s199o98 Somerton Park 8/11/98 Sunday 32.
"O that my words were written down! O that they were inscribed in a book! O that with an iron pen and with lead they were engraved on a rock forever! Job 19:23-24
Three years ago on this particular Sunday I preached on marriage and possessiveness fairly comprehensively (http://www.geocities.com/Athens/2125/199.htm), and so I really thought I'd better look at one of the other readings this year.
I was really hoping I might somehow weave in a recent perception I've had on the doctrine of atonement, but circumstances have led me down a different path. Perhaps Anselm et al will have to wait for another day ... As I come back to this sentence I am pleased for the diversion. I hope others are too.
As I looked at the Old and New Testament readings I see that comfort is a theme of the epistle reading where Paul seeks to reassure the Thessalonians not to be shaken or alarmed. And in reality comfort lies behind the whole of the book of Job, and while the word is not used in our particular reading for today, Job seems to find some small comfort as he rails against God.
One of the things that some therapists suggest to people is that they take out their anger in non destructive ways - like beating up your mattress with a pillow - or some such similar activity - rather than taking it out on the people around them. And the issue is important, for road rage is becoming more of a problem, certainly here in Australia. It is a very useful skill to find ways of expressing anger in non-destructive ways. Non-destructive to people (ourselves as much as anyone else) and of course property. I suspect much of the drug taking in modern society lies in young peoples' inability to face what seems to them to be utter hopelessness. If some take out their anger by taking fuse blocks out of electricity meter boxes or spraying graffiti - it is at least better than hurting themselves or others. I confess I was considerably amused that intruders in the Church hall a week ago jemmied open the Sunday School cupboard :-) I do not think we can expect the frequency of such incidents to diminish with the present level of unemployment - for young people in particular have a good deal of justification for being angry.
I myself do not practise my own advise. I rarely express my anger at all. I find I bottle things up rather than expressing them - which is probably hurting myself in the long run. I do not enjoy the soapies or musicals at all - I hide my emotions fairly well.
We might initially think of Job's words as fairly benign, and yet on closer examination, I think that there is a good deal of passion behind them. I could well imagine him taking out his frustrations chiselling his words on a huge piece of marble himself! For that is what the words mean. They are his epitaph, the words on his headstone, which he wants prepared for all eternity. He wants nothing, even the inexorable march of time, to erase his complaint that he had done the right thing and had not been comforted. I strongly suggest he was not going to chisel words like: "Here lies Job of Uz. Loving husband of Mrs Job and beloved father of seven sons and three daughters. Rest in Peace after a sudden illness."
No. He had looked for comfort from his wife, who kindly suggested that he should "curse God and die!" (2.9)
Actually, the three friends who came to Job to comfort him, "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 2:13). Despite all their later theologising, they were in fact good friends to do this. Despite their efforts, Job finds no answer to his predicament from his friends.
God hasn't sent any comfort either.
His rage demands action, and whether he actually got out the hammer and chisel, or that his verbal tirade was enough, he expresses his frustration. As I said, it is not that he would just chisel his name on the marble; he wants the specifics of his complaints detailed. "Why did I not die at birth ...?" (3.11) "God ... has taken away my right ... and ... made my soul bitter" (27.2).
It is remarkable that these words of Job were indeed written down, "inscribed in a book", and that we are reading it to this day in Church. Words of anger at God and at the injustice of the world. Anger that people who do the right thing are not particularly rewarded and that those who do the wrong thing so often seem to prosper. As I say, I think it is remarkable that they are included in the Bible at all. If we were about trying to explain to others the reasons for believing in any god, let alone the God of the whole universe, it perhaps would be a better idea to omit this book all together.
For it is not a comfortable book. It doesn't paint a picture of religion of: "Do this or believe that and you will be blessed in everything ..." For all we might want to go back to the garden of Eden and the time of innocence before the fall - that is really wishful thinking. I suppose I do it as much as anyone else, but it is fantasy stuff. I suppose some people might be initially conned into following that sort of path initially, but sooner or later reality sets in.
This is the real world and the God I worship is about us being adults and responsible. Adults and responsible, not because God doesn't like children - but because so often adults hurt others. Fantasy stuff like: "I am right and everyone else is wrong" is not responsible. People get hurt thinking like that.
The inescapable conclusion is that God is not especially concerned to prove his (or her) existence to anyone. If God was concerned about getting people to believe, then God surely could and would have intervened. Intervened in Job's life, intervened to stop the crucifixion of Jesus, intervened during the dark days of the holocaust in World War 2. I personally wouldn't have any interest in worshipping a God who could do something but for no apparent reason (except perhaps for pure perversity) eternally stayed his/her hand.
God is much more concerned that we relate to one another about us, for this is the essential cause of much of the sadness, illness and pain of this world.
The second conclusion I come to is that we do not have to defend God. I have some intellectual appreciation of why the universe is structured how it is and why God does not intervene, but such an appreciation will do little to assist someone in the depths of despair - especially if it was me. I am better to remain silent.
The third conclusion is that God has "broad shoulders". Indeed in the vein of the usefulness of expressing anger in non destructive ways (and if we want to save even our pillows) - getting angry at God is a very good alternative. God is quite able to cope with anything we throw. If there is anything that won't break - it is God - despite all we try to wrap him/her up in the cotton wool of ornate aumbries.
There is nothing wrong with being angry - for anger is only the other side of love. If we didn't love something we wouldn't get angry if something happened, we would simply walk away. What is of the nature of sin is when we let our anger (or anything else) hurt ourselves or others. But of course that is ever within the possibility of apology and forgiveness. But anger is a pure emotion, neither good or bad. To deny its existence is to deny one's integrity. Someone said (I've forgotten who) that the greatest sin was in fact apathy - of not caring.
I've already said I wouldn't worship a God who could do something but for no apparent reason eternally stayed his/her hand. Another sort of God I wouldn't worship is one who expressed the divine love by being eternally angry at humanity. I've met enough humans around who "express their love" by being angry. If God can't do any better than that I wouldn't be bothered, and I wouldn't ask anyone else to do so either.
But of course God has done better - much better - in the cross and resurrection of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. And it is here that some have found comfort in that Jesus was prepared to die and to rise again for the ordinary mass of humanity. God expresses the divine love, not by being eternally angry at humanity, but by sending Jesus. And in giving Jesus, God is only making explicit what was eternally true beforehand. God never has been angry with humanity.
But if anyone doesn't find comfort in the knowledge of the cross of Jesus, then, like Job, may you find some small comfort in getting angry at God. If that means that some are saved from hurting themselves or others, then I'm sure God will be pleased. If Job can get angry at God and it is recorded in the Bible, surely we can too.
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