Sermon: The Mystery: Praying in the Silence of God

October 14, 2018
Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost

Job 23:1-9, 16-17; Mark 10:17-31
Pastor SeokCheol Shin

The Mystery: Praying in the Silence of God

Hide and Seek
Little children are good at entertaining themselves anytime and anywhere if they have their mommy and daddy and some toys around them, but do we need to buy them good toys to make them excited? Without any toys, children have a fun time with simple games like “Tag,” “Simon says,” and “Red Light, Green Light.  But perhaps no other game is as well-known to children as the game we call “Hide and Seek.” Even infants giggle with delight when playing “peek-a-boo.”

Interestingly, we can find the play of “Hide and Seek” all over in the Bible. The parable about the Good Shepherd looks after the lost sheep is a good example of “Hide and Seek.”  The hymn “Amazing Grace” speaks of the joy of being found, having once been lost.  When was the last time you played “Hide and Seek” with God?  When we play “Hide and Seek,” it is always a happy ending because God the seeker finds us the hiders. But when God plays “Hide and Seek,” it can be frustrating because God is very good at hiding, which we may call “silence” or “absence” of God. Children get frustrated and even cry when they can’t find their playmates; likewise, what would be scarier to us than God’s absence?

Job’s Response to Trial:
Last week we saw Job was thrown into a heap of ashes, the very picture of misery. All of his possessions, his children, his own health, all had been taken from him as Satan tried to demonstrate that Job would give up his faith in God if God removed grace from him. But amazingly Job still praised the Lord, saying “Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?” He kept his integrity in the midst of his unfair trial. Very good!  Is keeping integrity all we can learn from Job?

In today’s passage, we see Job’s patience was at an end, and he was now anxious to know why bad things happened to him. To make it worse, he was treated as a sinner by his judgmental friends. In the time of the Old Testament, such a terrible disease was thought to be a sign of God’s punishment on sinners. Yet Job was sure that he didn’t do anything wrong to deserve this kind of terrible punishment from God. Thus, he wanted to present God in their debates as a witness and let him judge what he had to end up with suffering (v. 4).

Unfortunately, as much as he sought, Job found God only absent, silent, and careless about his unjust suffering. He could see no sign of God’s appealing to his innocence before his friends. That’s why he lamented: “If I go forward, he is not there; or backward, I cannot perceive him; on the left he hides, and I cannot behold him; I turn to the right, but I cannot see him” (vv. 8-9). Job felt God was the only one to witness to his integrity, but God didn’t seem to respond to his argument. Just like little children who are frustrated when they fail to find their playmates, Job must have felt deserted in his own darkness (vv. 16-17).

Isn’t this how we feel when we are faced with such trials? “My life has been ruined because I lost my job; I feel hopeless since I am alone and getting older; my heart is broken because my child got a serious disease; but I really don’t know what to do, where to go, and how to resolve my problem… Where are you, O Lord? Please talk to me and answer the reason for my suffering.”

Once again, Job’s patience was at an end. The next reaction he showed is his desperation for God. He was complaining, arguing, shouting to heaven, “where are you Lord? … why are you silent from me? … come and answer my question…” Unfortunately, Job failed to understand why bad things happened to him. Instead he was complaining as he prayed to God in the midst of his trial!

Like Job, have we ever been desperate for seeking God’s presence? What made us cry to God? Was it a time when we were in a normal or happy life? Or was it a time when we were beaten up by the storm of life? In the chapter 1, Job was introduced as a blameless and upright man, and he was wealthy with abundance, which was considered God’s blessing in this ancient time. But there is no mention that Job was praying or seeking God like he was doing now in the midst of his suffering.

No one wants to enjoy pain and sorrow, but one thing that I really can say about it is that suffering stirs our hearts and makes us desperate for God. In other words, suffering is one of the surest ways we long for God’s hands.

A Rich Young Man’s Response to Trial:
In Mark’s Gospel today, Jesus met a rich man who was looking for God’s kingdom. Like Job, he was a morally good man, and Jesus loved him. But in Jesus’ eyes, he needed to do one more thing to inherit God’s kingdom. Jesus admonished him: “Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor… and then come, follow me” (v. 21). When he heard Jesus’ command, this young man was startled. What Jesus asked was too much. He couldn’t abandon all of his wealth.

And like the man in this story, we may not feel comfortable with Jesus’ strict order. In order to get into God’s kingdom, do we really have to give up all our possessions and make us completely poor? If that were so, how many of us are willing to give up everything that we have just to get into God’s kingdom?  “Who can be saved” among us? (v. 26). That was the question of the disciples and ours today as well.

To relieve our worry, I want you to read again Jesus’ command carefully. He didn’t just tell him to give up everything he had. In his final instruction, Jesus told the man to “come, follow me.”

This young man actually ran into Jesus to ask about how to inherit God’s kingdom. Interestingly, Jesus already taught his followers in the previous lesson that “Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it” (v. 15). The rich man was a good man, but in Jesus’ eyes, he wasn’t like a little child. As you know, children could live or survive only when they rely on their parents.  When Jesus asked him to give up his wealth, perhaps he was simply requiring him to be just like a little child before the Lord, so that he might rely on God rather than his own wealth and find true and better security in the Lord.

Jesus’ command seems too radical for this rich man to take up. Yes, it was a risk; it challenged him to leave his comfort zone; it could cause him pain and sorrow. He might be even upset in thinking that “I have been faithful with God’s law although I am rich. So what’s wrong with my money?”

He misunderstood the purpose of Jesus’ trial. Following Jesus is not to give up all our happiness and joy in our world. Jesus Christ actually came to bless us more in this world. In his following message, he promises his disciples who gave up everything and followed him that they will receive a hundredfold now in this age and in the age to come, eternal life (vv. 29-30). Yes, God is our heavenly Father who loves us and wants to bless our lives. Whoever comes to the Lord, he or she will be healed and restored and blessed by God’s mercy and compassion.

If God wants to bless his children, why do bad things happen to us? I can’t fully explain why God allows God’s people to experience those pains and sorrows. But one thing I can say about suffering is that through this we can rely on God and have a true security in God. Thus, suffering to God’s people is not only a trial itself but the divine connection between God and us.

Not Why, But How…
Where is God when life hurts? Why do bad things happen to good people? This is one of the major questions raised in the book of Job. This is also the question that we sometimes struggle with in times of our sorrow. This book helps us to ponder on not why but how.

When suffering comes upon us like a storm, how do we want to respond? Will we be grieving and turning away from the Lord, like the rich young man in the Gospel, or will we be more desperate for seeking or praying for God’s help, like Job? Through our meditation on Job’s trial, I want to encourage you to see suffering not as a bad thing itself but as a time for us to rely on God or go deeper in close relationship with the Lord. Amen.