Today’s message is a reflection on how faith can help us through tough times. And perhaps we could begin by thinking about how much things have changed economically in just the past twelve months. Last spring, I remember reading an newspaper article which said that with the shortage of land available for housing in the Lower Mainland, along with demand for housing from off-shore interests, this area will likely be immune from a decline in housing prices. I think that article was in the real estate section of the paper.
I also remember a conversation I had with a financial planner who said that his company’s research was indicating that Canadian equities were over-valued and due for a correction, but American equities were somewhat under-valued and looking like they had some upside potential.
Well, we all know what has happened since. March of this year was the ninth straight month of decline in Vancouver housing prices. And 2008 was one of the three worst years since 1900 for the Dow Jones with a decline of about 36% by the end of the year.
If you are like me, you like to manage things as best you can to arrive at a good outcome. But there are times in our lives, when, no matter how well we have managed things, we find ourselves in a terrible situation. And in those moments it is vital for us to remember that knowing God is more important than having a good outcome.
I would like to join me in looking into the book of Job. The story of Job is written as a divine drama with some scenes taking place heaven and others on earth. But for our purposes today, let’s consider the story of Job just from his perspective, because that’s all that Job knew as events unfolded in his life.Now Job was a good man. The Bible tells us that he is “blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil.’ (v.1)
Job was a family man. He had 7 sons and 3 daughters. He loved his children. After his children would have a party, Job would even make sacrifices on his their behalf just in case they inadvertently did something wrong while they are partying.
Job was a very wealthy man. He has 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 1000 oxen, 500 donkeys and a large number of servants. Verse 3 tells us that Job was “the greatest man of all the people of the east.”
Job had much and what he had he managed well. And yet within a relatively short period of time, through no fault of his own, he lost it all. We begin with Job, chapter 1, verses 13 to 22.
13 One day when Job’s sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother’s house, 14 a messenger came to Job and said, “The oxen were plowing and the donkeys were grazing nearby, 15 and the Sabeans attacked and carried them off. They put the servants to the sword, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”
16 While he was still speaking, another messenger came and said, “The fire of God fell from the sky and burned up the sheep and the servants, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”
17 While he was still speaking, another messenger came and said, “The Chaldeans formed three raiding parties and swept down on your camels and carried them off. They put the servants to the sword, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”
18 While he was still speaking, yet another messenger came and said, “Your sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother’s house, 19 when suddenly a mighty wind swept in from the desert and struck the four corners of the house. It collapsed on them and they are dead, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”
20 At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship 21 and said:
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
and naked I will depart.
The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away;
may the name of the LORD be praised.”
22 In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing. (Job 1:13-22)
As bad as the story is, it gets worse in chapter two. Job is afflicted with painful boils from the soles of his feet to the top of his head. He lives in a place and time where there is no social safety net, there is no old age pension, and there is no public health care system. Job has no money, no children and no health. Today is full of sorrow and grief. And there is no hope for things getting better in the future. Job has nothing but God and his wife, and God is silent.
There is nothing left to do but, as Job’s wife says, “Curse God and die.” There is nothing left except to say, “God, you are a very bad god” and then hope that this very bad god brings your life to a merciful end.
Some of you know what that is like. Some of you have suffered huge financial losses because of an investment that went sought instead of north. Some of you know what it is like to lose your job and not know how you will pay your rent or buy your groceries. Some of you know what it is like to lose a child. Some of you know what it is like to lose your health. But, if your life to this point has been so blessed that you have not experienced any of these things, then that is something for which you can be very, very thankful to God. But also keep in mind that, if you live long enough, you will experience something similar to what Job experienced: a loss so unexpected and so great that it robs you of all joy and leaves you with an aching emptiness that you cannot avoid. Whereas, before there was meaning and purpose and enjoyment in life, now all of that is gone. And it seems like there is nothing left to do except to say to God, “God, you are a very bad god” and then hope that he brings your life to an end.
But Job does not do what a normal person would do. Even though he has lost everything, even though God is silent, even though he is receiving nothing but miserable comfort from his friends (cf. Job 16:2), Job still looks towards God with an attitude of trust. Job says of God, “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him.” (Job 13:15a).
You see the reason why Job had hope even though he didn’t know as much about God as we do today, Job knew enough about God to know that God is not only our best hope in the best of times. God is our best hope in the worst of times. In spite of all of his pain and suffering, in spite of the silence of God, Job still hoped, still believed, still trusted in God.
And centuries later, the God that Job knew sent his son into this world to live as a human being. And he was a good man. He was helped people and healed them. He taught them about God and he taught them how to live. And yet, he did not have a good outcome, from a human perspective. The people of that place and time did not give him the key to their city. They did not name a street after him or designate a special day in his honour. Instead they arrested him on false charges. At his trial, witnesses gave false testimony. The judge in his case sentenced him to die even though he knew he was innocent. He was whipped and beaten and left with painful wounds from the soles of his feet to the top of his head. He had no wealth, no children and no health. His friends and family abandoned him when he needed them most. The government of the day nailed him to a cross. And as Jesus hung there, suffering the most excruciating kind of death one could imagine, his own Father in heaven, the one who had said at the beginning of his ministry three years earlier, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:16b), that same Father was now silent. And yet Jesus knew that trusting in God was more precious than any good outcome, even when there couldn’t be any good outcome, and it was to this same God that he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34)
And then Jesus died and they buried him in a borrowed tomb, and that should have been the end of it, but it wasn’t. On the third day that followed, Jesus rose from the dead, and that changes everything for you and for me. You see, most of the good outcomes that you and I hope for in this life are not going to matter in a hundred years. But Jesus comes into our lives and gives us what is eternal. He says, I love you and I forgive you. I give you eternal life and you will never perish. No matter how painful your loss, regardless of how much you are suffering, I am holding you in the palm of my hand and no one can take you away from me. I love you and I am always with you. I will not leave you nor forsake you. Even when I am silent I am still with you. And somehow, someway, I will get you through whatever you are facing and bring you safely through it to the other side.
It is better to know Jesus than to have a good outcome because a relationship with Jesus is the best outcome that ever could be.
Later on in the story of Job, God breaks his silence and reminds Job of who God is. And that is enough for Job. In the end, God restores Job’s health and wealth and gives him a new family. But that is not the point of the story. Job had God, and that was enough. God was all Job needed when he was destitute and sick. God was all Job needed when he was wealthy and healthy and had a large family.
Susan and I and our four youngest children went to our acreage in Saskatchewan in the third week in May. Though our acreage was for sale, we weren’t expecting to sell it while we were there. But that was exactly what happened. We arrived there on a Tuesday and by Saturday we were signing the papers. And that whole event was such an experience of grace for me. I realized that God had been working all around me and through me to bring together just the right circumstances at just the right time to bring into being his good outcome for me. All the times in the past when I was worried or anxious were totally unnecessary because all through that time God was at work laying the foundation for what he was going to make happen.
A couple of weeks later, I get a phone call from the buyers. They took a water sample of our water and sent it in to have it checked and it did not pass health standards, and so they withdrew their offer to buy our acreage.
That was pretty hard news to receive. But as I reflected on it later on, I realized that nothing had changed. God was still at work, sometimes behind the scenes, sometimes in a more evident way. God was still doing what he was doing before, working to bring about his outcome for me and my family. And I realized that my life would be a whole lot easier if I just trusted God to manage the outcomes in my life. I don’t know what the future holds, but I do know the God that holds the future, and that is enough for me. As Paul writes,
7 I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. 8 Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ 9 and become one with him. (Philippians 3:7-9a)
And so, if you find yourself in a situation where you have suffered a great loss, and it looks like there is no hope, I encourage you to hold onto the God who is holding onto you. He will not let you go.
(shared at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church, Langley BC on 14 June 2009.)
 “Vancouver House Prices Show Ninth Consecutive Month of Decline,” Vancouver Sun, Internet; available at: http://www.vancouversun.com/Business/Vancouver+house+prices+show+ninth+consecutive+month+decline/1635850/story.html; downloaded 13 June 2009.
 “Dow Jones Worst Years: 1900-2008,” Think Big, Bespoke Investment Group; Internet; available at: http://bespokeinvest.typepad.com/bespoke/2008/12/dow-jones-worst-years-1900-2008.html; downloaded 13 June 2009.