Last week I wrote about my new book, There is Hope: Preaching at Funerals which will be published on 16 December. To whet your appetite my blog today features an extract from a sermon on Job 19.25.
At first Job had been somewhat stoical about his losses: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb. and naked shall I return there; the Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1.21). But there came a day when he had had enough. It’s all your fault, he said to God. Or in the words of Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase: “God tore me apart piece by piece – I’m ruined! Then he yanked out hope by the roots… He has launched a major campaign against me, using every weapon he can think of, coming at me from all sides at once. I’m nothing but a bag of bones, my life hangs by a thread’ (Job 19.10-12, 17 The Message).
There are times when life isn’t fair. In our family, for instance, I think of my cousin Johnny, who was doing well in the VI form and had everything to live for but at the age of 17 was sucked to death in corn silo. Or I think of Caroline’s Uncle Dick, a sailor in the merchant navy, who in his early thirties fell to his death into a ship’s hold, leaving a young wife with four young children to care for.
Why do bad things happen to good people? This was the question which Rabbi Harold Kushner sought to address after his son Aaron died at the age of 14. In his 1981 book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People, he tried to answer why, if the world was created and governed by a good and loving God, there should be so much suffering and pain around. Frankly, he didn’t get very far.
Why God, why? This was the context in which Job railed and shouted at God. Yet in the midst of his pain he could not give up believing in God. He held on to God with one hand, and yet shook his fist at God with the other. In spite of his anger with God, he suddenly declares: “I know that my redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth, and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see on my side” (Job 19.25, 26).
The exact translation of this passage has been debated by scholars – some of the Hebrew is obscure. What seems to be clear is that Job believed that God would come to his rescue. “I know that my Redeemer lives”. The Hebrew word translated ‘Redeemer’ (goel) was used of a family member with money and influence who would come to the aid of relative who was in trouble. It’s the word used of Boaz when he came to the help of his distant cousin, Ruth. It’s the word used of God delivering his people from slavery in Egypt (Ex 6.6) or from exile in Babylon (Is 43.1,14; 44.6,24; 4744.4; 48.17). It’s also the word used of God delivering an individual from death (Ps 103.4) or rescuing one who is praying for help (Ps 119.154)
“I know that my Redeemer lives”. Despite all that had happened, Job was convinced that in God would rescue him from the suffering and the mess that his life had become. How God would do that, he had no idea. But we know. For we live the other side of the Cross and Resurrection. We know that God has come to our rescue in the person of his Son Jesus. To quote David Atkinson, a former Bishop of Thetford:
‘I know that my Redeemer lives’. These words, read back through the window of the cross of Calvary, have often been a source of comfort to Christian people in a time of distress… Though the full Christian meaning which they hold for us today was merely a glimmer of first light before the dawn for Job, the God in whom he trusts is the God made known to us in Jesus as the Kinsman-Redeemer and Vindicator of those who trust in him. How marvellous that Job could have said so much, knowing so little! What a rebuke to some of us, who know so much more of God than Job ever did, that we trust him so little.
“I know that my Redeemer lives”. Despite his questions, Job knew that God would come to his aid. The good news is that God has come to our aid in Jesus, the Crucified Saviour and Risen Lord. As we mourn the loss of our loved one, we know that death is not the end. In the words of Job, “after my skin has been destroyed,… I shall see God” (19.26). For, in those words that in Handel’s Messiah follow Job’s affirmation of trust in God, “For now is Christ risen from the dead, the first fruits of them that sleep” (1 Cor 15.20) – or as the GNB puts it: “The truth is that Christ has been raised from death, as the guarantee that those who sleep in death will also be raised”.
I know that my Redeemer lives, said Job. “I am convinced, said the Apostle Paul, that neither death nor life… nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord”. ”I know”, said Job “I am convinced”, said Paul. “The whole of religion”, said Martin Luther, “lies in the personal pronoun”, In the midst of all our pain God calls each one of us to believe and to discover the difference that Jesus can make in the midst of all our pain.