Sometimes I have heard people describe the Bible as a book that has all the answers. That might well be an apt starting place for a sermon on Bible Sunday. I remember when I was at school receiving my Gideon Bible and being intrigued and, in truth, encouraged by the sections that said, “Where to look in the Bible when...” You’re distressed, feeling lonely, grieving. As a teenager that was very reassuring. That in times of crisis, there was this book I could turn to for the answer to my problems. At times, when I was distressed about something I would turn to these pages and they would direct me to a passage that brought me some comfort. At other times I would look up the relevant chapter and verses, only to be bemused as to why this particular passage was suggested.
As St Paul says, when I was a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. Now I am an adult, I have put away childish things. Well now I’m no longer a teenager I don’t expect the Bible to open at exactly the right place to give me just the words I need. I don’t expect the Bible to have all the answers. No instead, I know that the Bible has all the questions, as our readings today show.
I can imagine that someone in Job’s position would have found the suggestions in the back of the Gideon Bible, fell a little short of offering him comfort. His family killed, his wealth lost, his health poor. Where is comfort for him? Not in the words of his friends and advisers but in speaking with God, in understanding that he does not understand, in realising his tiny place in a vast universe and yet the enormous love of his creator.
As it is Bible Sunday today, I can tell you that the book of Job is in fact a personal favourite of mine. That and the book of Philippians. I wonder what your favourite books might be? Job is a favourite for me not because the poor man suffers so much but because of a few things it features. There is the witness of Job’s youngest adviser, Elihu who offers the greatest wisdom and is not chastised by God as the other three friends of Job are. Elihu says
"I am young in years,
and you are old;
that is why I was fearful,
not daring to tell you what I know.
7 I thought, 'Age should speak;
advanced years should teach wisdom.'
8 But it is the spirit in a man,
the breath of the Almighty, that gives him understanding.
9 It is not only the old who are wise,
not only the aged who understand what is right.
10 "Therefore I say: Listen to me;
I too will tell you what I know.
As someone who works with young people, this passage is a great encouragement to those I work with.
There is also a wonderful passage describing the wonders of creation in God’s response to Job of “the storehouses of snow” and “the place where the light dwells” and the passage we have today, Job’s realisation of his place in the world as one creature of the vast creation of God. Can we extend that to see not only ourselves as that beloved part of God’s creation but also to see that each of those around us is such a part? For Job this revelation is confirmed when he prays not for himself for his own sorry situation but prays for God’s forgiveness for his friends.
The question I get asked very often, especially by young people is
How can you believe in God when there is so much suffering in world?
I tend to respond, How can I not believe in God when there is so much suffering in the world?
In a world of great suffering, the idea that we are alone in that suffering is too terrible for words. These two Bible passages both speak of an individual’s relationship with God and what that can offer in times of sorrow. That relationship is not with some distant unknowing God but in one who humbled himself in the form of servant and being part of the world felt deeply for those around him.
In every suffering, Christ is with us, in his tears over the death of his friend Lazarus, clearing the temple of those not honouring God, calming a storm on a boat, being castigated by the Pharisees, seeing a Rich Young Man doing everything for his faith except the one thing that was most important, the giving up of his wealth, washing the feet of his disciples who still did not understand, praying for release in the Garden of Gethsemane, on trial before the Sanhedrin, in pain on the cross, seeing the fear of his disciples in the locked room at his resurrection.
This is a God who wants to be in relationship with his creatures. The Bible tells us about God as a guide book tells us about a place we might be going on holiday. It’s an excellent guidebook written by people who know the place well and have experienced it themselves. They are very personal accounts of other people’s relationships with God. This book of Job is like a private diary of one man’s journey with God. The guide book is no substitute for being there though. We can only know God personally if we spend time with God, personally and corporately.
Our church communities are places where people can meet with God and come to know what God is like. That’s something of a challenge to us isn’t it? When people see our church community they are seeing a glimpse of the God we believe in: Seeing a glimpse of the Kingdom of God. What would someone see in our church? Committed service, love, praise, unity, a family of all generations, from diverse backgrounds, serving separately during the week and joined on Sundays in worship? How might we as a community show that Kingdom even more clearly to those who join us on a Sunday, to those who visit this church during the week, to those who live within our parish?
I’m developing a lot more questions here.
So, if I’m saying the Bible is full of questions, where do we find the answers? The answers come through prayer and reflection upon those passages.
Jesus asks the blind man:
“What do you want me to do for you?”
What would our answer be to Jesus’ question? For ourselves? For our church? Would we trust that God could accomplish for us what we want? Could we like Job, honestly say:
I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
Yet it’s not only about our own relationship with God but our relationships with each other. Job who has been through so much personal tragedy finds favour with God when he prays for his friends: When he looks beyond himself to God and to those around him. Job describes his experience much like that of the blind man in the gospel
I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you.
Have you both heard and seen God? Have you heard about God but not seen him at work in your life or in the work around you? Seeing God, meeting him intimately however doesn’t result in some self importance and pride but in a deep awareness of our own failings and yet God’s love for us despite all of those failings.
So what would your answer to Jesus be:
“What do you want me to do for you?”
The question is in the bible the answer is to be found in your deepening relationship with God. In your deepening relationship with those around you and in the deepening relationship of this church with the people of its parish. May we all find this deepening relationship and find more questions...
42Then Job answered the Lord: 2“I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. 3‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. 4‘Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you declare to me.’ 5I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; 6therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”
7After the Lord had spoken these words to Job, the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite: “My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends; for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. 8Now therefore take seven bulls and seven rams, and go to my servant Job, and offer up for yourselves a burnt offering; and my servant Job shall pray for you, for I will accept his prayer not to deal with you according to your folly; for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has done.” 9So Eliphaz the Temanite and Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite went and did what the Lord had told them; and the Lord accepted Job’s prayer.
10And the Lord restored the fortunes of Job when he had prayed for his friends; and the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before. 11Then there came to him all his brothers and sisters and all who had known him before, and they ate bread with him in his house; they showed him sympathy and comforted him for all the evil that the Lord had brought upon him; and each of them gave him a piece of money and a gold ring. 12The Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning; and he had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand yoke of oxen, and a thousand donkeys. 13He also had seven sons and three daughters. 14He named the first Jemimah, the second Keziah, and the third Keren-happuch. 15In all the land there were no women so beautiful as Job’s daughters; and their father gave them an inheritance along with their brothers. 16After this Job lived one hundred and forty years, and saw his children, and his children’s children, four generations. 17And Job died, old and full of days.
46They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. 47When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” 50So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” 52Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.