Top of Page ILLUMINATING AND THINKING ABOUT THE SERMON
One sunny afternoon two ministers were out for a ride together. Suddenly, though, the minister behind the wheel looked in the rearview mirror and noticed that a police car was behind them with its lights flashing. The minister proceeded to pull over, and when the officer approached him, he asked, "What's wrong, officer? I couldn't have been speeding. I was only going 19 mph." The officer replied, "That's the problem, sir. You were going 19 mph, but the speed limit on this road is 55. You're going much too slow." The minister responded, "That's not possible! I just passed a sign back there, and the sign said it was 19." The officer said, "Sir, that was the route number. This is Route 19."
Fortunately, the officer was in a good mood and was just about to them go with a warning when he decided to look inside the car. When he did, he noticed that the other minister was sitting in the passenger seat with a horrified look on his face, white as a ghost, and with his hands clutching the dashboard. "What's wrong with him?" the officer asked. The minister who was driving said, "I'm not sure. But he's been that way ever since we were on Route 121."
How do we make sense of the signs we see? Can we really understand God by seeing signs on the side of the road? Can we really understand the many signs that God sends or does God even send signs? Do we miss seeing God because we have so much negative news? Do we fail to read the sings God sends us because all we can see is evil?
This story in Job is an opportunity to consider how we make sense of the signs we see. This narrative is an invitation to consider how we make sense of the signs of evil and suffering that appear in the world around us and in our own lives.
The storyline is rather shocking to most people. After all, we usually assume that God is in the business of punishing bad people and rewarding good people. But the Bible makes it quite explicit that the one being afflicted, Job, is most certainly a good person. In fact, from the way the Bible talks about him, it sounds like Job must have been the most faithful man in all the world. He was the sort of fellow who went to church every week. He donated blood every time there was a drive. And he showed up to drive for Meals on Wheels every morning, even on the snowiest days. Job was a good guy! There weren't any skeletons in his closet.
Yet one day up in heaven, God has a chat with Satan. As the commentaries are quick to point out, the Satan figure in this story should not be equated with the Satan that we encounter in the New Testament. Rather "Satan" is the transliteration of the Hebrew word that means "accuser." This Satan is the God-appointed district attorney.
As God and Satan proceed to discuss Job's character, with God doting over Job's perfection and loyalty, Satan responds, "Hah! The only reason Job is such a goody-two-shoes is because you keep rewarding him all the time. If you took away all that good stuff you've given him, he'd turn on you in a second."
Therefore, God allows Satan to put Job to the test. God permits Satan to take away Job's house, his money, and his health, even his family from him. The following forty chapters then attempt to make sense out of what happened. Through it all, the basic question posed is: When we see signs of evil and suffering, what is that saying to us about God?
Throughout the history of the Christian church, the existence of evil has always been a problem. Simply put, the problem is that we want to believe three things, yet it does not seem that those three things fit together. First, we want to believe that God is good, that God wants what is best for us. Second, we want to believe that God is all-powerful; that God made the universe out of nothing and that God can do anything God wants to. And third, we are forced to acknowledge that there is evil in the world.
The dilemma is: If God is good and all-powerful, why is there evil? If God is a good God, it doesn't seem to make sense that God would want there to be evil around. And if God is all-powerful, that would seem to mean that if God wanted to get rid of evil, God could. So why is there evil? That is a question that faithful people have been struggling with across the centuries.
Perhaps one of the better suggestions as to how to resolve this conundrum was offered by the ancient church leader Irenaeus. He contended that for some reason God has decided that it is better for good to come out of evil than not to allow any evil to exist at all. According to Irenaeus, if God had wanted to create a universe where there was only good, and no evil, God could have done that. But for some reason, God has determined that it is better for there to be a universe where there is evil, yet in time, out of that evil comes good.
John Calvin liked to use this image. He told people to think of our journey through life as like a journey through a labyrinth. A labyrinth is like a maze, yet the difference is that a labyrinth does not have any dead ends. As long as you keep moving forward, you eventually get to the end. Calvin suggested that is what our Christian lives are like. At times we might feel like we're going nowhere. At times we might even feel that we're being thrown backwards or in the wrong direction. But as long as we keep trusting in God and moving forward, we can trust that God will bring us through the labyrinth that we call life and bring us to our final destination.
In times of celebration and singing, God is with us. In times of sickness and sadness, God is with us. We might wish that God would only send us the good. But for some reason that is not what God has chosen to do. The reality is that at times God allows evil—or at least permits evil—into our lives. But even so, we can trust that through it all, God is at work to bring about good—to bring about a greater good than we could ever imagine. Because without evil could we limited human beings recognize good?
The great dilemma for Job was the problem of theodicy. How could God be sovereignly good given the suffering among apparently innocent people and yet the prosperity of the wicked? Gradually Job learnt that it was indeed his duty to continue to serve God. He came to recognize his unworthiness in the presence of such a great God while still refusing to accept the simple equation that suffering is always a result of an individual's sin (Job 29–31). He learnt that he must accept God as he is and knew that, while he could always bare his heart to God, he could not answer God (Job 40:1–3). (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Job%201:1-Job%202:13)
Theodicy, in its most common form, is an attempt to answer the question of why a good God permits the manifestation of evil, thus resolving the issue of the problem of evil. Some theodicies also address the evidential problem of evil by attempting "to make the existence of an all-knowing, all-powerful and all-good or omnibenevolent God consistent with the existence of evil or suffering in the world." Unlike a defense, which tries to demonstrate that God's existence is logically possible in the light of evil, a theodicy attempts to provide a framework wherein God's existence is also plausible. The German mathematician and philosopher Gottfried Leibniz coined the term "theodicy" in 1710 in his work Théodicée, though various responses to the problem of evil had been previously proposed. The British philosopher John Hick traced the history of moral theodicy in his 1966 work, Evil and the God of Love, identifying three major traditions...
On another day, the angels (servants of God) gathered in heaven to see God. The accuser, called Satan, came with them to see God.
In chapter 1, Satan (the devil) wanted Job to insult God. Job refused to obey Satan. So Job was still a good man. Job had many troubles. He lost everything. His children were dead. But Job still respected God. And Job continued to praise God. This was bad news for Satan.
Then Satan decided to oppose Job again. Satan is a powerful enemy, but he can also be stupid. Satan thought that illness would make Job insult God. But Job was a good man. Job trusted God. Job would not obey Satan. In Verses 4-6 we find Satan asking God to hurt Job. But God does not want people to be ill. And nobody will be ill in heaven (Revelation 21:4). So, God did not hurt Job. But God allowed Satan to test Job. So, we find Satan making Job ill. Job’s skin was very painful. This was a terrible test. Job had suffered very many troubles in chapter 1. And now, Job was ill. Job made a tool that he rubbed against the spots. This made the spots less painful. Job sat on the ash heap. This was the tradition of Job’s people. A very sad person would sit on the ashes. Then everyone would know that something terrible had happened.
Although Job’s troubles were great, Job’s words were not evil. Satan wanted Job to insult God. Here, Job’s own wife also wanted Job to insult God. She was like Eve, who told Adam not to obey God.
We should not listen to evil advice. Sometimes our best friends speak terrible advice. We should not obey anyone whose advice is evil. Perhaps Job’s wife thought that Job should kill himself. But Job would not do this. Our lives are a gift from God. We should sympathize with people who want to die. We should care for them. And we should show them that life is God’s gift. Life is precious. Or, perhaps Job’s wife thought that God would punish Job with death. But, this idea is also wrong. We should never do evil things. And many evil people insult God, but they continue to live. After death, God will punish every evil person. Therefore, everybody should trust God. God will forgive each person that invites God into his or her life.
Job thought that God had done evil things to Job. Job thought that this was fair. He knew that God did many good things. So, Job would not hate God if God did some evil things. But Job’s ideas were wrong. God is good. He never does any evil things.Job’s words were not evil because Job was sincere. Job was still trying to respect God. Job still gave honor to God.
The whole argument about theodicy can be the center of this week’s sermon. However, the whole idea of “why is there evil” is quickly and easily misunderstood. The other fruitful area to be considered is all about the signs God gives us in life. There are all kinds of signs in our lives that point to God around us. In fact, this constant presence of God who is always with us is one of the greatest answers to the whole question of “why does God allow evil.” God allows but is always with us in case God is needed.
Top of Page ILLUSTRATING THE SERMON
A cartoon pictures a cloud with two small angels talking to a large bearded man. They say, "Apparently only two kinds of things can happen to them things that are covered by insurance, and things they blame on you." (Bob Thaves, [Frank & Ernest, November 18, 1994]).
Anna Michener (an adopted name) was physically abused as a child by both parents and a grandmother who poked her with knitting needles. At age 14, she was committed to a state mental hospital. Other young people in the hospital gave her the name "Crazy Girl" when she stubbornly spoke out against "…being cooped up, constantly monitored, watching as some kids were wrestled to the floor or subdued with drugs." The name made her feel that she was sane.
Anna was eventually released to her mother, who became ill shortly afterward, and unable to care for her. A high school friend asked his grandparents, the Micheners, to take her in. They became her guardians, and gave her freedom and love and showed her, by example, how to live. "If they didn't save my actual physical life…they made my life worth living," says Anna.
Anna wrote a memoir of her life, Becoming Anna, which was published by the University of Chicago Press. (Sharon Cohen, Crazy Girl tells the world how she survived [The San Francisco Examiner, September 6, 1998], pp. A8-9).
Where possible, people often try to take measures to prevent disaster from befalling them. When the movie stars traveled to the Oscar ceremonies this past spring, many of them paid $2,000 to ride in steel-plated limousines. Ford has introduced a $140,000 Lincoln Town Car BPS. The BPS stands for "Ballistic Protection Series." The vehicle is designed to protect its occupants from an AK-47 and hand grenades. General Motors is producing an armored Cadillac Deville that is able to withstand close-range shots from a .44 magnum. Not to be outdone, BMW is launching its 760Li High Security, which can be hermetically sealed in the event of a poison gas attack and can provide its passengers with germ-free oxygen.
We may say right away that this is an important book and is a certain must for anyone dealing with this subject from the stand-point of a philosophy of religion. In the first two-thirds of the book John Hick―the Lecturer in the Philosophy of Religion in the University of Cambridge―sets out two forms of theodicy. There is the Augustinian type in which evil is regarded as privation of good stemming from man’s misuse of his freedom. The Irenaean type, by contrast, conceives man’s fall, to quote a phrase on our own account from J. V. Langmead Casserlly (Apologetics and Evangelism, p. 52), as a ‘primitive failure to make the leap from innocence to righteousness at the point at which such a step is necessitated by the process of their evolution’.
Dr. Hick sees the Augustinian type of thought as writ large in Catholic theology, running through Hugo of St. Victor, Aquinas and finding faithful exposition in contemporary Thomist presentations, as these are illustrated in, for example, Charles Journet’s Le Mal (Paris 1961, Engl. tran. Michael Barry, The Meaning of Evil, London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1963). The same Augustinian view underlies the theology of the Reformers notably Calvin’s who out does Augustine in underscoring some of the ‘harsher’ implications of the Bishop of Hippo’s teaching.
The eighteenth-century optimism is to be read as a product of the Augustinian tradition―by way of reaction and acceptance however. Here the conception of evil is viewed as serving a larger good. Leibniz sets before men the present world as the best of all possible worlds―and does not imperfection belong to whatever becomes finite? Still God is sovereign; for it would be unbecoming on His part to create any sort of world. He has chosen the best―and will do His best for the best He has chosen.
But there was darkness with the light in the Augustinian type of theodicy according to Dr. Hick. There was a change of fortunes in the dual aspects of it no less. In Augustine’s own constructions, theology and philosophy intertwined. Yet there were distinct theological themes there―the goodness of the created world, pain and suffering as consequences of the fall, the ‘O felix culpa’, and the final dichotomy of heaven and hell. On the other hand, there were also distinguishable philosophical strands: evil as non-being, metaphysical evil as fundamental, the principle of plenitude, and the aesthetic conception of the perfection of the universe. Generally, these two kept good company throughout the mediaeval period. But at the time of the Reformation they were severed, the reformers accepting the theological but rejecting the philosophical aspects of the Augustinian theodicy. The enlightenment era saw the choice reversed; the philosophical ideas accepted and the theological set aside. Dr. Hick has something to say on each of these aspects―the theological and the philosophical. His basic criticism of the Augustinian theodicy is summed up in his conviction that it permits an ‘impersonal or subpersonal way’ of conceiving God’s relationship to His creation.
Turning to the second type of theodicy, the Irenaean, Dr. Hick shows this to be more characteristic of the Eastern Church, although he does not think that there is an ‘Eastern Orthodox theodicy’ which is Irenaean as distinct from the Augustinian. We might note in passing that this idea of a contrasting Augustinian and Irenaean type of theology which affected the understanding of man and sin is given prominence by H. Wheeler Robinson in his book on The Christian Doctrine of Man. But Dr. Hick does not see a continuous Irenaean tradition of theodicy so much as a type. And therefore he jumps the centuries to the time of Schleiermacher (1768-1834) for a more thorough exposition of the Eastern alternative which had remained relatively undeveloped while the West was making effective the Augustinian alternative.
Dr. Hick addresses himself to this task of working out a Christian theodicy which he is convinced neither minimizes the facts nor massacres the faith.
Dr. Hick’s contention is there is a better way for a theodicy. This is to take as a starting-point the idea that man did not appear on earth as a finished product, a perfect article that somehow, but not unwillingly, got bowled over. Man is rather in the process of creation. To be specific, we must admit ‘a two-stage conception of the creation of man’. On the one hand he is the product of a long evolutionary process which resulted in his being made capable of the infinite. This stage was easy enough for the divine omnipotence for in the process the ‘man-to-be’ was largely the subject of divinely organized processes. But the second state in which the man-that-had-come-to-be attains perfection as a child of God the process is long and labored. This cannot be done by any divine fiat, ‘but only through the uncompelled responses and willing cooperation of human individuals in their actions and reactions in the world in which God has placed them, God’s purpose is to fashion many sons for glory―and He has made the world as a place best fitted for this end. The world is therefore rightly seen not as a perfect and now sin disrupted world, and not even as the best possible world in and of itself: but as that most suited to God’s purposes for man. The theodicy therefore that will satisfy is, according to Dr. Hick, that which sees the world as a place of ‘soul-making’. It is His purpose for mankind which determined the sort of world God should make. He didn’t create a ‘hedonistic paradise’. The chief end of man is not man’s pleasure but that he should glorify God. Thus, the world is not for man’s enjoyment so much as for his discipline and perfecting unto the fulness of the stature of Christ. To think therefore of God’s relation to the earth on the model of a human building a cage for a pet animal to dwell in is to miss the point of the divine intention. It will be humane to make the pet’s quarters as pleasant and healthful as possible. But man is not an animal pet, he is a responsible person.
It is in the context of the two-stage conception of man’s creation that Dr. Hick would understand the fact of moral evil, or sin. He can go along with Flew and Mackie so far as to admit that God could have created perfect beings and constituted them in such a way that they would always freely choose the good. But he dissents from the implication that it was possible for God to make men in such a way that they should necessarily and unfailingly respond to Him in love and trust. He quotes John Wisdom’s remark that ‘it is logically impossible for God to obtain your love-unforced-by-anything-outside-you and yet himself force it’. This means, Dr. Hick contends, that some idea of a genuine freedom and independence of man over against God must be admitted. A limited creativity, to be sure, is this freedom possessed by man, but nevertheless it is real. It is in this reality of man’s relative independence of his Maker that Dr. Hick finds the origin of moral evil. Becoming aware of his autonomy in a world in which God’s presence could not be immediately and distinctly seen and felt man turned naturally towards the natural order as that which more unambiguously concerned him. The world looked to the man-coming-to-be as his natural habitat; and it seemed to him, esti deus non daratur―‘as if there were no God’. Thus, it was natural for man to respond to the natural-and sin is in essence his doing what comes naturally. ‘Man’, declares Hick, ‘exists at a distance from God’s goal for him, however, not because he has fallen from that goal but because he has yet to arrive at it’. (https://biblicalstudies.org.uk/pdf/vox/vol05/hick_mcdonald.pdf)
Signs play a big part in our lives. We encounter them all the time, often without even realizing it. Think, for example, of just how many road signs you encounter even on a short drive. They are all meant to stand for something else, to point out what lies ahead on the road. This is exactly why they are so important. By indicating the rules of the road and what we will soon encounter, they lead us safely to our destination.
On the other hand, if we ignore the signs or fail to understand what they indicate, we will be unprepared for what is coming. We could miss a turn, lose control or get into a collision. (http://thecatholicspirit.com/faith/focus-on-faith/sunday-scriptures/we-must-be-attentive-to-the-signs-of-gods-presence/)
My friends and I were hiking through the golden hills that surround San Francisco Bay on an uncommonly hot, stuffy afternoon. We regretted that we had chosen such a stifling day for a hike. After a half hour, our path meandered near an enormous coastal oak tree at the summit of a hill. We flopped down under its gnarled, dark green arms to catch our breath, fan our faces, and tank up on water. But even in the shade, the heat was oppressive.
“Take a look at the great view from up here,” I suggested.
“Too hot for that,” one of my companions mumbled as he pulled his cap down over his face.
“We should be home in the swimming pool,” someone else muttered.
Then something happened.
It was nothing sensational. We merely began to feel a cool, light breeze. But how much happiness that breeze brought with it! We spread our arms and twirled in it. A moment later we detected on the breeze the loveliest scents: One moment the ocean, the next the fragrance of orange blossoms, and then the spicy, refreshing smell of sage. In minutes we were refreshed and chatting happily about what a nice day we’d chosen to go hiking!
How that breeze changed our day!
It’s no coincidence that Jesus compared the Holy Spirit to a gentle breeze that blows through one’s life—and changes everything. (http://www.signstimes.com/?p=article&a=40007200324.739)
“#1 you don't have to wonder if it's a sign from God. #2 refer to #1.” —Rhonda Neas
I must admit being a little leery of persons who see signs of divine intervention at every turn. Whether it be an open parking space, a favorite team’s victory, or finding the last toy on the shelf (the perfect gift for which you were looking), some see in this occurrence a sign of God’s favor and a confirmation that “it was meant to be.” Is God or the devil in the details? Both, or neither?
While I do not want to gainsay God’s intimate knowledge of us, I wonder if what some claim as signs is so far beneath God’s cosmic concerns as to be ludicrous. These supposed signs are usually for personal aggrandizement and offer little to the common good. They are claimed by the superficially pious to reinforce their own sense of entitlement.
How can we discern if something is a sign from God? The Bible is replete with signs and wonders, yet how to perceive the working of the divine is notoriously vexed. At times, God seemingly invites mortals to put the Holy One to the test; at other times, there is stern warning against such a gambit. In the wilderness temptations, Jesus is averse to demanding a sign, even when it might have relieved his intense suffering.
Divine signs hold a measure of ambiguity. In humility, God works through simple and ostensibly weak means to accomplish holy purposes. What is more vulnerable and dependent than a newborn? Time after time in the Bible, a coming child is the sign of God’s continuing forbearance with wayward humanity.
The promise of the child signals where we are to look for God’s work. God usually works in the small, hidden and forgotten aspects of human living. God’s visitation to Mary, only a little beyond childhood herself, suggests that the lowly ones are “fitting vehicles to bear the divine,” as H. Wheeler Robinson suggests. The capacity for wonder, lack of cynicism and straightforward interrogation of the situation (Mary did ask, “How can this be?”) are the ingredients God welcomes when pursuing holy work.
God becomes small, and when God is a child, the world resounds with new hope. The refrain from Brian Wren’s lovely carol offers this description:
When God is a child there’s joy in our song.
The last shall be first and the weak shall be strong, and none shall be afraid.
The coming of Christ offers a different way to experience God, this broken creation, and our own unrequited holy longing. Fear can ebb, and we can trust that God intends to make all things new. Faithful to the promises of old, the child is a sign of God’s vulnerable, yet powerful nearness. (https://baptistnews.com/article/discerning-a-sign-from-god/#.W7KBsGhKhqM)
I sat next to a father on a bench in a park one day as he played with his little daughter. Anna hadn’t been walking for very long. Daddy set her on the ground and helped her stand up. Giggling, she tottered away from him on her chubby, unsteady little legs. Despite her intense concentration, within a few yards she lost her balance and dropped with a well-padded thud onto her bottom—out of reach of Daddy’s helping hands. Anna winced and began to whimper and to reach out, trying to entice Daddy to rescue her. But he didn’t go to her. “Anna,” he said, “I know you can get up and walk back to me.”
“Shouldn’t you go and pick her up?” I asked.
“I’ll stay right here to help her if she really needs me,” he replied. “But if Anna is going to mature, she’ll have to learn to do some things for herself. If I always pick her up, it may take her longer to learn to pick herself up.”
Sure enough, it took only a moment for Anna to get back on her feet, and with her eyes on Daddy, she carefully made her way back to his waiting hands!
Anna knew that her father was watching, and that made all the difference. (http://www.signstimes.com/?p=article&a=40007200324.739)
Like with Job, we sometimes wonder when the bad things will come to an end. That's what a Lutheran pastor in Norway must have wondered. The pastor, who serves in a community about 1,100 miles north of Oslo, has had his car stolen seven times since he began his pastorate there. Fortunately for him, though, he always gets it back. Usually the next day his 1986 Saab 900 is returned to him or else someone tells him where he can find it, once word gets out as to who the vehicle's owner is. When his car was stolen this past March, the automobile was returned in good condition, except the thief had taken a folder of the minister's sermons.
In our times of suffering, sometimes receiving people's pity only serves to compound our problems. At a recent meeting of neuroscientists, research was presented that revealed that people's level of pain actually increases when their spouse goes to visit them when they are in the hospital. By monitoring brain activity, the study indicated that patients' sense of pain tripled simply by having their spouse enter the hospital room. According to the report, all the spouse had to do to make their mate feel better was for them to leave the room. The findings also suggested that the level of pain increased the most in patients whose spouses particularly sought to ease their pain.
When people go through difficult economic times they may actually experience a health benefit. According to a report published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, Christopher Ruhm found that a 1% rise in the unemployment rate results in a .5% decrease in the death rate. The author's conclusion is that when jobs are scarce, people tend to live in a healthier manner. In particular, he found that a 1% increase in a state's unemployment rate corresponds with a .6% decrease in smoking, a .3% reduction in obesity, and a 1.8% decline in physical inactivity.
According to a recent Gallup poll, 68% of all Americans say they believe in the devil. Those who are most likely to believe in Satan are Republicans
and those who identify themselves as members of the Religious Right
. Geographically, those who live in the South are the most likely to believe in the devil
, and the least likely to believe are East Coast residents
. In all, about 20% of Americans say they do not believe in Satan, and another 12% say they are unsure.
Seeing how evil often appears to prosper, sometimes we might be tempted to give up pursuing the ways of God. A particular mutual fund is hoping that will become a popular sentiment. With the rise in recent years of funds that seek to engage in socially responsible means of investing, the VICE Fund strives to do the exact opposite. The VICE Fund especially invests in industries like tobacco, alcohol, guns, and gambling. Its prospectus states, "It is our philosophy that although often considered politically incorrect, these and similar industries...will continue to experience significant capital appreciation during good and bad markets."
People who try to live in godly ways are often made to suffer. Many elementary schools across the land run "anti-bullying" programs. Those programs are designed to teach the students to avoid name-calling, punching, and mean looks. In a way, you could say that the anti-bullying programs are attempting to teach the children to love each other. Studies, though, are finding that kids who pursue that way of life are being made to pay a price. When children from anti-bullying elementary schools go to middle school, where they are thrown in with kids from other schools who might not have been taught to act the same way, the kids from the ant-bullying schools are getting beaten up much more often than the other kids.
It's often said that no good deed goes unpunished. A single mother in Canada was fired from her pizza delivery job when she stopped to help a man who had been shot. The incident occurred in Selkirk, a small town about 20 miles north of Winnipeg. The woman was on her way to deliver a pizza to someone when she stopped to assist a man who had been shot in the stomach. She stayed with the man and tried to stop the flow of blood until the ambulance arrived. Afterwards, however, her boss told her that she was fired for what she had done. The owner of the pizza shop told reporters that he felt bad about the guy who had been shot, but he said, "We don't pay employees to be EMTs."
"If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant; if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome." (Anne Bradstreet)
"Suffering makes one more sensitive to the pain in the world. It can teach us to put forth a greater love for everything that exists." (Dorothy Soelle)
The Book of Job has inspired many writers to explore its themes of unmerited, inexplicable suffering and the goodness versus the omnipotence of God. Poet Archibald MacLeish in his 1956 play J.B., was heavily influenced by the then prevalent existential philosophy, especially took up the latter theme. Two circus men named Mr. Zuss and Mr. Nickles who serve as stand-ins for God and Satan play out the first chapter of Job. Theirs is a somewhat cynical view of existence and humanity, with Nickles declaring "If God is God he is not good, /If God is good he is not God;/Take the even, take the odd…" The two continue to argue about God and the drama of Job, and then Zuss puts on the mask of God.
The play commences with J. B. and his wife Sara sitting before a laden table with their children. They are New Englanders, and J.B. is self-confident in his assurance that his many blessings are deserved because of his faith in God. His complacency is soon destroyed as he loses possessions and children, and then his own health and the respect of his wife, the latter disgusted because he still clings to his faith in God. The play unfolds according to the biblical story, with Job facing down the three comforters and finally giving in to God when the Almighty appears to him out of the whirlwind.
Several times Zuss and Nickles comment on the action, and at the end Nickles is disgusted at J.B.'s giving in to God. The last act of the play shows Sarah returning to her husband, but the modern Job's faith is more existentialist than biblical when he observes that God "does not love, He is." The two are left alone with Sarah saying that they must "blow on the coal of the heart because "the candles in churches are out," and so are "the lights in the sky." Forty years later, when the film The Commandments was released, the bleak, austere existential philosophy had given way to typical Hollywood optimism. Whereas J.B. had been a somber drama, The Commandments was a sprightly comedy. Seth Warner is the Job figure who loses his wife, his job, and even his dog. He is so angry with God that he departs from the biblical plot. Instead of submitting to his fate, he rages against God telling him that he is going to get even by breaking every one of the Ten Commandments, hence the film's title. He carries out his threat in funny ways, but of course, finally learns his lesson.
More recently the story of Job is taken up in Bruce Almighty, in which a Buffalo, NY, Television reporter is so angry because of a series of misfortunes that he rages against God. He is so self-centered that he thinks he is like Job, even though his condition is not nearly so bad off. The plot departs radically from the biblical book in that God, instead of overwhelming Bruce by the series of unanswerable questions about the universe and its creation, places Bruce in His position—at least for Buffalo—by bestowing upon the reporter all His divine powers. Bruce, still being a selfish man, misuses the powers, messing up everyone's lives, and finally, in repentant humility, turning and giving back the powers to the Creator.
The bewildering array of different "family styles" is a challenge to the Church's ministry. Divorced parents, couples without children, single mothers and fathers, single adults of all kinds, all depart from the former ideal "nuclear family." Jesus teaches fidelity, but he does not want us to reject out of hand each person in their particular situation. While promises should be kept, we are invited to minister to and with people as we find them. The unfaithfulness that people may have suffered in relationships must be countered with the faithfulness of God.
Top of Page prayers (WorshipAid)
Leader: Amid all the vastness of the universe, amid all the millions of galaxies that fill the cosmos, how marvelous it is that God cares for us!
People: God cares for us so much that God even sent His Son into the world to be our Savior!
Leader: And it was by suffering, it was by enduring the shame of the cross, that Jesus defeated the power of evil.
People: So, let us rejoice and sing, for Jesus Christ has conquered!
Let all the earth praise our great and glorious Lord!
O Lord our God, You are a good and loving God. Yet there are times when evil enters our lives, and we begin to doubt. In times of sickness, we wonder why Your healing touch does not come quicker. In times of loss, our hearts ache as we ponder why we can't feel Your comforting arms around us. In times of hardship, as the storm clouds gather around us, we begin to question whether the light of Your face will ever shine upon us again. Eternal and mighty Lord forgive our lack of faith. Even during difficult times, enable us to sense that You are always near. We ask this in the name of our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Bountiful Lord, all that we have is truly a gift from You. Without Your grace, we would possess nothing, and we would be nothing. In all that we do, teach us to show our thankfulness. Lead us to be Your faithful servants through what we say, through what we do, and through what we give. In Your blessed name we pray. Amen.
God of glory and gladness, God of the bright mountain peaks, You are with us during our times of joy and celebration. You are with us in our times of victory and rejoicing. God of sadness and suffering, God of the valley of the shadow of death, You are with us during our times of grief and pain. You are with us in our times of upheaval and loss. Eternal God, You alone are the God who is with us every moment of our lives.
We admit that it is easy to believe and to have faith when all is well. But grant us the ability to remain firm in our faith even in those most difficult hours. In times of trouble, be for us a rock of refuge. Shield us under Your wings and watch over us as the guardian of our way. Empower us to see that You are with us every step of our lives. For we trust with full assurance that nothing in all of creation, not even death, is able to separate us from Your love. We pray these things in the name of Jesus. Amen.