Acts of Freedom
There are no audio or video file uploads at this time
We have come to the end of our journey through Job. We’ve been talking throughout these weeks of summer about how the story asks questions of us. Questions like…
Is God worthy of our love, worship, adoration, attention no matter what the circumstances? Is God worthy of being made the foundation of our lives, the centre of our lives no matter what is happening?
Why are the righteous pious? Do we follow Christ because of what’s in it for us?
Where is meaning to be found? What is the thing worth making the foundation of our lives? No matter what is going on. And what does that look like? In our story this morning, we’re given a look at what it looks like to be founded in God, in Christ, in the Spirit. We’re given a look at what it looks like to live in the outpouring of God’s generous grace. Let’s ask for God’s help as we look at the last chapter of Job. As we come to the end of the story, we find Job giving his answer. Through the story we’ve found that some of the most profound and meaningful moments have come in silences and so we often find the same thing in our lives. The sound of silence as someone once put it. There comes a time though for Job to speak. The thing is the patience of Job which we are invited into is not simply patience for patience’s sake. The questions that have been asked demand a response and if we’ve stuck around for these 8 weeks it’s time to give one. Job’s response is one of confession. Now when we hear confession we often think of it in terms of acknowledging the wrongs one has done, whether we’re talking about a criminal confessing or church confession (whether individually or the kind of communal confessing). To go back to the original meaning of confess, it means to acknowledge with, or avow with or declare with.
Job is saying to God I declare with you. Job is using God’s words here to signify this declaring with, to signify his agreement with. “Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?” “Hear and I will speak; I will question you and you will declare to me.” Now Job is declaring. There is something in declaring.
There is something important in the act of declaring. Someone has put it like this – “Where there is the sort of deep agreement between people that comes to expression in common speech… then much that is deeply difficult in experience can be borne and gone through together.” This is why we declare things together. We pray the prayer that Jesus taught together, signalling our assent, our amen. We looked at the Apostle’s Creed earlier this year. We make these confessions together. It is not for nothing that Paul wrote to the Christians at Rome that following Christ was not some sort of purely private affair. It’s not simply something that’s for me and it’s very private and I don’t like to talk about it. He told them rather that being saved in Christ, being delivered from that torrent in Christ involved believing in one’s heart and confessing with one’s mouth.
“I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you”, declares Job. “I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me which I did not know.” Job’s experience has led him to realize that there are things beyond his understanding. Job has recognized throughout this story his need for someone beyond himself.
This is a key thing, recognizing the need for someone beyond ourselves.
A story has been told about a man who was visiting an aquarium one day. All of a sudden there was a power failure. All the lights went out. The entire place was in pitch darkness. The man felt a hand reach for his and hold it. It was a small child. He bent down a little and said “Who do you belong to?” The answer came back, “You until the lights come back on.”
Little children know their need for someone beyond themselves. Who do you belong to? Not just for when the lights go out but for when days are sunny or for when God is speaking from the storm. “I know that you can do all things” Job says and this line might also be translated “You know that you can do all things” because to say “You know” is to ground one’s trust outside of ourselves and our knowing outside of our own knowing. “You know that you can do all things and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.” “Hear and I will speak, I will question you and you will declare to me” God had said. Here we have Job declaring, “I had heard of you before by the hearing of my ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” Not a self abasement but a recognition that his words had been insufficient. A turning to God not so much in dust and ashes as in what he had been sitting in, but concerning dust and ashes – a turning, a new way of thinking about being made in the divine image and at the time being fragile beings subjected to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune and the vicissitudes of life. A pledging of allegiance to God who creates and restrains and maintains and loves and who is worthy of all our love back even when we do not know the answers.
No easy answers have been given throughout our story and we shouldn’t expect them now. The restoration of Job’s fortunes is not simply a getting what he deserves because he’s been faithful to God throughout. It’s not simply a making up of accounts in the divine ledger for what Job has lost. It’s never been about reward/punishment and it’s not now.
What is it then? We want to make sure we are getting this right. We see in this section of the story that God has a concern for truth. We read that God’s wrath has been kindled against Job’s friends. This is not because God is needy and wants sacrifice to soothe His ego. It is rather that God has a concern for truth. What is the truth, what is the answer to the question “What is a good and fitting and proper response on our part to the generous and unexpected acts of God?
We’ve talked about the creative acts of God. The creative, maintaining, restraining acts of God. Someone has said that God creating in the first place, in the creation story in Genesis, out of nothing, is a kind of non sequitur. It doesn’t follow from anything. There is no cause and effect involved in God creating. God creating in the first place is an outflowing of the love and generosity that has existed among the three persons of the Trinity from before the foundations of the world. The Psalmist sang of God’s generosity – “You open your hand, satisfying the desire of every living thing.” (Ps 145:16) The generous acts of God turn everything upside down. The generous acts of God turn conventional wisdom upside down. The generous act of God in Christ’s birth and death and resurrection and promised return means that the proud have been scattered in the thought of their hearts, the powerful are brought down from their thrones, the lowly are lifted up, the hungry are filled with good things while the rich are sent away empty. Conventional wisdom is turned upside down. Someone once said of some of the first followers of Christ that they were turning the world upside down!
Which of course means right side up. This is what we are invited to confess along with Job. It means that it’s not going to be conventional wisdom like “Those who make the gold make the rules” or “I will give you the same respect you give me” or “Look out for yourself above all” or …. that will rule the day. This is the rightside up world in Christ that we are invited into. What are we going to do with this? This is the question that has been before us from the beginning. We are involved in the answer to the question that is posed in the heavenly council. We’re involved in answering those questions posed by Jesus –“Who do you say that I am?” “When the Son of Man returns will he find faith on the earth?” “Are you able to drink this cup?” We’re involved in the answer and one of the things about God is, God is humble enough to allow us to reject him. That’s right, the answer is never a given. God extends the invitation to Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar. Put away your thinking on reward and punishment and go and offer up for yourselves a burnt offering and Job will pray for you. They don’t have to comply. They could just as easily have rejected this God who didn’t fit into the way they believed God should act. Job didn’t have to offer up a prayer for them. If he was in that reward/punishment mode he could just as easily have said “I’m not going to pray for these three who just spent two hours accusing me and my family!”
Which makes me think of the one who said “Bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” Everything is upside down. How could any of this make any sense? Because in Christ we didn’t get what we deserved. This is grace. We couldn’t earn it. We don’t deserve it, but yet God’s grace is extended to us in the person of Christ Jesus in God’s wondrous generous love and like Job, we react in awe and wonder and praise and worship.
They went and did what the Lord told them. Job prayed. They are all caught up in God’s creating, sustaining, restraining, generous action.
Not because anyone has to do anything. Someone has described Job’s actions in this chapter as a free act of self-offering to God in a stance of openness and vulnerable hope. “The friends do not have to repent, but may. Job does not have to intercede, but may. Yahweh does not have to forgive, but may.” It doesn’t mean we are given or have all the answers. To participate freely in these acts of generous grace means healing and restoration and change. “If these actions do occur, the outcome will be a restored and enriched world, in which evil has been fully acknowledged by all parties, and yet overcome through acts of freedom in which Yahweh, Job and his friends all participate.”
Because faith was never meant to be a private affair. What’s the first thing Matthew did after meeting Jesus? He threw a party and invited all his friends to meet Jesus (speaking of creative acts of generosity). What did the shepherd do when he found his 100th sheep? He invited his friends and neighbours to celebrate!
Job’s prayer for his friends was not a result of fortunes being restored and we mustn’t think that fortunes being restored are a result of our piety. Entering into God’s generous acts of grace creates a sort of upward spiral of generosity. To follow Christ is to know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ who though he was rich yet for your sake became poor. It’s to enter into a constant outpouring and infilling of God’s grace. It’s not about material reward here any more than it was about material punishment through this story. We have this wonderful sequence of events here from verse 10 on. Job’s fortunes are restored. Job’s brothers and sisters and friends come to his house and eat and show him sympathy (and don’t think the grief ever went away) and supported him with gifts. The Lord blessed Job and he has 7 sons and 3 daughters who are named here – Keziah, Jemimah, Keren-happuch. They are beautiful and stepping into God’s generosity is beautiful and they are given an inheritance because that is a just and open-handed thing.
After this Job lived one hundred and forty years and saw his children, and his children’s children, four generations. And Job died, old and full of days.
The way of God is restoration. The way of God is healing. The way of God is wholeness. The way of God is life. It starts with a confession, an agreement spoken aloud. It leads to participation in the generous grace of God which effects all of life. How will we be called in the coming season to take part creatively in the generous grace of God? May God gives us the hearts to discern, the will to follow, and the courage to act in response to the generous grace we have been given in Christ Jesus. May the Spirit of God grant that these things may be true for all of us. Amen