Monday, October 19, 2015

Out of the Whirlwind

Sermon VIDEO here

Then the Lord answered Job from the whirlwind:  “Who is this that questions my wisdom with such ignorant words?  Brace yourself like a man, because I have some questions for you, and you must answer them.  “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?  Tell me, if you know so much.  Who determined its dimensions and stretched out the surveying line?  What supports its foundations, and who laid its cornerstone as the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?   Job 38:1-7(NLT)
Even people who do not know the story of Job have heard the expression, the patience of Job.  The story so often centers on the disaster of the first chapter; how this really good man got a raw deal, while God just watched while the Devil destroyed the man’s life.

But it is really worth reading the next 36 chapters to watch Job’s friends attempt to comfort him, but wind-up missing the mark on the compassion scale; they did much more harm than comfort!  They suggested that Job was a bad guy, and that’s why bad stuff came his way.  But, in reality, Job was a good man in the midst of a really rotten circumstance!For the first thirty-seven chapters, Job asks God the angry question –why me?

As the 38th chapter begins God finally ends his silence.  Job, tell me…eons ago when I was mapping out the universe and laying the foundations upon which you now stand…Job, buddy, just where were you?

God never answered Job’s question the way Job wanted…He simply pointed out that Job didn’t have a clue, and he’d better think twice before parading his goodness in front of his Creator.

After God spoke Job cringed…it works that way!

Job had to humble himself and eat a little dust.  You see, Job knew that God knew Job inside-out.  Job may argue for his being a righteous soul in front of his friends who came to “help” – but Job knew it sounded as empty as the Grand Canyon when he tried to float that before Jehovah!  So Job apologized to God, and things went better for him afterward.

But we still have that question, don’t we?

Why Is there Suffering?

Now, the reality of trouble and suffering in the human family is not in question here – we all know people who suffer; we have all had our share of suffering.  Job even stated the reality that we are born into having trouble as certainly as the sparks fly upward from a fire.[1]

The real question we all have is, If God is good, AND God is kind…WHY do we suffer?  We want to know why God thought it necessary to put us through suffering in this life.

I’ve asked that question; a lot!

One of the times I asked the question was a number of years ago when I had pain in my right foot – constant pain.  It was the kind of pain that made you wonder if you are descended from Job.  The pain was every minute of every day; it was my companion for every step I took in a day.  For good measure it throbbed all night. 

Extra Strength Tylenol by the truckload didn’t help; Cortisone injections didn’t touch it a bit.  Finally the doctor said the s-word – surgery!  I’m not particularly fond of surgery, but by that time I would have allowed him to cut off both arms and do a frontal lobotomy if he said it would help.

The surgery itself was uneventful.  My surgeon snipped a nerve or two, shortened a bone here, refashioned a socket there, and I went home to wait for the moment I could walk without pain. 

Somehow it never turns out the way the textbook pictures it.  Three weeks after surgery I took my first step without the cast, and the pin holding my toe together decided to relocate to a different neighborhood.  The next week I was back on the operating table.  This time he used titanium and super-glue!  The toe has held together quite well since then. 

However, during the recuperation I had to stay off my feet for several weeks, and in that sedentary lounging I managed to allow my blood to clot in all the wrong places. 

Silly me! 

When the clots broke apart (like sparks flying upward!!!) they headed directly for my lungs.  Now, I’ve never been kicked in the chest by a mule, but if you have, I’d like to compare notes.  The pain was incredible.  Elizabeth came home from work to take the whimpering preacher to the doctor…again! 

The pain was down to a manageable nuisance by the time the doctor examined me.  He told me my pain should be in the foot…after all, that’s where the surgical incision was – not in my chest!  It was fortunate for me there was a nurse, who was a better diagnostician than her boss.  She said I think he’s thrown a clot.  Well…a quick trip to the hospital for x-rays confirmed the nurse’s diagnosis, and they admitted me on the spot.   

The emergency had passed…and (supposedly) if the clot didn’t kill me on the spot, it was simply a matter of staying calm, spending a week in the hospital with an IV of heparin (rat poison) dripping into your arm so it can break-up the clot. 

Well, frankly, I don’t “stay calm” when I contemplate receiving a bill from a medical facility for a week’s vacation.  However, I managed to stay semi-calm, and agreed to stick around.

Unfortunately Thomasville Medical Center had its share of emergencies that day, and the only bed available in the whole hospital was in Romona-Land!  Now, I’m sure you don’t know Romona, but I do.  Romona was the nurse-in-charge of Intensive Care at TMC.  Romona was also the organist at the church I served as pastor. 

Before the cold sheets of the hospital bed could rob all the warmth from my body, Romona marched through the doorway like a general in charge, and grabbed the IV needle from the nurse who was preparing to invade my blood supply.  Here, she said, I’ll do that.

Now, it was really good to see a familiar face at that moment; it was especially good to see Romona.  When Romona was playing the organ for our services, I could look over at her and she’d know exactly what song my look called-for.  I was beginning to feel comfortable, so I began to tell her that the IV really ought to go in my left arm because I was going to send Elizabeth to get my computer, and with my right arm…, but before I could get another word out, my organist – my dear, sweet quiet-spirited organist, shoved a thermometer into my open mouth and growled… Preacher, you’re in MY house now, just try to keep your mouth closed.”  She turned into Nurse Ratchet!

Trouble got my attention! 

It got Job’s attention. 

I believe that is one of the benefits of trouble and suffering…it gets your attention.  There is value in suffering.

But, to tell you the truth there are only two things I can say about the question which is yours and mine – why, really, do we suffer?

1.      It is a fair question; it is Job’s question. 

2.      I don’t know.

There is a lot of stuff offered by preachers, philosophers and skeptics to try to make us believe that somebody on planet earth has understood God.  But it is conjecture only! 

·        Some say God punishes sin and that’s why we suffer.  Now, it is true that God punishes sin, but you cannot explain children being killed by a suicide bomber in Baghdad that way. 

·        Some say we must suffer to collect better karma than we had in our last incarnation. 

·        Some say we suffer because we have no faith, or God is just that mean.  You can choose that if you will, but God never said that. 

God didn’t answer Job, and, even today He doesn’t lay out all the reasons why deranged people take guns and start exterminating human life.  

In the case of Job, God simply informed the human that a mortal could not understand.  And therein we find our frustration, as well as the only answer we have:  we are like Job, we cannot understand God’s ways; some suffering is in God’s hands only, and we will not know why until heaven.

So, Preacher, Am I Supposed to live with that?

Preacher, where does that leave us considering all the pain and suffering in this world?  How can we remain somewhat sane in the face of the brutality of man with men, and natural disasters and children who die in mudslides or terror attacks?  How can we explain the murder of innocent children, or abuse by parents who are supposed to protect their little ones? 

Who can accept such things? 

The same answers as before; it’s a fair question, and I don’t know.

The 18th century philosopher Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said, Give me the benefit of your convictions, if you have any; but keep your doubts to yourself, for I have enough of my own.[2]

I couldn’t agree more.  And so I will leave you the way God left Job…We were not there when God created this universe.  We do not understand the most infinitesimal fraction of the depth and breadth of what God has done.  And if we cannot understand even the basics of the creation in which we live, how can we understand the motives and purposes of the Creator who is greater than His creation?

But we are not left to whither and dry-up on the vine; God has told us Who He is in Jesus Christ.  He came to us and said, Do you want to know the father?  Look at me…follow me…love me…commit your life to me.  For in me dwells all of what is in the Father; you see me, you know Him.[3]

In trusting Jesus Christ don’t expect all suffering, whether self-inflicted and deserved, or undeserved, to vanish.  That’s not the point. 

Jesus is not a self-help vending machine….put in a prayer – out pops a pre-packaged healing for what-ails-you!  Rather, it is a matter of the created being getting-in-step with the Creator, so that God can direct your path away from sin and bring you close to Him.

Your suffering is just that – it’s your suffering.  It has a purpose, and God may or may not reveal that purpose to you in this life.  All we can really say about it is that you have a choice to do one of two things:

1.      You can attempt to figure your suffering out; in which case you will wind up in the madness of Job, and at odds with God…

-          or    -

2.      You can do what Job finally did – submit.  You can trust God’s grace and know that He is God.

In choosing to trust God you will not utterly eliminate suffering from your life; it is too much a part of the human condition. 

However, the Bible says that the end of Job’s days were better than the beginning.  Whether that be in this life, or the next, it is not bad to trust the voice out of the whirlwind! 

That’s what Job did in the end; he knew he was no match for God, so he gave in and trusted…no matter what.

And so, in pain or in sunny days, I choose His grace; I choose to love this God who speaks out of the whirlwind of suffering and pain; I choose to trust and cling to Him…he is God! 

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit!

[1] Job 5:7
[3] Colossians 2:9

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