November 7, 2010 Answerizing Job 19:21-26
It’s good to be back with you all this morning after spending last weekend in Virginia, where we used to live before moving here. It’s always good to see old friends and run around the old stomping grounds, but it’s always good to come back, too!
Most times when we go down, there’s so much going on that we don’t get much time to just visit with friends.
So we made time last weekend.
There were no seminars to attend, there was no homework to do, there was only friends and food and church on Sunday morning.
The first night we were there, one of our good friends who we were staying with, she asked us a difficult question. It was fairly late, so her kids were in bed and it was just the three of us sitting around her kitchen table (her husband was away for the weekend).
We had been talking about changes that were happening in Harrisonburg. We were talking about family, about the church we used to attend, we were reminiscing about college, and then she leaned forward just a little bit in her chair and asked us what we thought of the Seminary.
You might not think that would be a ‘difficult’ question.
If you know Christine and me, you know that we really value the education we received in Seminary, so the actual question wasn’t difficult at all.
But have you ever been asked a question, and you could tell there was more behind it than met the eye? We call them ‘loaded’ questions.
*It’s like when an acquaintance or a friend asks you how you voted. You know they’re not really interested in how you voted; they really want to talk about politics.
*Or it’s like if you’re single, and your great aunt asks you at a family reunion if you’re there by yourself. You know she doesn’t really care–she wants to hook you up!
*Or it’s like when you go to the dentist, and they ask how often you brush your teeth, or you go to a mechanic and they ask how often you rotate your tires!
These are “loaded” questions. They aren’t asked because the person really wants or needs the information; they’re asked in order to open a much deeper conversation.
It’s the conversation that creates the meaning.
So our friend asked what we thought of the seminary, but we could tell there was more on her mind.
Now here’s a guiding principle that can be helpful when you’re asked a loaded question.
I think Christine is better at it than I am, but you’ll never get her to admit it!
It’s actually a pretty good tactic for evangelism, too.
The principle is this: “Never answer the question that is asked; always answer the question that you want asked.”
I missed it that night in Virginia. My first response was somewhat defensive. I said something about what a positive experience I had, and how much I learned while I was there. I could tell our friend was making a negative judgment based on some rumors that she was hearing.
So I answered kind of defensively, I answered the question that was asked.
But Christine was there too, and being the deeper, wiser, more perceptive one in our marriage, she sought to answer the question that she wanted asked.
She came right out and said “I don’t think you’re asking the right question”.
She wisely went on to talk about how each person’s experience is going to be different because of who they are and what they take from the seminary experience. It has to do as much with who you are before seminary as it does with what the seminary teaches.
That led into a deeper conversation that was much more helpful and edifying for everyone involved rather than just a defensive rant on my part.
It’s kind of like the story of Job.
If you’re not familiar with the story of Job, in a nutshell there’s a good, honest, righteous man named Job who was leading a life that you could say was ‘blessed’. He was exceedingly wealthy, had a good, strong family that liked spending time together, and lots of servants, livestock, and land to go with it.
Now, to make a long story short, God gives Satan permission to take everything away from Job except for his life. It was like they had a bet. Satan was betting that Job would curse God if he didn’t have all that material blessing. God was betting that he wouldn’t.
So Job lost everything. His world crumbled around him.
I have some problems with this story because of how it paints God, you know? He seems far away, distant, and for the most part, callus to Job’s situation.
The thing is, it’s because of those problems that I feel like I can relate, you know?
We’re not privy to Divine conversations, and there are times when life just crumbles around us, too–for no good reason that we can see. Can you agree?
A baby dies, or remains unborn, a house burns down, we lose our health, our job, our security, or a friendship.
None of it makes sense and God seems far away and callus to our plight as evil has its way. So we comfort ourselves with the knowledge that in the end, God wins.
…But somehow that knowledge isn’t really helpful, because here and now, we don’t have any answers.
Do you know what I’m talking about?
In the first several chapters of Job, his three well-meaning friends come and they sit with him in silence for a solid week. Then they try to explain what has happened. They basically tell Job that he must have sinned against God somehow.
They were answerizing– trying to answer Job’s very unique, very deep, very individual pain and suffering with a one-size-fits-all Answer. It’s what we all do when we’re not the ones who are suffering. The problem is, often those answers only bring more pain and anguish to an already pained and anguished person.
But if there’s one thing Job can teach us, it’s that when evil strikes, meaning is found not in answers, or possessions; but in Conversation!
Especially conversation about our most intense areas of pain and loss.
Keep in mind, though, that those conversations are best held with good friends who have enough wisdom to sit with you and your pain for a week without saying a word, right? If the conversation happens otherwise, you might be heading for some even deeper pain.
I had a friend in high school who had cancer in his leg. He was a basketball player, well liked by everyone in school.
And there was a group of faith healers who came through town during his ordeal.
They had no relationship to him, or our community, but that didn’t stop them from pronouncing an answer to his pain. They prayed for my friend and spread the rumor that he was healed.
Can you imagine the hope and the excitement that went around our school once we heard this answer to his problem?
Well, they left after their healing service. They weren’t around a few weeks later when his leg was amputated below the knee.
They weren’t around a few years later when he died in the prime of life.
The faith healers offered an answer to the question of my friend’s cancer, but they weren’t there to pick up the pieces of shattered hopes and expectations.
Don’t answer the question that’s being asked: answer the question you WANT to be asked–and that in the presence of trusted friends.
Of course, that doesn’t mean your friends will always ‘get it’ or be helpful.
Job’s friends couldn’t accept the mystery of Job’s suffering. They needed answers.
So they answered Job in ways that made sense to them. They answerized in the only way they could. They judged him.
Surely Job had sinned. That’s how the world works, that’s how religion works–people are rewarded or punished according to their behavior.
So they beg Job to come clean, to confess his sin.
-The problem is that Job refuses their answers by insisting that his suffering remains a mystery. He’s not letting them off the hook. He knows he’s done nothing to deserve this.
So in the passage for today, we hear him say “have pity on me, my friends, have pity, for the hand of God has struck me.”
He goes on to say one of the most familiar phrases in scripture “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God”.
Job stubbornly lived his life as a question with that one answer.
I know that my Redeemer lives.
He was answering the question he wanted asked, you know?
He chose to live the question and not be put off of it.
I like the example Larry opened with this morning. Jeopardy is a gameshow where you’re given the answer and you have to come up with the right question.
That’s kind of what it’s like to live with faith in the face of pain and suffering.
Even though God can seem as far away and as unfeeling as brick, we live as questions to the answer “I know that my Redeemer lives. Even when my skin is destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God.”
When we are cast into the valley of the shadow of death, it’s not the answer we need. It’s the Answer-er. The Redeemer, our companion, Christ our Lord.
If you read on in the story, you know that God sides with Job. He is restored to his former state of being. God blesses him with an increase in prosperity.
But he never gets an answer for his suffering.
He’s never given the ‘why’ behind the tragedy.
We’ll never know why bad things happen to us.
But before the One True God, life is beyond answers…instead, life becomes a question!
We cannot explain suffering any more than we can explain God.
What we can do is live as questions whose answer is Christ!
Otherwise we’re just offering pronouncements; answerizing the planet according to our point of view.
*We all have friends or acquaintances–who are 100 percent sure about anything and everything that happens in the world. Every issue that comes down the pike, they know where they stand and why they stand there without even giving it a second thought.
*Homosexuallity, AIDS, Divorce, Teen-age Pregnancy, Abortion–all the issues are cut and dried, black and white, two-sided issues.
But what I’m saying is when you find yourself afflicted, the last thing you need is a pronouncement.
When we get shoved into our own valley of the shadow, the right questions, the right companions, and the right conversations are far more helpful than the answers could ever be. What’s more important than answers is the answer-er, who is Christ, who endured the cross and its shame, who laid aside all privilege to become the lowest of the low. Through his suffering and his resurrection we can say with Job “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God.”
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