?
Job’s story is a mirror of our own stories. Maybe your story seems less intense, sure. Occasionally, however, each of us knows deep in our bones that it’s our story too. Think of the last time you asked yourself: Why do bad things happen to good people? Or maybe more to the point: “Why me, God? Why me?” Job’s ancient story is as current as it gets, each of us looking for answers to why we must suffer. And none of us yet able to fathom God’s response.
I'd like to flesh out 3 truths in Job's story:
1. Human suffering is unpredictable and unfair. It is. Job was a man full of integrity- and he lost everything, for no fault of his own. Some people live healthy lifestyles and get cancer anyway. “God, why me?” Car accidents end the lives of teenagers. "God, why her?” Suicide happens in families who least expect it. “God, what could I have done?” Infidelity affects marriages of people from all walks of life. “God, how could he?” Children are lost to miscarriages and stillbirths every single day. “God, how dare you!” Life is not fair, nor is suffering predictable. But here’s truth #2.
2. We can question God's silence without losing faith. I think this is key to Job’s universal appeal. Job is in anguish and cries out to God for understanding. He knows his sin has not caused the suffering (even when his friends mistakenly tried to make him believe this). He does want an answer to “why me?” And when God finally speaks, we learn that after all that questioning, God still considers Job a man of faith. To question God is not to lose faith. I need to hear that again, do you? To question God is NOT to lose faith. “Why me, God?” The questions keep us praying, engaged, keep us hoping for greater understanding one day. Questions keep us connected to God, which brings us to truth #3:
3. God does not abandon us, ever. Oh it might feel an awful lot like God has abandoned you when your mom dies young from cancer. It might feel like God doesn’t even exist when we hear the news of missing and murdered indigenous women right here in our community. But just because we feel God is absent, doesn’t make it so. I love this thought from Jim Wallis. After the earthquake in Haiti, when everyone was looking to point spiritual fingers, Wallis said: "My God does not cause evil. God is not a vengeful being, waiting to strike us down; instead, God is in the very midst of this tragedy, suffering with those who are suffering. When evil strikes, it's easy to ask, where is God? The answer is simple: God is suffering with those who are suffering." God never abandoned Job- and God never abandons you and me.
I believe this, in a God who suffers alongside us; in fact, it's the only way I can make sense of bad things happening to good people. but I can get to feeling sorry for myself sometimes anyway. Why me? Why melanoma? Why do I have to keep carving parts of my skin out to stay alive?
What’s your “why me?” Maybe more importantly, how do you redirect your attention long enough to hear God speak to you out of the whirlwind? Yesterday our family climbed one of these gorgeous buttes by the river. My new excision on my leg was smarting a bit- and at first I paused, the voice inside my head telling me a climb wouldn’t do it any favors….but I kept going and thank God, because I was wrong. When I reached the top of that butte, I heard another voice- the voice of God whistling in the wind, a force much greater than my own self pity. Reminding me to look up, to breathe deeply, to be inspired by a change of perspective. Yes, suffering is unfair. Yes, we question God. Yes, God is still with us.
So the next time you and I question “why me?” let’s listen to the voice of one who says, "Who laid this earth's cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?" It wasn't you, Job. It wasn't you, Emily. It wasn't you, church. It wasn’t any of us, was it?
We don’t have to know why things happen to trust that God hears our hardship, loves us regardless, and wants to enter into the mess alongside us. This trust doesn't change our circumstances so much as it offers a new way of being in the midst of struggle. A way of faith that we are never, ever alone. I often find the people who have the greatest spiritual peace are those who've been through tremendous suffering and have believed that God was with them the entire time. That's powerful, because it's true, and it's also the answer we've all been waiting for. Amen.
Rev. Emily Munger
delights in connecting sacred texts with everyday life.