Sermon: The Mystery: Keeping Integrity in the Midst of Trial

October 7, 2018
Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost

Job 1:1; 2:1-10; Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12
Pastor SeokCheol Shin

The Mystery: Keeping Integrity in the Midst of Trial

Why Bad Things Happen:
Four weeks from this Sunday we will encounter in the Book of Job, an incredible story in which the most righteous man had to experience suffering and trial for no clear reason. When we talk about Job’s trial, the preachers usually talk about “Why do bad things happen to good people?”

In the case of Job, we are told in the opening line that “[Job] was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil” (v. 1). Yet all of a sudden, he lost all his children and all his possessions and then just next day he lost his health and suffered from a terrible skin disease. Why did God allow these terrible things to happen to his best servant?

Well, the story of Job’s trial was written many thousands of years ago. Can we find this kind of tragedy in our experience in our time? Yes.  Look at what happened in Indonesia after the Tsunami swept through. Thousands of innocent people were killed, and thousands more, including little children, were still missing.  Recently my colleague pastor shared his concern about a couple in his parish who had a new baby named Sophia.  A few months after her birth, Sophia got an infection that damaged 90 % of her brain cells. According to her doctor, she will be in a continual vegetable-like state if she survives. Sophia is surely innocent, yet God allowed this to happen to her and her parents.

The Possible Theological Answers:
If God is good and in charge of everything, why do bad things to happen to good people?  Why do the innocent suffer?  Why do little children get sick to death?”  Here are some theological answers I can share with you this morning.

1) The first response is “Who is really good?” The disciple Paul says that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Therefore, all human beings deserve punishment and suffering. If Paul’s point is right, bad things actually don’t happen to good people because there are no good people in the world (cf. Mark 10:17-18).

Well what about Job? In this passage, God admitted that he was a blameless and unrighteous man. But does it mean he really was a perfect man before God? Maybe he was just as morally good as anyone could be. But remember, Jesus says if we covet in heart, we have stolen; if we hate someone, we have killed. By those standards we are all thieves and murderers. Job could be blameless by human standards but not by God’s standards. Thus he deserved his suffering as punishment.

Yes, there is punishment after our sin or crime. Rob a bank and go to jail.  However, this answer falls woefully short.  Can little infants (like Sophia) commit sin by their own will, thus deserving their suffering as God’s punishment? We know some people are born with disabilities in their body or mind.  To just say “we all sin and deserve punishment” isn’t a good answer to the question.

2) We may think that God allows bad things because God wants to test or discipline our faith. This might be a background story in the chapter 1 and 2. God was so proud of Job but Satan suspected his integrity; “Does Job fear God for nothing? Have you not made a hedge around him, around his household, and around all that he has on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But now, stretch out Your hand and touch all that he has and he will surely curse You to Your face” (vv. 9-11). And so God permitted Satan to destroy everything in his life to see whether he was still faithful or not in the midst of his calamity.

But we don’t like this interpretation, for it only makes God an “abuser.” What kind of parents really want to give their children those terrible tests to see how much they love them? (Think about Sophia and her parents… Does God really give infection this little infant to discipline her or to test the parents’ faithfulness in God?) We must see this story of Job as a parable or drama, not history. We don’t know when this book was composed, but it is intended for the readers to ponder about God and our faith in the midst of extreme and undeserved trials.

3) Another answer might be this: bad things happen to good people because we human being have free will. We have freedom to turn away from God (disobedience) and even to choose to do whatever we want to do. It’s our free will that probably causes suffering, not only to oneself, but to many others. For example, we choose to drink and drive and kill innocent pedestrians. We choose to fire a gun into the air so that innocent people might get injured or killed. We choose to cut trees and build toxic chemical factories that cause people to get cancer. Human free will would explain the destruction of the ecosystem or the global warming we have encountered today.

However, this still doesn’t explain natural disasters in the world, like all the earthquakes and tsunamis. Most of all, how come our righteous God allows someone’s freedom to destroy the lives of the innocent and the little children? It’s completely against the God of justice… Again the result of our free will still doesn’t give us an obvious answer.

I have shared several theological answers to this question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” You can listen to many other philosophers and search other books that deal with this complicated issue.  I have to tell you that those answers are only human ideas, not God’s own answer.

This book of Job starts with the question of “why,” but does it give us an answer? Yes, it does.  Near the end of this Scripture, chapters 38-41, we find God finally intervened in Job and his three friends’ debates and answered them.  But God still didn’t give a clear explanation; instead He asked Job a series of questions: “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? … Were you there when I put the stars in the sky? … Can you tell the sea where to go? … Do you understand the ways of the creatures of the deep? Can you control them?” … In the end Job replied, “I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.” (42:3).

Basically God’s answer is like this: “I am God, I know what I am doing but you don’t know what I am doing. I am in charge but not you…” As God is the mystery, we should see that all things happening in the world are mysterious as well, and no one is able to understand how God operates his creation! That’s why Job at the end of this book confessed that “Therefore, I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:6). It tells us that God is working beyond our capacity of understanding.

I began by asking the question “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Perhaps the more adequate question is not “why” but “how.  How should we respond when bad things happen? When Job lost everything in his life – his children, his possessions, and his health, his wife told him, “Do you still persist in your integrity? Curse God, and die” (v. 9). Remember that she, too, had lost her children. But Job’s response was “Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?” (v. 10) Those two characters (Job and his wife) show different perspective on the mysterious trial. Which one do we belong to?

Well, one of my duties as your pastor is to encourage you not to curse God in the days of your trial.  I must help you even more in your worship of God.  I must help you understand and bless Him although you happen to struggle with the question of “why,” “why me,” or “why this?”

Keeping Integrity
What should we do when bad things happen to good people? How could we explain when the innocent end up with tragedies? What do we look for when the little children suffer from disease? Do we curse and say there is no God? Is that kind of skeptical answer helpful when we encounter any kinds of mysterious hardship, suffering, or trial?

So what does Job’s trial in this chapter 1 and 2 teach us? 1) It’s a mystery to tell why bad things happen in God’s creation. 2) Trust that God is ultimately in charge although we can’t understand how he controls. 3) As we trust in God, we should keep our integrity in the midst of trial. After all, God is the One who created this universe, and God is our Lord and Father who is in charge. We should keep our trust in God who has wisdom and power. Amen.