Job 1:1-5, 13-22
There was once a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job. That man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil. There were born to him seven sons and three daughters. He had seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen, five hundred donkeys, and very many servants; so that this man was the greatest of all the people of the east.
His sons used to go and hold feasts in one another’s houses in turn; and they would send and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. And when the feast days had run their course, Job would send and sanctify them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all; for Job said, “It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.” This is what Job always did.
One day when his sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in the eldest brother’s house, a messenger came to Job and said, “The oxen were plowing and the donkeys were feeding beside them, and the Sabeans fell on them and carried them off, and killed the servants with the edge of the sword; I alone have escaped to tell you.” While he was still speaking, another came and said, “The fire of God fell from heaven and burned up the sheep and the servants, and consumed them; I alone have escaped to tell you.” While he was still speaking, another came and said, “The Chaldeans formed three columns, made a raid on the camels and carried them off, and killed the servants with the edge of the sword; I alone have escaped to tell you.” While he was still speaking, another came and said, “Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their eldest brother’s house, and suddenly a great wind came across the desert, struck the four corners of the house, and it fell on the young people, and they are dead; I alone have escaped to tell you.”
Then Job arose, tore his robe, shaved his head, and fell on the ground and worshiped. He said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong-doing.
On that day, when evening had come, [Jesus] said to [the disciples], “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But Jesus was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be s till!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
Today’s theme – the last in this whole “Game of Thrones” series – is inspired by a particular character in the “Game of Thrones” saga. Her name is Malisandre. She is a kind of priestess or evil witch, it seems to me, who does horribly creepy things like seducing men, giving birth to shadows, performing rituals with stolen blood and constantly warning and reminding people that “the night is dark and full of terrors.” She repeats it like a mantra - “the night is dark and full of terrors;” or like a promise - “the night is dark and full of terrors;” or as some kind of threat - “the night is dark and full of terrors;” and also as though it is just a matter of fact, an objective truth - “the night is dark and full of terrors.”
And just like all the other sermons in the series, I don’t believe you have to have seen a minute of the show to find meaning here. Because the night is dark and full of terrors – not just in the world of “Game of Thrones,” but in the real world, too. And that made me think about – and want to spend some time with – Job as part of all of this.
Job is no witch, of course, and he’s certainly not evil or sneaky or creepy in any way. He’s the opposite, actually: a model of faithfulness, a righteous man who gets caught up in a power-play between God and “the Satan,” as the story goes. And we are supposed to read Job as a story – as a parable – as a reflection on suffering; particularly the suffering of the innocent and righteous of humanity. It takes place in a mysterious land called Uz – an apparently made-up place you won’t find on any map – but with real, relevant lessons for us, still.
In the verses we heard this morning, we get just the beginning – and just a taste – of Job’s torment: the surprising, unwarranted loss of everything dear to him – the oxen and cattle and camels; even his servants and all of his beloved children, most significantly. Throughout the rest of the story Job – faithful, righteous, blameless Job – wrestles and argues and commiserates with his friends about the purpose of and the reason for his loss and his suffering. They try to rationalize that he must have done something to deserve it; that God wouldn’t allow the truly innocent, the truly blameless, the truly righteous to suffer like Job was suffering.
And one of the things we love about Job, is that he knows that’s not true – he’s living proof that the righteous, the innocent, the faithful of God do suffer on occasion – that the night is dark and full of terrors, sometimes. And one of the other things we love about Job is that he’s in such a loving, faithful relationship with God – he’s so darned righteous – that he has that conversation with his maker, boldly and without shame. Job challenges God with hard questions in the face of his grief. Job begs God to end his suffering, by any means, necessary. Job lets God know how broken and hurting and full of despair he’s become.
And ultimately, at the end of Job’s story, God shows up for Job. And, while God doesn’t give Job any easy answers, God reveals for Job the vastness of God’s power in creation – and of Job’s place and perspective in the midst of all God has made. God has made a world that is beautiful, for sure. But God leaves it – and all of us – to our own devices a lot of the time, so it’s broken, too, this world where we live.
The night – and the day, and our lives in this world – can, indeed, be dark and full of terrors.
So we empathize with Job, because we know where he’s coming from, don’t we? He’s not just some character… in a parable… from a galaxy, far, far away. Job is us. Job is you and me and all of humanity asking hard questions about the unfair, unreasonable, unbearable-at-times terrors and trials and suffering and pain that find us and threaten us more often than we’d like.
Job is every loved-one, still grieving in Dayton and El Paso.
Job is every parent who’s lost a child. Job is every child who’s lost a parent.
Job is anyone and everyone who’s lost everything – or who has ever felt like all is lost.
Job is any one of us at any time that we’ve questioned God’s love for us; or God’s love for the world; or God’s presence or providence or power in our lives.
I had Job on the brain this week, when I watched Anderson Cooper interview Stephen Colbert on CNN. The interview was full of all the politics and humor you’d expect. And if you know anything about Stephen Colbert, who seems as smart and faithful and Biblically literate as he is funny, the rest of the conversation might not have surprised you. I want to share a bit of it because – even though they never mention his name – it was pretty much a study in the theology and the lessons of Job, if you ask me.
The little back-story you need to know here is that Stephen Colbert lost his father and two of his older brothers when he was just 10 years old. They were killed in a plane crash. And, as you may also know, Anderson Cooper lost his own father when he was just10, as well. He lost his brother to suicide when they were both in their early twenties. And his mother, Gloria Vanderbilt, died just this past June. So, like Job and his friends in the Old Testament story, these two men were commiserating about the nature and purpose of suffering – their own and the suffering in the lives of others.
Cooper: You told an interview that you have, in your words, “Love the thing that I most wish had not happened.” You went on to say, “What punishments of God are not gifts?” Do you really believe that?
Colbert: Yes. It’s a gift to exist. It’s a gift to exist. And with existence come suffering. There’s no escaping that. And I guess I’m either a Catholic or Buddhist when I say those things, because I’ve heard those from both traditions.
But I didn’t learn it - that I was grateful for the thing I most wish hadn’t happened, as that I realized it. Is that.. and it’s an oddly guilty feeling…
Cooper: Its doesn’t mean that you are happy that it happened.
Colbert: I don’t want it to have happened. I want it not to have happened. But, if you are grateful for your life, which I think is a positive thing to do… not everybody is… I’m not always… but it’s the most positive thing to do, then you have to be grateful for all of it. You can’t pick and choose what you’re grateful for.
And, then, so what do you get from loss? You get awareness of other people’s loss…
Cooper: Well that’s true. Empathy.
Colbert: …which allows you connect with that other person, which allows you to love more deeply and to understand what it means to be a human being, if it’s true that all human beings suffer.
So, at a young age, I suffered something so that by the time I was in serious relationships in my life, with friends or with my wife or with my children, is that I have some understanding that everyone is suffering and, however imperfectly, acknowledge their suffering, and to connect with them and to love them in a deep way, that not only accepts that all of us suffer, but also then makes you grateful for the fact that you have suffered, so that you can know that about other people. And that’s what I mean. It’s about the fullness of your humanity.
What’s the point of being here and being human if you can’t be the most human you can be? I’m not saying ‘best.’ ‘Cause you can be a bad person and most human. I want to be the most human I can be and that involves acknowledging and ultimately being grateful for the things that I wish didn’t happen because they gave me a gift.
Cooper: One of the things my mom would often say, she said that “I never ask, ‘Why me? Why did this happen to me?’” She would always say, “Why not me? Why would me be exempt from what has befallen everybody, countless others over the centuries?
And that’s another thing that has helped me think, “Yeah. Why not me? This is part of being alive. I mean, the suffering is, you know, sadness, suffering, these are all … you know … it’s … you can’t have happiness without having loss and suffered.
Colbert: And in my tradition, that’s the great gift of the sacrifice of Christ, is that God does it, too. That you’re really not alone, that God does it, too.
The thing about Job – and any lessons we stand to learn about our own suffering, from his – is that these lessons are hard to come by, in the moment, when we need them most. Just like Colbert said he didn’t “learn it” as much as he “realized it” [over time and through his faith and in experiences with others], Job couldn’t learn or see what he needed to learn in the depths of his suffering and despair, either.
It took time and patience and wrestling with his maker. It took a wider view of God’s creation and a realization that it wasn’t, ever, all or only about Job. Job realized that it was a gift to be just a part of all that God had so lovingly, carefully made. And, as hard as it is can be to abide, “the night is dark and full of terrors,” for sure. And never mind the “terrors,” the really big stuff that threatens to crush us. The night is dark and full of trials and tribulations that test our patience and cause us to stumble and challenge our faith, just the same – “storms” literal and figurative; cosmic and close-to-home.
It’s why I like this Gospel story of Jesus, in that storm-swamped boat with the disciples, paired with Job’s story. Much like Job wondered of God, the disciples are terrified and concerned that Jesus, asleep in the back of the boat, doesn’t care that they are perishing. And just like God did for Job, in the end, Jesus reveals the power of God over all of creation. Even the wind and the sea obey him!
This wasn’t a magic trick. This was Jesus showing the disciples – in the midst of their terror – the same thing God showed to Job in the midst of his – and something we’d do well to wrestle with whenever we can muster the faith: that trials and tragedies come; that fear and failure happen; that death and disease and suffering and sadness occur; that the night is dark and full of terrors; that God never promises us otherwise and that there’s not always anything we can do to avoid it.
But there is always hope.
Earlier in that same interview, Stephen Colbert told Anderson Cooper something he learned from his mother, about struggle and suffering, over the years, and that was “to see everything in the light of eternity.” To see all things in the light of eternity.
None of what scares or saddens us most is any match for the love of a God who suffers for and with us, when we do. None of what breaks our hearts on this side of eternity is any match for the grace of God who already lives on the other side of heaven.
Our God suffers and survives, to let us know we will, too.
Our God silences the wind, to let us know love always gets the last word.
The night is dark and full of terrors, but our God’s light shines in the darkness, our God’s mercies are without limit, and our God’s faith, hope and love never end.