Undeserved Suffering and Unhelpful Friends
Updated: Mar 31, 2022
This is my sermon from July 10, 2016
Job 2:11 – 13 Now when Job’s three friends heard of all these troubles that had come upon him, each of them set out from his home — Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. They met together to go and console and comfort him. When they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him, and they raised their voices and wept aloud; they tore their robes and threw dust in the air upon their heads. They sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.
Job 3:1 – 10 (to his friends) After this Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth. Job said: “Let the day perish in which I was born, and the night that said, ‘A man-child is conceived.’ Let that day be darkness! May God above not seek it, or light shine on it. Let gloom and deep darkness claim it. Let clouds settle upon it; let the blackness of the day terrify it. That night — let thick darkness seize it! let it not rejoice among the days of the year; let it not come into the number of the months. Yes, let that night be barren; let no joyful cry be heard in it. Let those curse it who curse the Sea, those who are skilled to rouse up Leviathan. Let the stars of its dawn be dark; let it hope for light, but have none; may it not see the eyelids of the morning — because it did not shut the doors of my mother’s womb, and hide trouble from my eyes.
Job 4:1-9 (to Job) Then Eliphaz the Temanite answered: “If one ventures a word with you, will you be offended? But who can keep from speaking? See, you have instructed many; you have strengthened the weak hands. Your words have supported those who were stumbling, and you have made firm the feeble knees. But now it has come to you, and you are impatient; it touches you, and you are dismayed. Is not your fear of God your confidence, and the integrity of your ways your hope? “Think now, who that was innocent ever perished? Or where were the upright cut off? As I have seen, those who plow iniquity and sow trouble reap the same. By the breath of God they perish, and by the blast of God’s anger they are consumed.
Job 7:11-21 (to God) “Therefore I will not restrain my mouth; I will speak in the anguish of my spirit; I will complain in the bitterness of my soul. Am I the Sea, or the Dragon, that you set a guard over me? When I say, ‘My bed will comfort me, my couch will ease my complaint,’ then you scare me with dreams and terrify me with visions, so that I would choose strangling and death rather than this body. I loathe my life; I would not live forever. Let me alone, for my days are a breath. What are human beings, that you make so much of them, that you set your mind on them, visit them every morning, test them every moment? Will you not look away from me for a while, let me alone until I swallow my spittle? If I sin, what do I do to you, you watcher of humanity? Why have you made me your target? Why have I become a burden to you? Why do you not pardon my transgression and take away my iniquity? For now I shall lie in the earth; you will seek me, but I shall not be.”
After this week’s events all I really want to do together is stand in a circle, hold hands, and pray our guts out that we the people of these United States of America will stop the momentum of violence by being unafraid of hearing and believing someone else’s story of their life.
The momentum that we are in has a life of its own. Unless an outside force stops it we will become its subjects and do its bidding. This force that can stop it is not the force of more violence. It is the force of non-violence … of listening, of sharing, of being fearless to put down our pre-designed arguments in lieu of having no argument at all. This force is the action of listening to our own fears and the fear of others.
When Job’s friends gathered around him they sat for seven days without talking. Finally Job spoke. The problem arose when his friends began to speak. During their course of silence it seems they were figuring out all the things they wanted to say rather than just sitting with Job and being present with his pain.
When Job speaks he expresses his despair and confusion. His friends didn’t respond with something like … “Yes, Job. This is terrible. I don’t know what it feels like to be you. Thank you for sharing your pain.” Instead they correct him, which they have no right to do; and they try to make things better which they have no power to do. They might say that they are motivated by care and concern but really they are motivated by fear. They are afraid that what is happening to Job might happen to them and they afraid that Job expressing his pain might actually touch them deeply enough so that they end up experiencing their own pain.
When we hear Job’s friend’s talk we might forget that the truth of Job’s situation was told to us at the beginning. Job was blameless. He did nothing wrong. This is hard to remember because we have a habit of blaming the victim. When bad things happen we want to make sense of it. Typically that means giving an explanation of why the victim wasn’t actually a victim but really what happened was a consequence of who they are or what they did. This happens with rape victims all the time. Comments about what she was wearing, how she was standing, or if she was drinking take precedence over the fact that she was a victim of violence. It is a veneer of order that is meant to help us feel safe. The problem with it is that it actually keeps us all at risk because we are excusing away perpetrators of violence.
This week, after a celebration of our country’s declaration of independence, two black men, Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, LA and Philando Castile in St Paul, MN were fatally shot by white police. These killings are under investigation as being racially charged. The Governor of Minnesota, Mark Dayton, made this statement. “Would this have happened if those passengers, the driver and the passengers, were white? I don’t think it would have. … I think all of us in Minnesota are forced to confront that this kind of racism exists.”
Thursday in Dallas, during a peaceful rally about racialized violence in our country, a sniper took matters into his own hands and fatally shot five police officers. Lorne Ahrens, Michael Smith, Michael Krol, Patrick Zamarripa, and Brent Thompson.
We must not let the momentum of this violence take us. Let us mourn. Let us sit for seven days in silence … not to gather together our arguments and justifications, but simply to listen and bear witness to the humanity of all those who have died.
It wasn’t right for those police officers to die. They were doing their job respectfully and well. There are a lot of good cops out there. Know that I believe this when I say that there is also a problem in this country where black men are perceived as more dangerous than white men and end up fatally shot by police during situations where they pose no real threat.
This problem is where the Black Lives Matter movement came from. It doesn’t mean that white lives don’t matter or that police lives don’t matter. Given Job’s friend’s reaction to his out-pouring of grief about the violent losses in his life I have no doubt that they would have taken issue with the concept of Black Lives Matter if they were alive today. But that is a reactionary response which only justifies the violence and does nothing to keep anyone safe.
Job is blameless in his grief and in his defense of his innocence. His friends see the violence, and wishing to keep it a distance from themselves, they blame Job for what has happened to him. They are very unhelpful friends in the midst of Job’s undeserved suffering.
God help us so that we are better than that. I pray that we are helpful friends. That we don’t react against the violence because we are afraid of it … but rather that we embrace those who are grieving … all of those who are grieving.
This week I grieve with the families of Lorne Ahrens, Michael Smith, Michael Krol, Patrick Zamarripa, Brent Thompson, Alton Sterling, and Philando Castile. On behalf of all the innocents who are killed I ask Job’s question to God which we read from Job 7:21, “Why have you made me your target? Why have I become a burden to you? Why do you not pardon my transgression and take away my iniquity? For now I shall lie in the earth; you will seek me, but I shall not be.”
We can pray this prayer and pose this question on behalf of all those who are killed in their innocence. We are Christians. Mercy and Love are at the heart of our path. Let us practice it with abandon the way Jesus offered it to us. This is what will change the world toward peace and give our next generations hope and safety.