Theology in action: Job’s terrible, horrible, no good days

Sermon given on Sunday, October 11

Scripture lesson:  Job 23:10-17

10 “But he knows where I am going.
And when he tests me, I will come out as pure as gold.
11 For I have stayed on God’s paths;
I have followed his ways and not turned aside.
12 I have not departed from his commands,
but have treasured his words more than daily food.
13 But once he has made his decision, who can change his mind?
Whatever he wants to do, he does.
14 So he will do to me whatever he has planned.
He controls my destiny.
15 No wonder I am so terrified in his presence.
When I think of it, terror grips me.
16 God has made me sick at heart;
the Almighty has terrified me.
17 Darkness is all around me;
thick, impenetrable darkness is everywhere.

We all have them—terrible, horrible, no good days. These are the days that drain us to nothing. We feel beaten down, worn out, pain-ridden, and exhausted to the nth degree.

The phone rings and we dread answering it. We turn on the TV to breaking news of yet another shooting. We look out the windows to see yards and fields in need of rain. We open the inbox and see emails filled with issues from our own friends and family. The terrible, horrible, no good day just seems to get worse and worse.

Job’s life is no different than any one of our bad days. The list of afflictions he endured makes our days seem insignificant. Yet Job always kept his faith in God. He is an example of theology in action.

Job is the Old Testament’s Alexander. Judith Vorst’s children’s book is a favorite about how life can seem so overwhelming may make us laugh and smile as we read/hear all the trials and tribulations of this little guy. From the moment he wakes up with gum in his hair, through his school day, even each stop on the way home—shoe store and Dad’s office—trouble just seems to swirl around Alexander.

Job is an ancient version of Alexander. Job is no different than any one of us on those days where it seems we go from bad to worse over and over in just one day! All of us have terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days. We can empathize with Alexander. We understand his pain.

Now, we can understand or empathize with Job, but the piece of the story that has surprised me is that the story is identified as dramatic fiction. The story of Job is literature, not a historical record. I could not believe it! All my life, I thought Job’s list of woes was an accurate record of how all kinds of bad things can happen to someone who everybody knows is good.

I never read the Bible literally because a college class on folklore. The Bible is the written record of humanity’s oral history. Oral storytelling carefully preserved historical events, maintained genealogical relationships, provided educational curriculum, and even entertainment.

The task of preserving the oral records was the responsibility of gifted storytellers who were selected, trained and practiced individuals in the communities. The responsibility was enormous and the storyteller was revered.

As the oral word was captured and published in written form, the decision on what religious material was included in the scriptures also had to be made. Church leaders had to come to consensus on what was sacred. The Bible’s books are the history and the literature, the textbook and the hymnal of God’s faithful—first the 12 tribes of Israel and then the Christians.

Job is literature and not historical data. His story, much like Alexander’s, teaches readers putting theology into action is no guarantee life is going to be easy. God does not reward faithful behavior with tangible wealth. Yet during ancient times, tangible success was evidence God rewarded those faithful to the Law.

Job’s good days ended when Satan challenged God that Job could not possibly remain faithful when facing devastation. God is confident Job will remain faithful even when challenged by the loss of his family, the destruction of his livestock, the loss of his wealth, even the loss of his health. Satan’s effort to destroy Job’s theology fails and God trust in Job is proven.

Job’s terrible, horrible very bad days are no different than Alexander’s nor ours. Just because something makes life difficult, we must never lose faith in God’s presence. When life is good, saying we believe in God is easy. When life gets messy, we must not waiver. God does not leave our sides, we leave God’s side.

Theology is personal. Our faith in God cannot be wrapped up and presented to us. Faith in God is often found in some of the worst situations. Having terrible, horrible days tests our faith. A loss challenges us to continue loving God. Nature’s fury may destroy our homes, but God does not.

[Explain how even my days can hit a wall and when drained, turn to God.]

The Serenity Prayer

God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
As it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
If I surrender to His Will;
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life
And supremely happy with Him
Forever and ever in the next.

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