Joy and peace in life, are not the consequence of being free of suffering, grief or pain. Painful realities are simply (for all of us at times, and for many of us much of the time), an inescapable part of the reality of life.
I will go so far as to say that there is no such thing as “good” circumstances or “bad” circumstances. Yes, it is true that there are some circumstances we do prefer; freedom from anxiety, absence of suffering and pain for example. But whatever the situation, and whatever the circumstances we find ourselves in, these are simply the circumstances and the situations in which God is waiting to show us His ultimate love.
We desire nothing more than experience of this love.
This is the key. Joy and peace is real in the life of anyone who knows the love and embrace of God in every circumstance. No circumstance is (in itself) more or less likely to provide an experience of God’s love and mercy.
We all know people who have everything the world can offer, but who still do not seem happy. And we know of others who appear to have nothing going for them, but they radiate peace and joy.
There is a great example in today’s Old Testament reading. Job was a “blameless and upright” man who “feared God and shunned evil”. He had sons and daughters, thousands of sheep, camels, donkeys and servants. No doubt he had a good number of wives as well. What more could a man want? These were Job’s circumstances, and in them he was happy.
Well, God and the Devil were having a chat one day about how things were going. God said: ‘look there, see my servant Job. He is “blameless and upright” and he loves and serves me’.
The devil was quick to reply: ‘well of course he loves and serves you. He has everything he could need. He has sons and daughters, sheep, camels, donkeys… If you did not look after him so well he would turn against you!’
‘No, he would not turn against me if he lost all he owns’, said God. ‘yes he would’ said the devil, ‘ no he would not’ ‘yes he would no he wouldn’t…’
OK said God. I allow you take everything he has, but do not harm him.
Well what happened over the next few days for Job was literally a week from hell. Job’s family and stock were killed. (the actual account is much more dramatic Job 1:13)
Job’s response: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord. And in all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.” (Job 1:21-22)
Well, true to form, the devil would not let it go. Again the devil and God have another chat. God again points out Job to the devil: “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil? He still holds fast his integrity, although you moved me against him to destroy him without cause.” (2:8)
The devil has an answer of course: ‘ah, yes, but if you harmed his bones and his flesh, then he would “curse thee to thy face.”
God agrees to a second testing,and Job has a second week from hell. Now he is “afflicted with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head.”
But still Job does not turn from God.
Here today we are close on three thousand years later, and on this Sunday in churches all over the world we are hearing this tale of Job. Why? What is the message for us?
It is this:
Personal achievement of human success (possessions, popularity, promotions) can never provide the degree happiness that we seek or need.
Grief, anxiety, pain and suffering are not in themselves an obstacle to the personal intimacy with God which is the high-point of a human life.
If Job were alive and experiencing his suffering today, chances are that his friends would suggest he visit a counsellor. This is not bad advice. It is good to talk, especially in the midst of suffering. A counsellor might suggest medication. There are times when medication is necessary; perhaps when chemical imbalance needs to be corrected.
However nothing in Job’s situation suggests that this is the case. Instead, every indication in the account, is that Job is reacting naturally, realistically and healthily to very traumatic events.
Job turns to God, and honestly communicates with his maker about the circumstances he finds himself in.
This vivid dialogue continues for another forty chapters of the book of Job. And in the end God blessed Job with much more than he had in the beginning.
the Lord restored his fortunes and gave him twice as much as he had before. All his brothers and sisters and everyone who had known him before came and ate with him in his house. They comforted and consoled him over all the trouble the LORD had brought on him, and each one gave him a piece of silver and a gold ring.
The Lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the former part. He had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand yoke of oxen and a thousand donkeys. And he also had seven sons and three daughters… Nowhere in all the land were there found women as beautiful as Job’s daughters, and their father granted them an inheritance along with their brothers.
After this, Job lived a hundred and forty years; he saw his children and their children to the fourth generation. And so Job died, an old man and full of years.
The purpose of human life is not primarily to avoid pain and tension. It is to live in awareness of the presence of God with us and the love of God for us. It is inevitable that we might prefer one set of circumstances over another, this situation over that, or these feelings rather than those, but our deeper desire is for the knowledge that God is with us in every moment, in every event, and in every encounter.
Thanks be to God, there are no circumstances, and no situation that are an obstacle for God.
And therefore every circumstance, every situation is little more than an opportunity for us to know and experience God’s presence with us and God’s love for us.
Nothing on earth can bring us greater happiness.
Thanks be to God!