God in Golden Splendour

(Job 37:14-24) – J G White

11 am, Sun, Feb 23, 2020 – UBC Digby

Let me start my ‘little talk’ today with a scene from long, long ago. It’s the year 1355 BCE. Akhenaten has come to the throne in Egypt. He lives and reigns in royal splendour, as all the Pharaohs did. He has the temple of the traditional Egyptian god, Amun, destroyed, so the one true sun god, Aten, would be worshipped by all.

In a moment alone, he worships Aten. What Akhenaten sings – celebrating the living giving glory of the sun – is echoed by a later song in history, Psalm 104. Bless the LORD, O my soul. 

O LORD my God, you are very great.

…wrapped in light as with a garment.

You stretch out the heavens like a tent…

You cause grass to grow for the cattle,

and plants for people to use. (104:1, 2, 14)

I just glimpsed this scene in a trailer for the Met Opera production of Philip Glass’s opera, Akhnaten. 

Tutankhamen, ‘King Tut,’ may be more familiar to us, but his father was Akhenaten, who is known for his early attempt at a major spiritual reform in Egyptian religious culture. One god. Not many. Monotheism. One – the sun God.

 In many places and many moments in human history, the sun in our sky has drawn people’s attention, and been worshipped. Pharaoh Akhenaten’s track towards monotheism – one God – was an early look in the same direction the little tribe of Hebrews was already taking. 

No wonder God is associated with the sun. The glory, the beauty, the dangerous power, the life-giving nature of our sun, are all gigantic for us. Yet the Hebrews learned that even the sun is but a small manifestation of the Creator’s creation. Even the sun and moon and stars bow down to the Creator. The vision of Revelation tells us that, in The End, the City of God will need no sun or moon, for God’s glory and the light of the Christ will be all the light needed. (Rev 22:22-23)

Our Bible is filled with this imagery of the Glory of God. It is a beautiful and terrifying image. ‘Our God is a consuming fire.’ (Heb 12:29) I thought this week of an old hymn – I’ve never heard sung – that a wise old pastor quoted to me once. (Robert P. Matthews)

Eternal Light! Eternal Light!

How pure the soul must be

When, placed within Thy searching sight,

It shrinks not, but, with calm delight

Can live, and look on Thee!

O how shall I, whose native sphere

Is dark, whose mind is dim

Before the Ineffable appear,

And on my naked spirit bear

That uncreated beam? (Thomas Binney)

Some holy glimpses we get in this life are bright, in their own way, and startling. Such was the experience even of the disciples of Jesus, when they walked with Him. Peter, James and John got that special day with the Master up a hill, when Jesus was transformed, for a short time, into a glorious, shining being. We call it ‘the Transfiguration.’ Peter and the others were aghast, and obviously confused. 

So had been the children of Israel, thirteen hundred years before, when Moses came down from his own mountaintop experience, with the Law in hand, and his face was shining so brightly everyone was terrified. Moses had to cover his face!

In our scripture story today we heard one last time from Elihu, that young visitor to poor, suffering Job. And now, as his finale, Elihu gives a prelude to what is about to happen. He speaks of the glory of the Creator. The Creator who has caused the lightning of his cloud to shine. …No one can look upon the light when it is bright in the skies, when the wind has passed and cleared them. Out of the north comes golden splendor; all around God is awesome majesty. the Almighty — we cannot find him… (37:15, 21-23)

We see all the power of creation, that comes from that Creator. The golden splendour of God is greater than the most amazing things we experience in our world. 

The answer Christianity gives to the problem of the burning glory of God, which no mere human can stand, is revealed in that old hymn I quoted.

There is a way for man to rise

To that sublime abode:–

An offering, and a sacrifice,

A Holy Spirit’s energies,

An Advocate with God:

These, these prepare us for the sight

Of holiness above;

The sons of ignorance and night

May dwell in the eternal Light,

Through the eternal Love.

God’s offering to us is God: Jesus. Jesus is the sacrifice, to use the Biblical language. And the presence of this Father and Son are put to work in our souls by the ‘energy’ of the Holy Spirit.

When the reconciliation of us with God begins, our souls start to sing. I wanted us to sing today a hymn from the African Church tradition, but it is in the Christmas section of the book. Maybe we should have sung it anyway: words by Charles Wesley and George Elderkin. 

Hark the herald angels sing. 

Jesus, the light of the world.

Glory to the new-born King.

Jesus, the light of the world.

We’ll walk in the light, beautiful light.

Come where the dewdrops of mercy shine right.

Oh, shine all around us by day and by night.

Jesus, the light of the world.

There is true joy when the light shines upon us, and we glimpse the glory of God. And, miracle of miracles, the followers of Jesus get in on that light. The inner light glows from within us. Jesus, the Light of the World, tells us ‘you are the light of the world!’

Glory to God!

Eye Specks

(Job 34:21-37; Mtt 7:1-12) – J G White

11 am, Sun, Feb 16, 2020 – UBC Digby

So, I admit it. I am one of those people who is a stickler for ‘apostrophe S’es, and all manner of little things like that. I look down on a friend who is always posting, on Facebook, more picture’s. ‘But then, the Sunday church bulletin, that I proofread, says ‘Jesus Love  the Little Children.’  

I look at signs outside businesses that are out of date, and think, ‘why doesn’t someone change that?’ But then I leave a stale message on my own Church sign on the street. Or, leave it blank for five weeks.

What do you do about the speck you see in someone’s eye? Take the log out of your own??

Sometimes, our desire to set people straight and help them out can be strong – as with Elihu, in the Bible book of Job. ‘He adds rebellion to his sin.’ (J34:37) At other moments, our desire to avoid correction and not talk about sin also can be strong – we quote Jesus: ‘don’t judge.’ 

When we consider how we judge a situation, we may be angry with others for going astray,

proud of being right,

anxious or concerned for others,

hopeful and longing to help,

fearful that worse things will happen next,

sad and despairing when we see what happened.

Even among the friends of Job, and Elihu, there are many responses to the troubles of this man, and all his despair and grief. Amid all the advice, Job is a tortured man.

“Because the needy groan, I will now rise up,” says the LORD. Psalm 12:5 Job is one of the needy. He is poor in things, poor in health, poor in spirit. 

In the ongoing thoughts in the book of Job, young Elihu presses the point: God will do right, and get done what needs to get done. Last week here we read, from Ch. 34, ‘Of a truth, God will not do wickedly, and the Almighty will not pervert justice.’ (J34:12)

I also am confident that God does not ‘pervert justice.’ God is all-seeing in judgment; we are not.

God is the opposite of me, for instance, when it comes to deciding what is right and what is wrong. Whether I have a day off and can decide to do whatever I want, go wherever I want – or I am planning some sermons and can choose from any scriptures at all: I find it hard to discern and decide! It takes me a while. I have to think it through, weigh all the options. Or you give me some new idea – there will be new, big salmon farms in St. Mary’s Bay – do I like this, or not? Hmm, ‘I’ll get back to you on that.’

Our God is not indecisive. (Nor wrong in decision-making.) Creator’s judgment does not take time, does not need a lot of research and debate. Elihu expressed this in front of Job.

For God has not appointed a time for anyone 

to go before God in judgment.

He shatters the mighty without investigation,

and sets others in their place. (J 34:23-24)

The Bible language about Judgment Day, and the frequent language of holy court cases, is about two things, I’d suggest. There is judgment and thus justice coming. And, though it could be instantaneous, right now, we are given some time – it is in the future. 

So the Biblical theology is that God needs no time to figure out what decisions to make. 

Of course, even though a person like me may take time to make our decisions and judge some things, we must admit this: we usually have immediate emotional reactions. Right away, we have feelings. 

So, I react, inside, when I detect an error in someone. Even if they did not truly make a mistake, if I think he or she did, BANG, I feel it. I judge it. I might blurt something out. To guide that person, point out the problem, show them what to do next to fix things up, even shame them. To prove myself better! I draw attention to the speck in your eye. ‘Let me get that for ya.’

Well, good news! We are not the judges! It is not going to be up to us to sort everything out. 

If we survey Jesus’ approaches to correcting people, we see His times of gentleness with some, and harshness with others.  Think on this: when did Christ speak harshly to someone? When was He kind and generous? 

To a couple towns in Galilee He said, “woe to you!” Shortly after, we find Him saying, “Come to me, all you that are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Mtt 11:20-30)

More good news! Self-examination leads to correction, to improvement. ‘First, take the log out of your own eye, & then you will see clearly…’ (M7:5) 

We do have a tendency to project things onto other people. Often this can be the faults we have – we are harsh against others who show the same problem – instead of admitting it about ourselves. 

We have such ways of hiding our troubles from ourselves. Our own sins. Our wounds inside. Self-examination can be a very helpful spiritual practice. Some of our personal prayer life is getting to see what’s wrong or hurt within. Then, healing and personal growth is possible. 

The Psalms can lead us with words like these:

But who can detect their errors?

Clear me from hidden faults. (19:12)

Search me, O God, and know my heart; 

test me and know my thoughts. 

See if there is any wicked way in me, 

and lead me in the way everlasting. (139:23-24)

Instructors like Richard Foster speak of a kind of prayer called the Prayer of Examen. You go to God to get your soul examined – your thoughts, your feelings, your inner self. Even your subconscious. Foster writes of many ways we go to God to see and know ourselves – simple prayer, keeping a spiritual journal, personal scripture study, and so on. He tells of a friend who has a unique way of experiencing the examen of conscience. All week she tries to live as an heir of God’s power [a child of the King, as we say], doing his works and thinking his thoughts. Then on Friday and Saturday evening she leaves the heights and comes down into the depths of her being, asking the Spirit of God to guide her memory back over the week to any sin or failing that needs his forgiveness. Then she enters a divine time of repentance which is concluded by receiving [communion] in the Sunday morning worship service. (Prayer, 1992, p. 35)

‘First, take the log out of your own eye…’ The Spirit uses our own experience to teach us, train us, transform us.

With events in Wet’suwet’en First Nation, BC, and Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, ON, now, we white people may be considering our white privilege. We do the same when African Heritage Month comes each year. What benefits do I enjoy, as a white male, in my country? Privileges that I may never have noticed I get, because I did not see that others do not enjoy the same freedoms. 

A few years ago in CBM’s Mosaic magazine, Terry Smith told of this experience.

I was livid! Mustapha and I were colleagues in youth work in inner city Paris back in the 1990s. One day, as we walked around the corner in a subway station, a group of policemen stopped us and asked to see Mustapha’s ID card. I pulled out my wallet and offered my ID card to the police. They flicked my hand away. But they stood there, with menacing posture, waiting for Mustapha to provide his. He reluctantly complied, telling me, “not to worry,” it happened to him all the time. Why him and not me? Because he is dark-skinned, and I am light-skinned. But he and I were both ‘immigrants’ – he was from Algeria, and I was from Canada. I asked him afterwards if it made him angry. He smiled and said to me, “Terry, Liberté, Egalité et Fraternité [Freedom, Equality and Brotherhood] only count if you’re white.” 

Mustapha’s experience continues to be the reality for many others today… (Spring 2016)

The example of ‘white privilege’ is but one of many common lessons to be learned, before we point our fingers at others.

One more bit of good news from Jesus! Correction of ourselves makes it possible for us to help others. Yes, of course there is a role for helping someone get things right. Telling what you know, what you see, what you recommend. The most profound moments of this can come from those who have received healing and correction. They are equipped to help others who have suffered the same trauma, or from the same sins.

For instance: Brenda Halk, who has worked with Canadian Baptist Ministries. She is known for developing an amazing resource called ‘Groups of Hope,’ a small group program to lead oppressed, depressed, abused and hurting people into new hope. The program has been used across the globe. 

It came from Brenda Halk, whose troubles and healing in her own life were the material God used to build this program. Brenda tells,

I experienced the pain of the betrayal of trust as a child. As a middle-aged adult, I suffered through the termination of my twenty-three-year marriage, which left me feeling like a failure as a wife, as a mother, and as a minister’s wife. God has since led me on a journey of healing, pouring out His love and compassion and gently leading me once again into places of ministry. (p. 4) 

‘First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbour’s eye.’ Jesus said that; James wrote this: ‘confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed.’ (J5:16) Often the ‘wounded healer’ is the greatest healer.

There is a time for strong, direct words. There is a time for humble advice offered as hope.  Jesus models this for us, and then molds us into those who live life His Way. As we become more spiritually grounded, we move from having specks of dirt in our own eyes – or even a log – to having specks on our eyes: holy spectacles, eyeglasses, for greater vision. 

We might even go from 20/20 – average – to better vision.  Thanks be to God!

Deliver Us from Evil

(Job 34:1-20; Mtt 6:7-15) – J G White

11 am, Sun, Feb 9, 2020 – UBC Digby

Jersey on the Wall (I’m Just Askin) is a pop song by Canadians Gordie Sampson, Tenille Townes – who sings it – and American Tina Parol. (2018) It was inspired by a memorial in a school gymnasium to a young athlete who had died in a tragic accident. The chorus of the song says: 

If I ever get to Heaven

You know I got a long list of questions

Like how do You make a snowflake?

Are You angry when the Earth quakes?

How does the sky change in a minute?

How do You keep this big rock spinnin’?

And why can’t You stop a car from crashin’?

    Forgive me, I’m just askin’

Many people have moments here and now of “just askin’.”  Long ago, Job and Elihu talked about the same things. In their case: why has Job’s family, his career, and his body, been destroyed? No reason can be found for him to deserve this.

When bad things happen to good people. We Christians claim to put a lot of prayer into these issues. We celebrate miracles! We look back and can see guidance. We put our confidence in the plans, the will of our God. But the hard questions keep coming.

So, we keep on praying. We pray with the prayer  instructions we have been given, including:

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. 

Your kingdom come, Your will be done, 

on earth as it is in heaven

We keep teaching children to pray it in four hundred year old English, “Our Father, which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.” I wish the English speaking Church in the world could make the switch to contemporary language. Nevertheless, the tradition takes us into obedient praying, to God who delivers us from evil. God is a good power. Good, not evil. Powerful: able to deliver. 

This gets at the heart of the challenge, when things go wrong. How can terrible things happen to people? If God is God. If God is good. If God is powerful. “Why can’t you stop a car from crashin’?”

In the days of Job, Elihu rightly stated: (J34:10)

far be it from God that he should do wickedness, 

and from the Almighty that he should do wrong. 

More than once this is the message of Job’s visitors. Elihu also spoke of the Creator’s power, sustaining all things: (J34:14-15)

If he should take back his spirit to himself, 

and gather to himself his breath, 

all flesh would perish together, 

and all mortals return to dust.  

The prayer Jesus gave us, asking to deliver us from evil, starts ‘Our Father in Heaven.” Yet this incredible Holiness, this pure Goodness, is so close – Jesus brings this truth to us.

Baptist scholar, Dallas Willard, taught some interesting things about the Kingdom of the Heavens. He wrote that unfortunately, “Our Father who art in heaven,” has come to mean “Our Father who is far away and much later.” (The Divine Conspiracy, 1997, p. 257) 

Willard insisted on translating the plural: ‘the heavens.’ He reminds us of the first century Jewish concept, the levels of the heavens, from far out where the stars are, and beyond, to the sky with clouds, down to the air and wind right around us, that we breathe. These are all part of ‘the heavens.’ Remember Paul’s comment about someone carried off in a vision to “the third heaven,” up there? (2 Cor. 12:2) The first heaven is the atmosphere all around us. Our Father in the heavens can be very near us. The Spirit: as close as the air we breathe. The Power of goodness, available to us. This is the Kingdom Jesus proclaimed!

Delivery from evil also shines thru in this part of the prayer: “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”

It’s the Presbyterians, at least, who always recite ‘debts and debtors’ in the Lord’s Prayer, isn’t it? We are accustomed to ‘our trespasses and those who trespass against us.’ 

Twenty five years ago I lived in a beautiful little town. From my house I could see my Church, with a weather vane on it’s pointy spire, I could often see a black horse grazing in a nearby backyard, and I could almost see Donalda’s house. Donalda was a fine neighbour and friend. A Roman Catholic, a creative artist, a good gardener, a sufferer with brain tumors for many years, she was a delightful part of the community. I would see her, from time to time, taking a shortcut across the backyards, instead of just walking the streets and sidewalks to get downtown. When she passed through my yard, I would open the door and call out to her: “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those that trespass against us.”

I think Donalda, who has now been dead for years, was a person who not only was the gracious, forgiving type, she also expected generosity from her world. When she joined the local garden club, and folks were talking about the practice of digging flowers out of ditches in various places, Donalda happily declared, “The ditches are ours!”

Being forgiven and being forgiving go hand in hand, as these words of our Saviour famously indicate. If you forgive, you will be forgiven. If.

When you or I forgive a person, are we participating in ‘delivering from evil’? ‘Deliver us from evil,’ we pray. Our prayer can grow to become, ‘deliver that person from evil.’ And when we find it in us to pray that, we are asking for the wrong they did, and any repeats of it, to be removed, right? 

We who are believers are told in scripture that we have this ministry of reconciliation. Of healing relationships. 2 Corinthians 5. 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20 So we are ambassadors for Christ

It is well known that our message of ‘getting right with God’ includes dealing with the problem of evil. By means for forgiveness. Our story of Jesus is a forgiving story. While Jesus is undergoing execution He speaks: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Lk 23:34) 

So this part of the Model Prayer is training us, even transforming us, to be on track with this forgiving power. To be more like Christ.  ‘Forgive us our sins / trespasses / debts, as we forgive those who sin / trespass / are indebted to us.

It is a prayer for holiness. It is simply asking for better. Better from within us. 

Elihu had said to Job, “according to their ways [God] will make it befall them.” (J34:11) And our deeds of prayer are part of our own journey of reconciliation with God. And with others.

A third point in the Great Prayer that stands out for us today is avoiding evil and wrong.

“And do not bring us to the time of trial,

but rescue us from the evil one.”

We usually pray Jesus’ words by saying, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” But do we expect our Master to lead us astray? We learn something when we bring this alongside James 1.

13 No one, when tempted, should say, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one. 14 But one is tempted by one’s own desire, being lured and enticed by it…

Our prayers, our longing, our deep hope, is that our Master will guide, and help us follow every bit of guidance! And, when we are already astray on our path, we call for help to get back on track. 

Our prayer is not just for ourselves, but for the world of people. Lead us; deliver us.

The edition of Mosaic that just came out, our Canadian Baptist magazine, begins with words from our Executive Director, Terry Smith. He gives an anecdote called ‘Working Above the Waterfall.’ Below the waterfall, a person is swimming but struggling, and trying to get to shore. A bystander gets in and helps him out. Then there is another swimmer in trouble, and another, and another. 

Finally, someone goes up above the waterfall, and discovers a footbridge across the river is unstable, leading to so many people falling in above the waterfall. 

Working to help people below and above the waterfall is needed. So it is, in our lives of service to others. There is rescue, redemption, reconciliation and forgiveness after trouble and disaster. There is also preventative help, to steer people away from danger. ‘Delivering them from evil,’ so to speak. 

This whole edition of Mosaic is about serving kids at risk in this world. Here is one of the stories. (p. 7)

Marie-Joseph was introduced to Terry Smith last year while Terry was visiting a high school in Goma, a city in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DCR). This nice, neat-looking 17-year-old young man told Terry about his past. Between the ages of 11 and 16, he served as a child soldier with one of the horrific armed militias in the DRC. Through his tears, he described the atrocities he was forced to carry out: torturing women and children, living for months in a state of hypnotic delirium, deprived of life and taking the lives of others. But he was rescued, received trauma counselling and rehabilitated by one of CBM’s local partner churches. Through the faithfulness of God’s people in caring for the vulnerable, even at such great cost, the work of redemption is carried out.

Our CBM theologian, Jonathan Wilson, speaks of three scriptural prayers that we would do well to utter daily as we contemplate the plight of people in our world. “How long, LORD, will the wicked,

how long will the wicked be jubilant?” (Ps. 94:3)

“Rise up, O God, judge the earth.” (Ps. 82:8)

“He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.” (Rv. 22:20)

These three prassages – How long? Rise up, and Come, Lord Jesus – represent a trilogy of Christian prayer in the midst of the fallen world and in the face of evil that is revealed in kids at risk in the world.

Jonathan Wilson concludes: when we say, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” we are essentially saying, “How long? Rise up, and Come, Lord Jesus.”  (pp. 8-9)

We may have moments when we feel like Job. “It profits one nothing to take delight in God.” (J 34:9) We give up. Let us ask for the faith to know what Elihu spoke: (J 34:12) 

Of a truth, God will not do wickedly,     

    and the Almighty will not pervert justice.

The prayer the Saviour taught was for all the ages, for we shall always need to ask ‘deliver us from evil,’ and we shall always be speaking, until the finale, with the One who is our Deliverer, and Who is not evil.

As a ‘finale’ to this sermon, let me share the Lord’s Prayer, reworked by Dallas Willard.

Dear Father always near us,

may your name be treasured and loved,

may your rule be completed in us–

may your will be done here on earth

in just the way it is done in heaven.

Give us today the things we need today,

and forgive us our sins and impositions on you

as we are forgiving all who in any way offend us.

Please don’t put us through trials,

but deliver us from everything bad.

Because you’re the one in charge,

and you have all the power,

and the glory too is all yours – forever –

which is just the way we want it!

Groundhog Day

(Job 33) – J G White

11 am, Sun, Feb 2, 2020 – UBC Digby

1 What helps us most, when life is getting ruined? Trouble hits us, and we could use assistance. To whom do we turn? We might also think of people we know to stay away from, who won’t be very helpful! 

So asks Job, of ancient days. Our Bible book, named after him, tells the tale. All the speeches Job gives, and his four visitors give. Does this suffering man get good advice, or crummy? One thing is for sure, Job and his four companions talk a lot. How many friends does one man need, when everything he had is lost, and there’s no hope in sight?

How many Baptists does it take to change a light bulb? Change? What’s that?

By the time a young fellow named Elihu talks, at length, to Job, a lot has already been said. Does Elihu say anything new? He thinks he has something better to say than Job’s three other, older friends. But is he just repeating everything said before?

He starts out: “But now, hear my speech, O Job, and listen to all my words.” (J33:1) He’d already spent the whole previous chapter saying this. And the others had done the same with Job. Eliphaz, in chapter 4, began: “If one ventures a word with you, will you be offended? But who can keep from speaking?” (J4:2)

In time of trouble, so often there are people who say, “ah, listen to me.” Last week we considered this, right here, and noticed how opinionated we people can be. I know what it is like to give my opinion, then, when my friend does not quite agree: I give my opinion again. And again. We tend to repeat ourselves. We need the lesson from other OT wisdom literature: There is a time for everything. “a time to keep silence, and a time to speak.” (Ecc 3:7b)

2 What helps us most, when life is getting ruined? Trouble hits us, and we could use assistance. To whom do we turn? We might also think of people we know to stay away from, who won’t be very helpful! 

So asks Job, of ancient days. Our Bible book, named after him, tells the tale. All the speeches Job gives, and his four visitors give. Does this suffering man get good advice, or crummy? One thing is for sure, Job and his four companions talk a lot. How many friends does one man need, when everything he had is lost, and there’s no hope in sight?

How many Baptists does it take to change a light bulb? One. But if you want the light to stay on, send in your generous donation today! 

By the time a young fellow named Elihu talks, at length, to Job, a lot has already been said. Does Elihu say anything new? Or is he just repeating everything said before? “I have heard the sound of your words,” he said to Job. “You say, ‘I am clean, without transgression…” (J33:8-9)

As often as we might ‘comfort’ someone by giving our advice, we’re prone to say, ‘Oh, I know just how you feel. Yes, I understand.’ We might even repeat their words back to them – which is, basically, a good listening technique. 

Job’s other friends had hinted at this. Zophar starts his first speech quoting Job: “For you say, ‘My conduct is pure, and I am clean in God’s sight.” (J11:4) That’s not actually a direct quote from his friend Job. True empathy takes effort. Real understanding of a friend in trouble takes Divine insight, not our attitude. The apostle Paul asked, “For what human knows what is truly human except the spirit that is within?” (1 Cor 2:11)

So, be careful about saying too quickly, “I know exactly what you’re thinking / what you’re feeling.”

3 What helps us most, when life is getting ruined? Trouble hits us, and we could use assistance. To whom do we turn? We might also think of people we know to stay away from, who won’t be very helpful! 

So asks Job, of ancient days. Our Bible book, named after him, tells the tale. All the speeches Job gives, and his four visitors give. Does this suffering man get good advice, or crummy? One thing is for sure, Job and his four companions talk a lot. How many friends does one man need, when everything he had is lost, and there’s no hope in sight?

How many Baptists does it take to change a light bulb? They don’t change light bulbs; they simply pray that the light bulb will get changed.

‘You’re wrong,’ said Elihu to miserable, worn out Job. “In this you are not right.” (J33:12) Exactly what Bildad, Zophar and Eliphaz had already told Job. Zohpar may be the harshest: “How long will you say these things and your mouth be a great wind?” (J8:2) All these speeches are getting repetitive. 

To rebuke someone, to correct someone in trouble, is a delicate matter. The New Testament writers mention this regularly. “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kindly to everyone, an apt teacher, patient, correcting opponents with gentleness.” (2 Tim 2: 24-25)

4 What helps most, when life is getting ruined? Trouble hits us, and we could use assistance. To whom do we turn? 

So asks Job, of ancient days. All the speeches Job gives, and his four visitors give. Does this suffering man get good advice, or crummy? One thing is for sure, Job and his four companions talk a lot. How many friends does one man need, when everything he had is lost, and there’s no hope in sight?

How many Baptists does it take to change a light bulb? Ten: one to change the bulb, and nine to talk about how much they liked the old one.

Does Elihu say anything new? Or is he simply talking again about how much the old ideas are right and Job is wrong. Just repeating everything said before? “God is greater than any mortal,” declared Elihu. But this is not news. He’s repeating the others. Zophar, for instance, had already asked, “Can you find out the deep things of God? Can you find out the limit of the Almighty?” (J11:7)

This is true, we’d say. And a lot of things we might tell a person who is seriously ill, or grieving heavy losses, or in big financial trouble, are true things. But what needs to be said, in the moment?

Up in Kings County there is a ‘famous’ Baptist minister who probably takes part in a third of the funerals in the County! He has been pastor of so many different churches, and knows everyone. One day, he had just officiated at the committal of a dear old lady, in a cemetery. Chatting with people after, the beloved Pastor said to a woman there, “So good to see you. Tell me, how is your mother doing, these days?” 

“You just buried her,” the lady replied!

Aside from our occasional slip-ups, we do well to pay attention to the good things we want to tell people. God is indeed great. The lived experience of this great God is often beyond our doctrinal words.

5 What helps most, when life is getting ruined? Trouble hits us, and we could use assistance. To whom do we turn? 

So asks Job, of ancient days. Does this suffering man get good advice, or crummy? One thing is for sure, Job and his four companions talk a lot. How many friends does one man need, when everything he had is lost, and there’s no hope in sight?

How many Anglicans does it take to change a lightbulb? None. They use candles.

Does Elihu say anything new? Shed some real light on the subject? Or is he just repeating everything said before? “For God speaks in one way, and in two, though people do not perceive it.” (J33:14) Elihu proceded to speak of the dreams and visions God gives, and the lessons from pain and punishment: God’s discipline.

In our day we might be caught saying, ‘God answers prayer.’ ‘He won’t give you more than you can handle.’ And other half-truths. I do believe that, as we learn to walk with Christ, Jesus leading us, we learn to recognize how the Master speaks. He is our Good Shepherd; “the sheep know His voice.” (John 10:4) Jesus’ people learn this, over time.

6 What helps most, when life is getting ruined? Trouble hits someone, and they could use assistance. To whom do they turn? 

So asks Job, of ancient days. Does this suffering man get good advice, or crummy? How many friends does one man need, when everything he had is lost, and there’s no hope in sight?

How many Pentecostals does it take to change a light bulb? Only one, since her hands are up in the air already.

Does Elihu say anything new? Or is he simply talking again about how much the old ideas are right and Job is wrong. Just repeating everything said before? He certainly repeats the old theology: the good will get rewarded, eventually; the bad will be rightly punished. Elihu had said, about a suffering person: “then he prays to God, and is accepted by him… and He repays him for his righteousness.” (J33:26) Just as the other three had been saying all along: “But the eyes of the wicked will fail; all way of escape will be lost to them, and their hope is to breathe their last.” (J11:20)

For thirty chapters here, the same points and counterpoints get made. Almost like poor Bill Murray’s character in the movie ‘Groundhog Day.’ He is forced to relive the same day over and over and over again, February 2nd. 

We do not want to live and relive the same struggles with pain and suffering, over and over. We don’t want that for anyone else, either. Though we see it happen.

How does the endless cycle of suffering finally stop? How do we put an end to it?! 

In the book of Job, what happens? SPOILER ALERT! God happens. After all the speeches, all the debates, God shows up. But not with answers. Simply with glory and majesty and presence. Creator arrives and visits. With images of all creation – from the icy storm clouds to the eagles circling above their nest. 

We can jump farther ahead than the final chapters of this Old Testament book. Look ahead to Jesus, known as Emmanuel: God With Us. The Deity enters human life, completely, and meets us in the worst suffering – even to the point of His death.

Our ministry, with people in trouble, is often to watch and wait for the experience of the living, executed God. Not answers, not explanations. Loving, powerful presence. No wonder we pray: we seek to be aware. Before ‘mindfulness’ became trendy, there has always been prayer, in all its quiet forms.

And when we suffer terribly – in body or mind, in heart or family – we await the living God. Not that we can press a button and have that One appear at our beck can call. Meeting the Holy is not up to us. It is mysterious. It is magnificent. It can even be a quiet, subtle moment.

Elihu’s words are not finished. Next week we will hear him go on some more. But the words of Job are finished.

And so are mine. Amen to that!