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Answering the Questions or Questioning the Answers?

A Series on the Book of Job

The story of Job is the story of a man who lived long ago and far away in the country of Uz. But it is also the story of every person who has ever tried to make sense of undeserved suffering and the seeming absence of God. It’s a powerful story of deep faith in tragic times.

The book of Job challenges our ideas about how life should be lived and who God is. The story seizes us, demands our imagination, and refuses to let go until we have wrestled with the same life-shaping questions that haunt the main character.

As we began our study of this book and planned for how to present it for worship, we were struck by the questions that are raised by this story: questions about God, questions about justice and fairness, questions from the mouth of God, and questions from the mouths of Job and his friends. Sometimes we think the book of Job is about the answer to the problem of evil and suffering in the world. But perhaps it is less about the answer and more about the questions. As we joined Job’s search for restoration and healing, we encountered, with Job, the grace of God and the promise of God’s presence throughout our journeys of faith.

Making space in our worship times to hear and explore these questions and to ask our own questions and voice our own laments was important. The congregation was also invited to participate in a small group Bible study during the weeks of this series. This allowed people both to raise specific questions about the texts and to share their stories of how some of those questions had been answered.

Downloadable audio and text of the sermons in this series are available at worship.calvin.edu/resources/resource-library/sermon-series-have-you-considered-my-servant-job-. The texts were selected from the Revised Common Lectionary, with the addition of Job 23. If you want to extend the series for six weeks, consider adding Job 28:12-28, Job’s speech about wisdom.

Week 1

Have You Considered My Servant Job?

Prelude: “What God Ordains Is Always Right” Pachelbel

Choral Call to Worship: “Oh, Taste and See” R. Vaughn Williams

Call to Worship
Glorify the Lord with me; let us exalt God’s name together.
I sought you, Lord, and you answered me; you delivered me from all my fears.
O taste and see that the Lord is good;
Blessed are those who take refuge in you.
The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and your ears are attentive to their cry;
The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them and delivers them from all their troubles.
The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.
The righteous may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers them. (adapted from Ps. 34)

Response of Praise:
“When Morning Gilds the Skies” CH 215, PH 487, PsH 438, TH 167, WR 111
“Gather Us In” SNC 8, WR 649
“Be Still, for the Presence” SNC 11

We Are Reconciled to God
We come to our God in prayer even when we don’t know what to pray for. Sometimes the most honest prayer is the prayer of sad silence. God calls us to speak out of the deepest yearnings of our hearts with great trust and to wait with patience to hear God’s voice in the darkness. As we come before God today, let us ask for forgiveness and offer our prayers of lament.

We Hear the Call to Be Reconciled: “Come to the Savior” (st. 1) PsH 535, TH 475

Reader 1: Give ear to my words, O Lord.
Reader 2: Consider my sighing.
Choir: Listen to my cry for help, my King and my God.
Reader 1: In the morning, O Lord, you hear my voice.
Reader 2: In the morning I lay my requests before you.
Choir: I wait in expectation.
Reader 1: You are not a God who takes pleasure in evil;
Reader 2: with you the wicked cannot dwell.
Reader 1: The arrogant cannot stand in your presence;
Reader 2: You hate all who do wrong;
Reader 1: But I, by your great mercy, will come into your house.
Reader 2: In reverence will I bow down toward your holy temple.
Choir: Lead me, O Lord, in your righteousness.

We Confess our Sins and Lament Our Brokenness
Lord, you come to us, but we hide from you; you call, but we pretend that we don’t hear you.
You ask us to turn to you, but instead we turn away; you bless us, but we do not thank you.
Forgive us for our lack of trust in you and pardon us for our failure to wait on you.
Hear us now as we plead for your mercy.

Silent Prayer

We Are Assured of God’s Blessing
Reader 1: May all who take refuge in you be glad;
Reader 2: let them ever sing for joy.
Reader 1: Spread your protection over them
Choir: for surely, O Lord, you bless the righteous. (adapted from Ps. 5)

We Offer Our Thanksgiving (choose one)
“Come to the Savior Now” (st. 4) PsH 535, TH 475
“He Leadeth Me” CH 690, PsH 452, SWM 198, TH 600, WR 499
“Neither Death Nor Life” SNT 136

Scripture: Job 1-2; Hebrews 1

Sermon: “Have You Considered My Servant Job?”

Sermon Notes
The first question in Job isn’t voiced by Job, but by God. “Have you considered my servant Job?” God asks of the Accuser. These chapters establish the premise for the rest of Job’s story, so it is important to carefully present the conversations between God and the Accuser.

Job is held up to us as the greatest example of righteous living in the Old Testament—religiously, morally, and ethically, he is a person of unmatched integrity. His great wealth is presented in symbols of perfection. Truly this is a man blessed by God. It’s no wonder that God sings Job’s praises when the Accuser reports to him about the comings and goings on earth! But it is a wonder that God agrees to let the Accuser challenge Job’s faith.

In one fell swoop, Job loses all his possessions and his children, but he responds with obedience and faith in God. Then Job is afflicted with “painful sores from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head.” Will he continue to trust in the God who gives and takes away? And how do we continue to trust in a God who both gives and takes away?

Chapter 2 ends with a broken Job scraping at his sores with a piece of broken pottery—sitting in the dirt from which he was created. Where are the potter’s hands that shaped Job out of the dust of the ground? Still there, in the dirt, underneath and alongside Job, molding and shaping and working with love, and breathing life into this human creation. Those hands—powerful, capable and loving hands—are not beautiful. They are distorted and scarred by the memory of the violence done to them; they have known suffering and pain—just like Job, just like us.

Hebrews reminds us that in these days we have been spoken to by a Son, a Son who is the exact imprint of God’s very being, a Son who sits in the royal courtroom where God received the report of the Accuser, a Son who rules from that throne of heaven with hands just like ours—broken, and healed.

Week 2

How Long?

Choral Call to Worship: “Be Thou My Vision” CH 562, PH 339; SWM 161, TH 642; WR 502

Call to Worship
Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.
Before the mountains were brought forth, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
You turn us back to dust, and say, “Turn back, you mortals.”
For a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past, or like a watch in the night.
O Lord! How long? Have compassion on your servants!
Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, so that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. (from Ps. 90)

Response of Praise: “O God, Our Help in Ages Past” CH 686, PH 210, PsH 170, TH 30, WR 84
“One Generation Will Call to the Next” CSW 4

We Are Reconciled to God

We Hear the Call to Be Reconciled: “O Lord, Hear My Prayer” (st. 1) SNC 203

Reader 1: How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
Reader 2: How long will you hide your face from me?
Reader 1: How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart?
Reader 2: How long will my enemy triumph over me?
Reader 1: Look on me and answer, O Lord my God.
Reader 2: Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death; my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,” and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

We Confess Our Sins and Lament Our Brokenness
Forgive our impatience, O patient God!
See beyond our anger, our thoughtlessness, our self-centeredness, our wrong choices.
See into our hearts, for you are our dwelling place.

Silent Prayer

We Are Assured of God’s Blessing
Reader 1: But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.
Reader 2: I will sing to the Lord, for he has been good to me. (from Ps. 13)

We Offer Our Thanksgiving (choose one)
“O Lord, Hear My Prayer” (st. 2) SNC 203, WR 484
“O Love, How Deep, How Broad, How High” PH83, PsH364, TH155
“I Know That My Redeemer Liveth” (Handel; sung by soloist)
“There Is a Redeemer” CH 308, SNC 145, SWM 128, WR 117
“You Are My King (Amazing Love)” CSW 12

Scripture: Job 19; Hebrews 2:1-18

Sermon: “How Long?”

Sermon Notes
After his week of silence in chapters 1 and 2, Job speaks. His first speech is a fierce lament about his circumstances; he composes a list of five questions for God. For the first time in his experience, Job’s life doesn’t make sense in light of what he believes to be true about God.

Then Job’s friends arrive on the scene, and what starts as words of encouragement turns into words of rebuke. In the series of dialogues between Job and his friends that cycle through the text, Job’s response to Bildad in chapter 19 is a key song of lament.

The issue at stake is justice. Traditional wisdom pointed to a closed system of rewards and punishments: love God and you will be rewarded; ignore or displease God and you will be punished. But we know from chapters 1 and 2 that Job had not been disobedient; the “system” doesn’t work in this case.

Still Job longs for justice; he longs for a day in court where he can plead his innocence and assert God’s guilt. And despite his list of accusations against God, Job has three hopes: first, hope that he will be able to tell his story; second, hope for a redeemer who will speak for him and defend his case; and third, hope to see God face to face, to make God look him in the eye and tell him what he has done wrong.

It is important to unpack the Old Testament understanding of a kinsman-redeemer, since our New Testament faith so quickly leaps to redemption as being about sin and salvation. Job is pleading not for someone to save him from his sins, but for someone to be his advocate, to assume the responsibilities that belonged to the head of a family and clan.

Remarkably, Job’s three wishes all are granted. Job will indeed see God face to face (ch. 38-42), and the book of Job itself is the fulfillment of his first wish. The second wish? Again, Hebrews speaks to the role Jesus plays as our kinsman-redeemer. In Hebrews 2:10-11 we are told that Jesus is not ashamed to stand before God and call us his brothers and sisters, to claim us—and Job—as kin and to plead our case.

But what does Jesus plead for? More than justice, Jesus pleads for mercy, for grace. What could be a more amazing answer to Job’s lament than that? Asking for justice, Job—and we—receive grace!

Week 3

Where Are You?

Prelude: “Immortal, Invisible: Mach Mit Mir”

Call to Worship
Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the Lord, and my right is disregarded by my God”? Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.
You, O Lord, do not faint or grow weary; your understanding is unsearchable.
You give power to the faint, and strengthen the powerless. Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted;
But those who wait for you, O Lord, shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint. (from Isa. 40)

Response of Praise: “Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise” CH 33, PH 263, PsH 460, TH 38, WR 48

We Are Reconciled to God

We Hear the Call to Be Reconciled
“How Long Will You Forget Me, Lord” PsH 13 (st. 1, sung by a men’s chorus)

Reader 1: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
Reader 2: O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest.
Reader 1: Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. In you our ancestors trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them.
Reader 2: To you they cried, and were saved; in you they trusted, and were not put to shame.
Reader 1: But I am a worm, and not human; scorned by others, and despised by the people. All who see me mock at me; they make mouths at me, they shake their heads;
Reader 2: Commit your cause to the Lord; let God deliver—let the Lord rescue you! (Ps. 22:1-8)

We Confess Our Sins and Lament Our Brokenness

Sung Prayer of Confession: “God My Father” DuBois
“Lord, Have Mercy” CSW 13
“Kyrie” SNC 52, 53, or 54

Silent Prayer

We Are Assured of God’s Blessing: adapted from Psalm 22
Reader 1: I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
Reader 2: You who fear the Lord, praise! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify; stand in awe, all you offspring of Israel!
Reader 1: For the Lord did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; my God did not hide from me, but heard when I cried out.
Reader 2: To the Lord, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down; all who go down to the dust shall bow down, and I shall live for my God who rescued me.

We Offer Our Thanksgiving (choose one)
“How Long Will You Forget Me, Lord” (st. 2) PsH 13
“God’s Gift It Is to Eat and Drink” PsH 190
“On Eagle’s Wings” SNC 185
“Neither Death nor Life” SNT 136
“Abide with Me” CH 642, PH 543, PsH 442, TH 402, WR 521
“What a Friend We Have in Jesus” PH 403, PsH 579, SFL 52, SWM 172, TH 629

Scripture: Job 23; Hebrews 4:12-16

Sermon: “Where Are You, God?”

Sermon Notes
By chapter 23, Job has grown increasingly bitter about what has happened to him. His attempts to share his woes fall on the inept ears of his friends, and God—who should be there for him—seems to have gone on a lengthy vacation. “Where are you, God?” he asks. Looking to the four points of the horizon, he can’t see any sign of God’s presence. The silent darkness that has overtaken Job threatens to swallow him whole. Unlike the psalmist of Psalm 139, who takes great comfort in knowing that there is nowhere he can hide from God, Job feels that there is nowhere he can find God.

We can sympathize with Job about the silence of God—sometimes our most earnest prayers seem to go unheard and we begin to wonder if God really cares. “What happened to the promise of answered prayer?” we cry.

Anne Lamott tells of a time when she despaired of God answering her son’s prayers to help them find his father. In her anger with God, she remembered a line from Wendell Berry: “It gets darker and darker, and then Jesus is born.” She decided then “that God was not off doing the dishes while Sam sought help. God had heard his prayers and was working on it.” She decided to claim the faith to keep on believing that God was engaged.

How, then, do we find the faith to keep on believing that God is engaged? Perhaps we begin by examining our assumptions about who God is and how God is “supposed to” answer prayer. And we can turn to our community of faith to pray for us when we find ourselves unable to believe in the power of our own prayers.

Job’s story is about faith that perseveres despite the silence of God, despite any evidence that perseverance is worth it. Hebrews reminds us that often all we have is faith—faith in the evidence of what we can’t see. Sometimes we can only wait in the silence for the moment when God decides it is time for a reply.

On the cross Jesus uttered that same prayer—“Where are you?”—and the answer he received is ours as well: “I am here on the cross, the crucified One, suffering with you in the pain of being alone. I am here among you, the resurrected One, asking you to put your broken hands in mine. I am here, the ascended One, seated on the throne of heaven, listening to your questions, and answering your prayers. And I will be there on that day when I will live with you and you will live with me, and there will be no more suffering, no more crying, no more pain, and no more death.”

Week 4

Where Were You?

Prelude
“This Is My Father’s World” CH 143, PH 293, PsH 436, SFL 95, SWM 62, TH 111, WR 21
“He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” CH 586, PsH 457, SFL 198, SWM 26, WR 80
“All Things Bright and Beautiful” PH 267, PsH 435, SFL 90, TH 120
“The First Place” CSW 6
“Let All Creation Bless the Lord” SNC 34, WR 25
“Many and Great” PH 271, SFL 94, SNC 83, SWM 58, WR 26

Call to Worship
The heavens are telling the glory of God;
and the firmament proclaims the Lord’s handiwork.
Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard;
yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.
The glory of God echoes throughout the world.
Let us praise the name of the Lord. (adapted from Ps. 19:1-4, NRSV)

Response of Praise: “For the Beauty of the Earth” PsH 432 v. 1 & 4, all; v. 2, women; v. 3, men

We Hear the Call to Be Reconciled
“Your Mercy Flows” SNC 68
“Give Us Clean Hands” CSW 8
“Good to Me” SNC 71

Reader 1: O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you;
Reader 2: My soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water.

We Confess Our Sins and Lament Our Brokenness

Prayer of Confession
O Lord, who loves us as a father, who cares for us as a mother, who came to share our life as a brother, we confess before you our failure to live as your children. To you we lift our outspread hands. Hear this lament as our prayer and speak your powerful Word to make us hopeful.

Silent Prayer

We Are Assured of God’s Blessing
Reader 1: Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you. I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands.
Reader 2: My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you.
Reader 1: Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings. (adapted from Ps. 63)

We Offer Our Thanksgiving (choose one)
“Your Mercy Flows” SNC 68
“O Love of God, How Strong and True” PsH 463, TH 81
“Praise, My Soul, the King of Heaven” CH 1, PH 478, PsH 475, TH 76/77, WR 82
“Your Everlasting Love” SWM 53

Scripture: Selections of Job 38-42:6; Hebrews 5:1-10

Sermon: “Where Were You?”

Sermon Notes
“Where were you?” God asks Job. For thirty-seven chapters we have listened to Job and his friends struggle with their questions, and when God finally answers it’s with another question. This is one of the most unsatisfying answers in Scripture. But before we walk away from this encounter out of the whirlwind, we should think about what God says. God is answering Job. Now Job knows that God has been listening all along—very carefully, it turns out.

What is God’s long list of rhetorical questions designed to teach Job? The first lesson is that the world, the entire cosmos, is a place of joy: “The morning stars sing because of who I am,” God says. “Can you sing with that same joy, Job?” Job now sees the greatness of God, and his answer is a quiet expression of wonder. Job “gets it” that the center of the universe is the Creator, not creatures. Job can only reply, “I am unworthy” and put his hand over his mouth.

But God doesn’t want silence from Job. God wants Job to confess, to sing. The second lesson, then, is about justice: “How would you deliver justice to the world, Job, if you were me? How will you decide where to put the rain and the storms? How would you control the monsters of chaos? Can you do it?” The answer, of course, is no—no human being could do such a thing. Job learns that his definition of justice was too small. Justice isn’t just about human beings; it’s about all of creation. “I was inappropriate,” Job confesses. “I spoke out of ignorance.”

Does Job’s answer satisfy us? While we might find reassurance in God’s sovereignty and take comfort in God’s ability to control the chaos and evil in the world, will it get us through the tough times when our personal world is spinning out of control? Are God’s words enough?

This is when we need to recall not just the words of God but the Word made flesh. A Word who lived among us, who learned obedience through what he suffered, who became the source of salvation for all who believe in him. Perhaps the real question for Job and for us is not “why?” or “where?” but “who?” Perhaps God is right, and our silence should not be the final answer, but our confession.

Can we, like the morning stars, sing of God’s love? In the words of the Contemporary Testimony Our World Belongs to God, “God holds this world with fierce love. . . . The confidence that the Lord is faithful gives meaning to our days and hope to our years. The future is secure, for our world belongs to God” (st. 12). Perhaps these words are the words we can joyfully sing with the morning stars.

Week 5

Why?

Prelude: “Lasst Uns Erfreun” Krapf, Smith

Call to Worship:
Praise the Lord, O my soul.
O Lord my God, you are very great; you are clothed with splendor and majesty.
How many are your works, O Lord! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.
These all look to you to give them their food at the proper time.
When you send your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth.
May the glory of the Lord endure forever; may we rejoice in the works of our God.
I will sing to the Lord all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.
Praise the Lord, O my soul. Praise the Lord. (adapted from Ps. 104)

Response of Praise: “O Worship the King” CH 104, PH 476, PsH 428, TH 2, WR 2
“Cantemos al Señor/O Sing Unto the Lord” SNC 40

We Hear the Call to Be Reconciled: “The Steadfast Love of the Lord” CH 576, SNC 242

Reader 1: I am one who has seen affliction under the rod of God’s wrath;
Reader 2: God has driven and brought me into darkness without any light.
Reader 1: God has besieged me and enveloped me with bitterness and tribulation;
Reader 2: My soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is.

We Confess Our Sins and Lament Our Brokenness

Prayer of Confession
Almighty and merciful God, we confess that instead of praising you for your mercies, we blame you for our circumstances. Instead of thanking you for your patience, we demand that you respond to us immediately. Help us to trust you and to allow your grace to sustain us and your love to redeem us.

Silent Prayer

We Are Assured of God’s Blessing
Reader 1: But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope.
Reader 2: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, God’s mercies never come to an end.
Reader 1: They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
Reader 2: “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope.” (adapted from Lam. 3)

We Offer Our Thanksgiving (choose one)
“The Steadfast Love of the Lord” CH 576, RN 23, SNC 242
“Great Is Thy Faithfulness” CH 139, PH 276, PsH 556, SWM 194, TH32, WR 72
“Neither Death Nor Life” SNT 136
“I Know That My Redeemer Lives” TH 690

Scripture: Job 42:7-17; Hebrews 6:13-20; 10:19-25

Sermon: “Why?”

Sermon Notes
We want the end of a story to tie up all the loose ends, resolve all the differences, and restore all those to whom wrong has been done, allowing us to close the book with a sigh of satisfaction for a tale well told. Does the end of Job’s story meet those expectations?

To begin with, we notice that an important conversation is left out: the one where God comes to Job and explains to him why all this happened to him. God never tells Job how the story began. He never tells Job about his agreement with the Adversary. He doesn’t tell Job that he passed the test with flying colors.

Instead, God asks Job to bring an offering of repentance for his “friends”—friends he probably never wanted to see again, let alone pray for. But in that act of reconciliation Job finds reconciliation as well. It’s immediately after offering that sacrifice that Job’s fortunes are restored. He receives twice as much as before—if you compare the numbers of livestock in chapter 1, the doubling is obvious. Job even gets a double lifespan.

But despite the “happy ending” of restored wealth and prosperity, is this really a happy ending? Did Mrs. Job have anything to say about having another ten children? How do sheep and camels compensate for Job’s previous agony? Are we being asked, perhaps, to wrestle with the flip side of the coin of underserved suffering—undeserved blessing? Why do the innocent prosper? God’s reasons for blessing Job are as unexplained as the reasons for taking the blessings away. Rather than asking “Why me?” maybe we should be asking “Why not me?”

Does Job get up the morning after his horrible experiences and accept it all as his due, or does he lie awake all night wondering if he can summon up the courage to risk losing everything again? Does Job realize that even if he looks like the same broken pot he was before, he is profoundly different? Like a mended pot, he has cracks now. Will he hold up well under pressure? In doubling Job’s blessings was God also asking Job to double his faith?

So where are we at the end of this story? We started with the question “why?”—but have we gotten an answer? The Bible offers many answers to that question, but none of them are true all the time. It is possible that, like Job, we may never know the final answer. The truest answer is to live with the fierce faith that assures us that we don’t need an answer, to trust that God has the answer even if we don’t.

Where can we appropriate, then, that fierce faith to live with more questions than answers in our lives? The author of Hebrews points us to the way—a way that our high priest Jesus has already prepared for us. Just as Jesus and Job both uttered the prayer “My God, why have you forsaken me?” both of them also responded to the unknowns of their faith by deciding to trust God with the rest of their lives. Job does it in this last chapter of his story; Jesus did it on a cross. Both said, “Father, into your hands, I commend my spirit.”

Can we do the same?