Proper 23B’21
10 October 2021
Job 23.1-9,16-17
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church
North Little Rock, Arkansas
The Rev. Carey Stone <+>

“Darkness is not dark to you, O Lord; the night is as bright as the day; darkness and light to you are both alike.” Amen. -From the Coverdale Psalter, BCP p.794

Welcome back to the second of a four-part series on the life of Job. Last week we saw the opening scene where Satan approaches God in heaven and God offers him the opportunity to test Job, a righteous man. He goes out form the presence of God and causes Job’s livestock to be stolen or killed, along with almost all of his servants, and worst of all his children died in a tornado. Job remains faithful “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord,” ws his response.

Satan asks God permission to go another round with Job, this time afflicting him all over his body with itchy and painful sores. Job sits down in a heap of ashes and scratches himself with a broken shard of pottery. Then his wife walks over to him and encourages him to “curse God and die!” But Job said that we don’t get a chance as humans to pick and choose, we have to receive both the good and the bad things that come to us in life. That was last week. There was quite a lot that took place between the readings from past Sunday to this – I’ll hit the high spots.

Fresh from the encounter with his wife, Job is visited by three friends. When his friends saw him, they were dumbstruck, and they sat down with him for an entire seven days without saying a word. Finally, they can no longer remain silent. The scenes that follow are like a courtroom. Job’s friends serve as the prosecuting attorneys, each taking turns presenting their arguments and attempting to answer the “why” question of Job’s suffering. Job is the lone defendant with no public defender, and God, presumably the judge, remains silent in the background. Job’s friends were bookish, religious, and none of them had ever gone through trials even close to Job’s. As we would say during the pandemic, “they had done their research” on the problem of evil and why bad things happen to people.

 Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, stood up one at a time to make their case with defensive responses from Job after each argument. Eliphaz’s argument: “Youhave sinned and are getting what you deserve.” Bildad’s argument: was very similar to a modern-day televangelist: “your children sinned and they got what they deserved being killed by a tornado.” All of their arguments could be boiled down to a simple equation: Sin + Guilt = Punishment! Job, is wearied by their repeated cross examinations and said that if “God wanted to crush him,” he would be in support of it. He wished for an umpire that could be a mediator between himself and God, but alas does not believe there is one.

In his despair Job, says: “I loathe my life, I will give free reign to the words of my complaint. I will say to God, do not condemn me; let me know why you contend against me…” and he goes on for quite some time, finally asking that his friends just leave him alone. (With friends like these who needed enemies) But unfortunately they didn’t leave and Job had to continue to reassert his minority opinion that bad things do happen to good people, while maintaining his innocence, his integrity, and his very shaky trust in God.

Well, that has brought us up to today’s reading from chapter 23. Job is a man who appears to have been forsaken by his family, by his possessions, by his friends, and apparently – by God, or so it seemed.

Job was convinced that with God as judge he would get a fair hearing. Job said: “Oh, that I knew where I might find him…I would lay my case before him…and I should be acquitted by my judge.” But this leads to one of the hardest things for Job, and for us, the apparent absence of God. This ‘sense of having no sense’ of God’s presence has been encountered by many saints both small and great. 15th century Spanish mystic, St. John of the Cross is credited with calling this experience as “the dark night of the soul.” While from time to time, we all can have dry periods in our spiritual lives, but the dark night takes it to a much higher level. Listen as Job describes it: “If I go forward, he is not there; or backward, I cannot perceive him; on the left he hides, and I cannot behold him; I turn to the right, but I cannot see him.” Literally every which was he turned he could get no real sense that God was near to him. Job’s experience foreshadows the greatest dark night of all, on Good Friday when Jesus in agony and with a sense of total abandonment by God cries out: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

What about you, have you ever had a dark night of the soul, where it seemed that God had forgotten you? Did you have feelings of guilt and shame, that somehow you must have done something wrong otherwise you wouldn’t be feeling abandoned and Godforsaken?

I’ll never forget a personal episode of the dark night of the soul, when my first career came grinding to a halt. I had no idea what I was supposed to do next. No one around me could really understand what I had been through, and why things just hadn’t worked out. In order to pay some bills, I ended up working on a night crew unloading pallets, stocking shelves, and cleaning and mopping the floors. This was a crew of people like I had never been around before, misfits, roughnecks, trouble makers, and a dishonorably discharged veteran who had the look of an angry skinhead.   Lunch on the night crew started at 10:00pm, so one night I remember sitting and eating a sandwich reading a new book. The title of the book was: “Rebuilding Your Broken World” and the veteran who was sitting nearby and saw me reading the book, said, “Hey man, is this your broken world?” as he gestured indicating that it was the grocery store. My answer, “Yes I guess it is…” I wanted to find a hole and crawl in it. Job tries to articulate the embarrassment and shame he felt in that moment of his dark night: “If only I could vanish in darkness and thick darkness would cover my face.”

Well, another episode from the life of Job is nearing the end, with things dark and uncertain, but I promise Job’s story gets better! In faith, just hang on! But for all who are currently going through a dark night or may be heading into one, take heart! This too shall pass.

We have one of the great hymns of the Church for our recessional today that gives us a prayer for the dark times, it’s called St. Patrick’s Breastplate and it turns Job’s sense of being forsaken on its head. The chorus goes as follows:

Christ be with me, Christ within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me, Christ beside me, Christ to win me, Christ to comfort and restore me.

Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ in quiet, Christ in danger, Christ in hearts of all that love me, Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

Dear ones – Job stands as a witness today and reminds us that whether we can feel Him or not – God’s got us surrounded.

“Darkness is not dark to you, O Lord; the night is as bright as the day; darkness and light to you are both alike.” Amen.