We don’t tell Job’s story often, because it is complicated. It’s not easy to understand. It makes us uncomfortable. But I think that the story of Job holds one of the greatest gifts ever given.
The story begins with God and his buddies up in heaven, chatting away about things down below on earth. God was bragging about Job.
Such a fine man, a righteous man, a good man, a successful man.
One of God’s friends scoffed at God’s bragging. “You treat that man like a pet, always spoiling him, giving him whatever he wants. I’ll bet you that if you took away everything he has, he will curse you to your face.”
“You’re on!” said God, and without so much as a thought, Job lost everything. Thieves stole his flocks and killed his servants. His barns caught fire. His children died in a wind storm. He became sick with great sores all over his body. He sat down on the ashes of his house and prayed he’d never been born.
Three of his friends came to visit him – Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar.
“You must have done something wrong.” Bildad says “otherwise, why would God punish you.”
“God only punishes the wicked – you must have been wicked from birth” chimes in Eliphaz
“Listen to us” said Zophar, “We are elders with much wisdom. We know what we’re talking about. God is punishing you for something.”
“That’s impossible” says Job. I’ve done nothing wrong. I never broke the law, I helped my neighbour, I treated my employees fairly, I shared food with those who had none. I just don’t understand it.”
“Well, there’s your problem right there” His friends said. “you’re too self-righteous. You’re too proud of yourself. God hates that.”
Still Job was confused. How can a God who commanded us to love one another sit in judgement like that?
How can a God who commands us to love him treat people so poorly?
How can a God who demands justice act so unfairly? I don’t buy it.
I want to talk to God myself.
And so he does. Job calls out God for a conversation.
The frustrating thing about the book of Job is that God nevr gives Job an answer. Instead, God points Job to the universe and says “Isn’t it amazing? Look at the way a horse runs, with its mane flowing out behind it in the wind.
Look at the sea creatures and how they glide through the water without effort, how they frolic and play in the waves.
Look at the heavens, Orion’s belt and the constellations.
Look at the mountains and the clouds and the tiniest of flowers. Isn’t it amazing. Look beyond yourself, Job.”
And there it is. Look beyond yourself.
You see, the entire Book of Job, except for chapter 38 and 39, is all about what God is not. God does not sit in judgement, nor punish nor reward. God does not give this person cancer while that person dies of old age in their sleep. God does not give anyone a winning lottery ticket, fix hockey games – so stop praying for the Maple Leafs, or win wars!
God is not a moral accountant, keeping score. God does not have a nice and naughty list. MHeaven is not a Christmas present that we get for being good.
We have mistaken God for Santa Claus.
God is a child, born in poverty of immigrant parents.
When my first grandchild was born, the midwife handed him to my son, who gazed into that tiny face with such wonder and emotion, then he turned to me and with tears in his eyes held out that beautiful child. I looked up at my son and said: “Now you know how I feel about you.”
God’s love comes in the form of a child, so that we can gaze upon that child and know how God feels about us.
The power of God is your ability to love that child.
To love that child and every child.
To love every child to be born into an unknown future.
To love them so much that you protect the planet they will be born into.
To love them so much that you will demand justice and fairness and peace in the land.
This is the power of the Christmas story – the power that Job learns in his suffering.
It is the power of love.
It comes in a midnight clear and lifts us from our suffering. It takes us beyond ourselves. That love saves us.
It is the hope of the world. Thanks be to God!