From the Pulpit: Job teaches us the fullness of God

September 23, 2018

Rev. Justin Chapman, rector of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Rochester.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what Job is facing.

It’s not just his suffering (which is great) or his friends (who aren’t). It’s not the loss of wealth, health or family. It’s way bigger than any of that. Job is facing the death of God.

In brief, Job, who is righteous and innocent, loses everything: family, servants, animals, and even his health. He is miserable, abjectly so. His friends offer the comfort of their belief: since sin results in suffering and righteousness in reward, swift repentance will bring him restoration. Such is God’s justice. The crux, of course, that Job is both righteous and suffering. Job deduces that God must be wrong. His suffering is evidence that divine justice is broken.

This is the core of Job. How can we make sense of God’s justice in such clear evidence of its brokenness? If God is totally powerful and completely good, then innocent suffering is the proof that belief is foolishness and faith is without purpose. More than the loss of everything he has, this is what vexes Job: How can God exist, if this is how the world works?

It strikes me that modern Christians occupy a place that’s not terribly dissimilar to Job. The world our church grew up in has changed, and radically so. As people seem to care about church less and less, as attendance declines across denominations, our very survival seems to be up for grabs. Faith in God’s promise of unending life seems foolish when staring down the barrel of certain death. How can God exist, if this is how the world works?

Because it doesn’t work like this. Not for Job and not for us.

Job’s complaint finally breaks apart upon encountering the rock of the living God. God helps him understand that it is human beings who insist that the world reward us for good and punish others for evil — not God. God refuses to be pigeonholed into human categories. God will not accept a theology that constrains divine power to the limits of human imagination. The gratuitousness of God’s love transcends our limited idea of justice.

In the end, Job experiences the fullness of the living God and it destroys his preconceptions. This is a God whose works are beyond what he can ask or imagine, a God who brings life from death, a God who is in the midst of transforming the world right before his eyes. We are invited into that same experience. An experience that pulls us beyond the bounds of what is logical or possible or expected and into the endless field of God’s transforming love.

Ours is a God who loves our preconceptions into non-existence and us into fullness of life. That’s what Job is facing. And so are we.

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