Welcome! So on the way in today I was fortunate enough to dodge several nasty squal-like downpours on my bicycle! Unfortunately, I was not able to dodge all of them! “Why God?” I tossed the frustrated and saturated words up to the heavens. “I’m doing your work, on my way to your house…”
That is when I was hit with the divine reality of the situation… “Um, you could have taken your car smartass.” As we look at suffering, I have to sit back and think about how much of what I call suffering is the result of what could best be referred to as stubbornness.
Last week we dove into the suffering saga that is the book of Job, and by taking a look at the means of which his relationships suffered, we saw that the first step in suffrage is to be open about it. Realizing that it is a normal part of life and not punishment or shameful. How great it feels to take off the sunglasses we hide behind and let the light of God shine on the things that we keep in the dark recesses of our minds. We learned to move away from questioning “why” we suffer and instead start to go to God in our time of need to ask “how” we should suffer.
We, like Job, often allow ourselves to feel lesser for our struggles or let our emotions turn to anger at God for allowing them, and doing so we allow our pain (or pity and anger or fear it causes us) to imprison us. The truth is that God does not take joy in our suffering, but instead puts his faith us, and our ability to overcome it! We are here in Louisville ky, home of the greatest two minutes in sports right? The best part of any horse race is betting on your stallion! Actually the best part is winning your bet… Regardless, today’s text introduces a new Character to our story, an in the epic race we call life, notice that God is betting on you! On me! So many churches preach faith in God, and don’t get me wrong, that’s a pretty big piece; but here in this sanctuary we want you to walk out with faith that God has faith in you!
Listen to the conversation between God and our adversary as we actually jump backwards from the 23rd last week to the 1st of Job’s story.
1 In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil. 2 He had seven sons and three daughters, 3 and he owned seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen and five hundred donkeys, and had a large number of servants. He was the greatest man among all the people of the East.
…6 One day the angels came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with them. 7 The Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?”
Satan answered the Lord, “From roaming throughout the earth, going back and forth on it.”
8 Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.”
9 “Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied. 10 “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. 11 But now stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.”
12 The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your power, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.”
Then Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.
Now I have referenced Louisville’s evangelists in sermons before and don’t want to pick on them too much, but they seem to be out with signs and megaphone wherever I go in town so it’s hard not to tie them in… (now that I say that out loud it makes my choice of entertainment sound pretty bad.) Regardless, these guys are persistent and I managed to run into them again at the forecastle festival this weekend to the usual… “Do you know Christ?” and “are you saved?” but they inspired my thoughts, not occupied them this time. What I couldn’t help to notice this week is that you never get questioned from the other side of the spectrum; I’ve never met an evangelical Satanist… “Do you know the devil, are you condemned?” Why? Maybe its because we all know him (and I use that pronoun loosely)… and I’m not talking about a horned man gallivanting around in red spandex with a pitchfork!
I’m a pretty big Grateful Dead fan and a favorite has always been the song, “Friend of the Devil,” but before I leap into the theological lessons of Jerry Garcia, lets rewind and introduce this Satan figure that popped up in Job’s narrative today to whom God even asked, “Where have you come from?”
There are many names for the Devil. Job’s text uses the word “Eshtin,” which can be translated as “adversary,” and I feel Job would agree with that translation. Here are a few others out of the long list… My favorite is Beelzebub, and note there is debate as to its true pronunciation. “Beelzebub” means “lord of the flies, whereas “Beelzebul” means “lord of the dung;” either one of these are names of reproach and are names of uncleanness and none too pleasant. If you mispronounce Eshtin it matches well with Lord of the Dung!
Another is Kathgor or “accuser”, which refers to one who brings condemning accusations against others. How many times have we heard not to point a finger at another? You will think twice now won’t you! Accusations are our human means of hiding and to pass the blame of suffering or evil in the world to another is in itself evil, so throughout Job’s book we see the pain stemming from the accusations of his friends.
Another that I like comes from the New Testament, 2 Cor. 4:4. “God of the world” is a powerful name and a great contrast to our much more freeing God of the Heavens. “Where did you come from?” God asks of the Adversary in our text. To which he responds, “from roaming throughout the earth.”
An attachment to the things of this world allows us to get caught up in the suffrage of this world; we risk then looking to the God of the World and not the God of the heavens. That’s a great Segway to the last name of the list from Isaiah, “Lucifer,” meaning, “Shining one.” Given the many times I have been at the butt of a ADD joke about shiny objects, I’m going to use a different analogy. When I was a kid, most afternoons in the summer my buddy Chris and I would spend fishing off our pier. I personally didn’t like worms, they bore too close a resemblance to snakes of which I am petrified (noting another Satan reference is serpent!), so I would use a fishing lure and leave the worm to Chris. He would get so mad at the fish when they went for my shiny lure instead of his worm, to the point that he would scold the little white perch as we brought it up to the pier, “Really Fish!? Metal over meat?” God’s probably said that a time or two… worldly gleam over heavenly fill? but what it comes down to is that we all like shiny things. Lucifer.
Now you can’t touch on Satan and ignore Hell? Humans see things in ways they understand. We see Satan as a person (the pitchfork possessed spandex clad devil) and we see Hell as a place; a fiery underworld. “I’ll see you in Hell,” says the star in the climax of a good action movie, or the old adage, “You’re going to Hell in a handbasket.” These comments reinforce Hell as a place (and it may well be.)
A magazine came out a couple weeks back polling readers with the question, “Would you rather be in Hell with Jesus or in Heaven without him?” That question doesn’t work… You see, Hell is in its simplest, loneliest, most painful definition is simply “being disconnected from God,” and heaven is being connected, thus its not Hell with Jesus’ presence nor heaven void of it. The flaming pit is simply the icing on the cake, because a life disconnected with God is far worse. Regardless of whether or not we believe in a literal “underworld” or personified “Satan,” these are concrete human perceptions of a life disconnected from our Creator, and the agent of that disconnect. We all know Satan, experience him daily, but in ways unique to our lives. Notice God’s reaction to Satan. Its calm.
So… the next question would be “did God create Satan?”
“Well why would God create evil?”
“But you said…”
God created the world, the heavens, and everything in them; and as in Genesis, “it was good.” Satan or Evil what happened alongside our freedom, when we created, attempted to define and tried to seperate evil from good.
Money is a dirty evil word in most church settings right? Money can open amazing doors. It can build both hospitals and cathedrals, feed the poor, heal the sick, and provide us shelter. It can be evil as well, a “God of the World” if you may, and breed ego and selfishness. God created everything and everything can be understood or used for good or for evil. So is true with suffering.
How do you approach suffrage? “I walked into the airport the other day only to be met with a sign on the escalator in route to the ticket counter” said Chris Rock. “Temporarily out of service, sorry for the inconvenience” it said. “Looking around, I saw a bunch of people in need of a little exercise, so I thought maybe it should have read not escalator “temporarily out of service,” but, “Temporarily stairs,” and given the free workout, “sorry for the convenience.””
What are we to learn from this? That our response to what causes us suffering is more important than the cause itself. Here is a mystery, states Chip Brogaden, “One man’s experience drives him to curse God, while another man’s identical experience drives him to bless God. Your response to what happens is more important than what happens.” The question is whether, when faced with adversity, you lift up the God of the World, the adversary, or stay in relationship with God of the universe.
Though we read a name, “Satan,” the Hebrew texts actually include a noun-modifier, “the,” when referencing our friend. “The Satan,” it reads, or “the adversary.” Based on your response to the situations of this world and your relationship with the things of this world, anyone, any experience, or anything can interfere aversely with your relationship with God, or (with the right outlook) can grant you the opportunity to know God better through your perceived suffering or joy… after-all, what I see as suffering another may see as joyous. I love to run, my mom over there sees it as absolute Hell…. Infact what exactly was your response to a mid-summer stroll last evening mom? We scoff and complain about our suffering through leftovers well a hungry African Child would be in Heaven with our trash, on that note, how different is our “starving” verse theirs?. What it comes down to is that we far too often misdiagnose inconvenience or discomfort as suffering…
Paul’s a big golfer… During colonial times the British living in India tried to play golf, only to be frustrated by monkeys who disrupted the game by chasing the golf balls and creating chaos. The British tried erecting fences and posting guards to keep the monkeys back, but eventually decided to play the ball where the monkey dropped it — as we often must do in life, to live as best we can with forces that are beyond our control. Where in your life do you feel called or have you been forced to play the ball as the monkey lies, to view suffrage in a different light?