This morning, our worship theme is definitely part of our Epiphany plan, but it makes a slight shift you may have noticed. We’ve been getting to know the Light of the World, Jesus Christ. Each week, something about him. He calls sinners to service, He’s God’s light to the whole world, He cries out that we repent and believe, next week We glimpse the fullness of his glory before his suffering. But this week, His glory is hidden in suffering. Except that it isn’t Jesus’ suffering we see…it’s our own. You might argue that this week is then really about getting to know ourselves. But that’s a perfect and plausible place to be considering who God’s Son is – because it’s in our own sufferings that we’re tempted to misunderstand God’s glory and where it can be found.
Consider the suffering in the gospel. It’s first at Simon’s home. His mother-in-law is sick with a fever. We know, even today, sometimes the otherwise healthy unexpectedly die of something as simple as the flu. And, even the simplest of illnesses can turn the normal days into drudgery and difficulty. If you then were Simon, rightly you might fret. And you would wonder what to do and, to some degree, you’d wonder “Why?” or maybe even “Where is God’s love right now?”
Consider the others, outside Simon’s home, those who come, with demons, diseases. They’ve been plagued with some condition. Just imagine the last complication you had – surgery for a bunion or your back, some medicine you needed to curb some infection you had. But there was none of that – only the prospect of worse and worse and the slim hope of better. Or that other end, some false spirit has taken hold of their life and owns it, runs it, ruins it. Some otherworldly force, fierce and wicked – with the guilt that they let it in, something they’d done perhaps. And you’d wonder what to do and, to some degree, you’d wonder “Why?” and “Where is God’s goodness?”
It’s even in that interchange between Simon and the Lord. Imagine: all Simon had seen that night, personally known and received and then watched Jesus give…this authoritative power. And then, in the morning, with more clamoring, he’s gone! How could he?!? “How shortsighted…” you might say. And when he’s found, he’s praying, alone, off somewhere. And you can hear it in Simon’s words, “Everyone’s looking for you!” And you’d wonder, just a little bit here, “What’s going on? It’s clear to me what God ought to be doing…more of that, I’d say. But this instead? Is it truly glorious – I mean, right and good?”
Right in the midst of that is Job this morning. In the land of Uz it was, Job’s great estate, his wealth, his health, children and cheer, crops and camels. His life was glorious. He was righteous and good. Faithful and careful – sacrificing for his children’s maybe sins, just in case. And at the Lord’s allowance, everything he’d been allotted, Satan blotted out – dead his children, crops destroyed, dispersed the camels; all his wealth gone. Even his health, covered in sores from head to foot. Still had his wife, though – a beauty, she said, “Curse God and die!” because “Why? Shall we glory in these, Job?” Still his friends. Those come and sit and silently wait, somber, supportive…until they speak. And by chapter seven you’re just getting a taste of it, they’ve got 30 chapters of talk time to go – their premise is: “God is glorious, Job, but you’re not – surely there’s something you’ve done, some spot on your record. Remove it and riches will return, righteousness will prevail, if you repent – of what, God only knows. And that he does, we can see, and so should you…”
Tell me that what we have from Job in ch.7 doesn’t have it right. I don’t mean “right” like, God-pleasing, because I’m pretty sure it’s not. But right as it feels… Just exactly right about how it feels sometimes in the suffering?
V.1 Sometimes it’s “hard service”, and he means like being “in the service” – like lock-step military life – that bit about being ordered about, shouted at, and mandated to do even to death…it’s “hard service”. Tell me that your sufferings don’t take your life and lock-step it for you sometimes – run it into this order, this way, with drill-sergeant screams, this regiment that you’d rather not?
V.2 Aren’t they like punching the clock to just get what you need and trying to get out as soon as you can? They’re like the hired man, the hourly wage, the day-worker, the slave. In some of these our sufferings we wait on that clock to tick by, to signal the end of this sweaty shift of our lives… And it seems like if we get by it’ll be just barely, with just enough to make the rent we’ll scrape through once more to do it again tomorrow.
V.3 And sometimes it’s like, if Job was calculating his pay, waiting on it, but he got to the front of the line and the Lord handed out 7 months of worthlessness and 18 nights of pain and distress with a hospital stay, etc. Allotted: that you have the argument once more or to find the sickness has returned. Paid out: that the sins you staved off for a time come back with a vengeance and run you over, guilty leavings. And they last and you ask – this is what I get after this or that – this is what I’m allotted, this is my pay?
V.4 How long – doesn’t it drag on sometimes? Isn’t it interminable your failures, your guilt, your pain – the implacable situation your family member has put you in – like those nights when you toss and turn – it’s 12:06, then 1:15, then 2:47, now 4:32, until rest is a thing misplaced, and you just pick up and put on for another day, wrecked from the start.
V.5 And I know you know the horrible things that Job did – he was covered in puss and sores and scabs, a monster. But you understand how cancer is literally eating up the inside of you. How the arthritis actually twists you. Or beyond anything physical, how the death of that one you loved or the prospect of your own demise is like a sour, puss-filled, pockmark in your soul – and it’s more physical than some boil – it eats away at you like a worm.
V.6 I know you know how all that slow and sick suffering can move everything into this back and forth sameness so that suddenly you’re at the end – it’s all happened – life rushed out, all its joy, all its glory, like air out of a balloon – you’re left with the wheeze and the flop – limp, dead.
V.7 Tell me in these things that Job’s not right – how it feels – that there is no hope…at times. Tell me that you can recall how happiness has become like that acquaintance from college whose face you can’t place – forgotten and unfamiliar, long gone and out of play. “Happiness who?”
This is how you wonder “Why?” and whether God is good and whether what’s come is truly glorious and right. Tell me it’s off…how it feels and that he’s wrong from what you remember.
Just own Job’s jacked-up moment with me for a minute more in this way. Sometimes there’s just a little ray of what’s truly right in the middle of a lot of wrong. Some fortuitous expression of the intersection between “how it feels” and “the way it really is.” In suffering, it’s this: “Remember, O God, that my life is but a breath…” Remember God that this sadness, this sickness, this destruction, this weakness, this torment, this pain – that it’s real. That apart from you, I really have nothing – I really am as bad as I can express, it really is as deeply sad as it seems – except for you.
In the New Testament, did you know that Job is only mentioned once – and it speaks just that way? It’s in James 5:10-11. James said, “You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.” Do you hear how it is in suffering? That Job is absolutely right? There is nothing hopeful for me to give, so I remember God and pray him remember me, because he is “full of compassion and mercy.” And where can you find God to determine it is so? It is in the gospel.
Who is it with cool hand that lifts the woman out of fever? Who is it that speaks with creative power to shut down demonic speech and open up lives at peace with voices of praise? Who is it that reminds Simon what is truly good, what has to be shared and done – who preaches the best news, the most glorious thing… It’s God who has remembered sinners in his Son. It’s Jesus, God of the universe who remembered the sick and the lonely with tender power. He touched them with his love, in person. It’s God himself, made just like us, to endure the hardest service and the worst allotment. He knows your pain, your loss, your guilt. He endured the dark night of our sin, suffered the hopelessness of death apart from God. He plead that God would remember not the sins of those who hurt his body, whose hurts burned his soul. He it was, about whom suffering Job remembered: “I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!” This is God we see, full of compassion and mercy for all our suffering; Jesus who remembers sinners. He remembers you. He never ever forgets you. He does everything he can to make sure you know that, no matter what you hear or see, the news from God for you is always good. And for that glorious news you always yearn…
In suffering, remember him. The better you know the Light of the World, the better you know in everything that God is working for your good – because he is full of compassion and mercy, full to overflowing. Remember his good news. He’s poured out all he has in Jesus. And because he has poured out all he has for you, in spite of all what else you might have lost or may still, you have gained everything God has to give – true glory in salvation from his Son. In suffering, remember God and pray something truly glorious, “Remember, God, that my life is but a breath…and it helps me remember that my life is in you.” Amen.