OVERCOMING TOUGH TIMES
How Will You Respond?
March 15, 2009
Job’s life was shattered into a million pieces; he seemingly lost it all. How does he respond? What choices does he make in the midst of his suffering? What choices are you going to make when faced with unspeakable pain and loss? In the second message of this series, Ben Young looks at the second chapter of the book of Job – a behind the scenes directors cut.
If you weren’t here last week, you missed it. Last week we talked about The Fabulous Life of Job. We talked about the guy named Job who had it all. Job had a multi-million dollar company. He had a phenomenal family. He had 10 kids. He had a strong faith in God. He was on the front cover of Time, Money, and Success. Job was the man. He was the greatest man of his day. The greatest man in all the East that is what the Bible tells us about our main man Job. But something happened to Job. I think a lot of us know what happened to Job. He was going on his everyday life, just minding his own business. Praying, hanging out with his family to all of a sudden (Ben drops a clay pot)…Job’s life shattered into a million pieces. In one day, he lost it all. He lost his company, he lost his money, he lost his savings, he lost all of his employees, and worst of all he lost all ten children in one swoop. Job’s life was completely shattered. What is Job going to do now? What is God going to do now? What is going to happen next?
Job, Chapter 2. If you want to know how to find Job, go to the middle of your Bible, find Psalms and hang left. You will run into the oldest book in the entire Bible. Job 2:1, (these few verses contain one of the rare times in Scripture when we get a glimpse behind the curtain, we get to peek and find out what is happening on the other side in the ultimate realm and here is what we find…) “On another day the angels came to present themselves before the Lord and Satan also came with them to present himself before Him. And the Lord said to Satan, ‘Where have you come from?’ And Satan answered the Lord, ‘From roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it.’ And the Lord said to Satan, ‘Have you considered My servant Job? There is no one on earth like him. He is blameless and upright. A man who fears God and shuns evil. He still maintains his integrity, although you incited Me against him to ruin him without any reason.’ ‘Skin for skin,’ Satan replied. ‘A man will give all he has for his own life, but stretch out Your hand and strike his flesh and bones and he will surely curse You to Your face.’ The Lord said to Satan, ‘Very well then, he is in your hands, but you must spare his life.’”
Now this is the behind scenes directors cut. Let’s now switch the focus of our lens to the real world, to where Job is living. He has lost it all. All he has left is his health and his wife. Job 2:7, “So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and afflicted Job with painful sores from the souls of his feet to the top of his head.
Then Job took a piece of broken pottery and scraped himself with it as he sat among the ashes. His wife said to him, ‘Are you still holding onto your integrity. Curse God and die.’ And he replied, ‘You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God and not trouble?’ And in all this Job did not sin in what he said.”
How does this story hit you? How does it make you feel? What does it do to your theology or your belief in God, that God would enter some kind of wager with Satan and allow Satan to just destroy and take Job’s life and just smash it into a million little pieces? This is a powerful and perplexing story. It scares me. Does it scare you? You may say, “Why does it scare you?” It scares me because what if it happened to me, this major league level of suffering and pain? What if one day God is up in heaven and Satan and the angels come to present themselves to God and it is 2009 our time and God says, “Hey, Satan, have you considered the guy in the green sweater? Have you considered Ben? Have you considered Mike? Have you considered Kristen?” And God let our lives be shattered like this. He would take down his hedge of protection…what if? It is perplexing.
It is also powerful. One of the reasons this story is so powerful – the oldest story in the most famous, best-selling book, most translated book of all time by far away, the oldest story – the reason it is so powerful is that I believe this story hinges so much around the power of choice. The power of choice! The issue really is not, will I someday experience a trial in my life? Will I someday experience suffering? Will I someday experience some random act of pain or violence in my life or a family member’s life? That is not really the question. The question for you and for me and for all of us is, “How will we respond when our lives are shattered into a million pieces?”
That is the question. When we are faced with the finality of a terminal illness…cancer…divorce… death…abuse…after the shock, after the tears, after the crying out, after the phone calls and emails and text messages cease and we are left alone…how are you going to respond? How will I respond?
There are many choices, aren’t there? There are many choices out there. Think about Job’s wife. Look at what happened to her. In one or two days she lost her husband’s job, their finances, their security, everything they had banked on was all gone. The ten precious kids, these babies that she one day carried in her womb for nine months that she nursed at her breast, that she went to their birthday parties and cheered, laughed, and watched them grow up with so much success and prosperity. All ten were gone. Dead…they were not coming back.
And now she looks at her husband and she can’t even recognize him because he was covered with these boils from his feet all the way to the top of his head and they were oozing puss and all he has left to do in life is scrape himself with a piece of pottery because the itching was just so crazy. And what does she say, what is her option, what is her choice? I think the choice she made at this time and the choice that she wanted her husband to make is, “Are you still holding on? Believing God? Are you kidding me? Are you still holding onto your integrity? Curse God and die! If there is a God, then He doesn’t care. If there is a God, then He must be limited in His power or He would do something to intervene to stop the death of all 10 children, to lose everything, and just allow you to be inflicted with all this grotesque sickness and suffering. Give up this Sunday school, pie-in-the-sky before you die God.”
Atheism, there is no God. Or maybe if there is a God He doesn’t really care or can’t really do anything, He is irrelevant. Atheism is an option, it is a choice. Tragedy of this magnitude and catastrophe is usually a polarizing event that draws us closer to God or farther away from God. It is a choice.
You may not have known this, but Ted Turner the billionaire owner of CNN and WTBS and the Atlanta Braves and all the things he has done in his successful career and life…at one time when he was a young man in high school, he was a devout Christian. At the age of 18 Ted Turner devoted his life to become a missionary to tell all the people in foreign lands about the good news of Jesus Christ. But something happened to Ted’s sister, Mary Jane. She contracted a rare form of lupus and Ted watched his sister slowly die for about five years. And when she was dead, her death killed his faith in God. And he has been an atheist ever since.
Some people are going to choose atheism and some people are going to say, “Ya, maybe God is there but I can’t handle the pain. I can’t handle the trial; I am just going to drown myself in alcohol, in drinking. Or I am just going to find some drugs whether they are prescription or non-prescription or on the street. I am going to find some drugs to lose myself, to lose and ease the pain through that. Or, I am going to go to work and I am going to work myself to death. Or I am not going to do anything. I am just going to sit there and fall into a depression.” For some it is so tough they have to try to find some outlet and they take their own life.
It is interesting, when you talk about choice and when you enter into the dark tunnel of despair and the coldness and the loneliness…it is not an either or kind of choice. Does that make sense? In other words, it’s not like, “Okay, I fully believe in God all the time and I never doubt.”
No, there is a both andness of this relationship with God and trying to work out and figure out and simply survive an attack upon your life of such magnitude. I think about Mother Teresa and some of her journals that were released a couple of years ago. Mother Teresa had given her life to comforting the sick and the dying in the streets of Calcutta, she lived among the poorest of the poor and there are many times in her journals where she had very little faith. Sometimes she said she didn’t even know if God was there; didn’t even know if heaven was real. She said, “It seems like Jesus loves other people, but I don’t really believe that Jesus loves me.” So as we are trying to negotiate the chaos of despair and trying to pick up and make sense of the broken pieces of our lives, it is not this linear either or choice all the time.
Jerry Sittser, a professor in the Pacific Northwest, was in his mini-van one night with his family, his mother was in town visiting. A drunk driver hit them and Dr. Sittser lost his mom, his wife, and his four year old daughter like that in one night. He was left to raise his three kids all by himself. Three years after the event as he was still walking in faith with God, he wrote this, “We brood as well as hope. We rage as well as surrender. We doubt as well as believe. We live simultaneously in the night and in the light.” That is the nature of living in a broken, fallen world. That is the nature of trying to walk through pain and suffering with God. Choice, response…it is amazing that we have this power to choose to respond to this tragedy that hits us that is so confusing, and so perplexing that we can’t figure out. It is not rational, it is not reasonable; it doesn’t make sense why it would happen to me and not someone else. All these questions, questions, questions…
One thing that amazes me about this story and about our own choices is that your choice matters to God. That is what is amazing about this story, your choice matters to God. Job was just like you and I. When something hits our life, when a storm comes into your life or my life and it rains and rains and rains and it doesn’t’ stop raining and pretty soon the water rises and it floods and it starts to take us away. We don’t know where it is coming from; we don’t know what God is up to. He had no idea that there was some cosmic Las Vegas card game between God and the devil. And God was kind of placing His bet on His man Job who no matter what happens; no matter how much Satan gets to him, that Job is going to trust Him no matter what. He is betting…there is a cosmic wager going on. God is betting on His man Job, Job doesn’t know this. And after all the suffering after Job’s life is torn and smashed into a million pieces, now all of a sudden (as we saw last week) all of heaven and all of hell waits…waits on Job. What choice will Job make? How is Job going to respond to this calamity, to this tragedy, to losing all of his money, to losing his business, to losing is health, to losing 10 children…how will Job respond?
What is amazing is that we are such small specs on this beautiful, blue marble planet called Earth but our choices are significant. They are significant. They matter to God.
We saw at the end of chapter 1…what did he say when the first round, the first wave hit him? He said, “The Lord gives, the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” How did Job respond? Job responded with raw worship, raw worship. Then we read in chapter 2 today where it said, “I accept good things from God and I accept bad things from God.” What was Job saying? What was Job’s response? “God, You are in this!” And he cried out from the ashes that he was sitting on as he was scraping himself with the pottery, he said, “God You are in this! And I am going to hold onto You no matter what comes my way. I am going to hold onto You. I don’t see it, I don’t understand it. He was sad, he was mad, he was angry, he was perplexed but he said, “God I am holding onto You…I am going to trust in You no matter what.”
Now, we will see in the following weeks that Job was no super saint…Job was just like you and just like me. As this story unfolds, as more chapters unfold in Job’s life you are going to see Job gets pretty real. But Job said, “Hey, I am going to hold on. I am going to hold onto God no matter what. I don’t care how I feel. I don’t care how disfigured I am. I don’t care if it looks like I am going to die; I am holding on…I am holding on.”
What was he doing? You know what Job did as he looked at the broken pieces of his life…he somehow chose to find meaning in the midst of his suffering. This was a guy who was living large, Beverly Hills, rollin’…I want to be a Rock Star. Now he has nothing. He is saying, I am still going to try to find meaning in the broken pieces of my life, I am going to hold onto God, I am going to hold onto my integrity the best that I can. Sure he was crying out. He shaved his head, he was in an ash heap, but he chose to find meaning in the midst of his suffering.
Viktor Frankel was a Jewish psychotherapist who survived the Auschwitz death camp. He went on to write a book called, Man’s Search for Meaning, that sold over 10 million copies. He began the research for this book as he was actually in Auschwitz watching his fellow prisoners and how they responded to the death and the torture and the humiliation and degradation that was that death camp, Auschwitz. And in his observations he saw several things. He said some people became brutal. Good, nice, respectable people…when they saw and smelt death everyday and saw the nakedness and humiliation that went along with those demonic death camps some people who were nice and kind became brutal and savage like animals. Other people simply gave up, they just gave up. He said one day they just wouldn’t get out of the bunk.
One day they just wouldn’t show up for roll call. Many of them would set a date and they would think this is the day, I had a dream and this is the day I am going to get out of the camp, but the day wouldn’t come. When they began to lose hope, when they gave up the immunity system in their body shut down and opened them up to the variety of the diseases that were floating around the camp and they would die. He said some people held on, but they held onto some expectations that weren’t really real. They said, we are going to get out of here someday and when we get out of Auschwitz we are going to go back to our city, to our town and we are going to go back to our family and friends and enjoy the life of prosperity that we did before the war. And Frankel said they got out and life wasn’t the same. Life is never the same after undergoing a Job like, Auschwitz like time of suffering and they didn’t thrive or make it. There was a fourth group of people, according to Frankel, who somehow maintained their inner liberty, a sense of freedom. He said the way they did it is that they had hope that was outside of them. And he said the only way to survive this death camp is to have your trust in the living hope. A living hope in the middle of death, a living hope in the middle of unparalleled suffering, but it kept them alive and it gave them joy. In his book Frankel said, “You need to remember that someone is looking down on you from heaven…a dad, a mom, a friend, even God and we cannot disappoint them.” We cannot disappoint them.
You know what I am confident of today? I am confident that whatever you are going through in your life that God is watching over you. He is watching over you. Let me tell you something, He has not forgotten you. He has not forgotten you. And as you hold onto Him tightly, He is holding onto you and He will see you through. He will see you through. Hebrews 12 says we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses. And you may not know this, but as you look to your left and your right I could tell you stories of men and women and young people who have been through hell and high water, who have had questions, who have had doubts, who have had struggles, who have been through unbelievable brokenness and pain and God was with them and God gave them strength as they held onto Him and God saw them through. He saw them through. But a lot of that was contingent on the choices that they made because the choices that you make, the choices that I make will determine in a sense, the grace that we will receive in this journey, in this struggle, in the brokenness and suffering of life.
I think about this one story, a guy who was in our youth group, Brent Ramey. Some of you knew Brent Ramey and his family. Brent loved basketball and I love basketball. I come from a basketball family. People always ask the question when I go and travel and speak (and they ask my brother too), “How did your dad raise three boys? What did he do? What Bible verse…” I say, “Really not much Bible verse, a lot of basketball, a little politics. He just lived it out along with my mom.”
But we loved basketball; Brent loved hoops, loved basketball. After his freshman year, Brent was in an automobile accident, a big time crash. They rushed him to the ER. Youth pastors, others, family and friends rushed down there and it didn’t look like Brent was going to make it. But Brent pulled through, he made it, he lived. But the impact was so strong and so severe that he was paralyzed from his neck down, he was a quadriplegic. He would never bounce a basketball again. But as a young man just fresh out of his freshman year facing an unbelievable dark and tough future. Brent held on tightly to God and Christ. He went on to graduate from high school.
After he got out of high school he went on to graduate from college. Many people would say, “Do you know Brent Ramey? He is a remarkable young man.” He went to the hospital for a routine surgery. Something went wrong and he ended up in ICU and his life was hanging in the balance. Our whole church was praying for him, but it looked like he wasn’t going to make it so his friends and family members went up to his hospital bed and gathered around him and prayed for him. And right until the end he was still holding on to the hope of Christ of loving Him. When he passed away, a friend of the family, a mom, who had two girls and no boys said to the Ramey family, “You know…if I had a son I would want him to be just like Brent Ramey. Just like him.”
When we go to God in our brokenness and hold onto Him minute by minute hour by hour, day by day, year by year we know that He is holding onto us and somehow, someway He will use all of our pain to transform our very lives. He will. We have this treasure, Paul writes in II Corinthians 4, in jars of clay. Broken jars of clay so that others may not see us, though they’ll see us, so they will see the power of Christ in us, in us. Hold on. Hold on. He is holding onto you, He will see you through.
God, we are humbled by you and we are humbled by the power You give us as mere humans made in your image…the power of choice. God I pray that you would give some men and women here today the power to choose You. Maybe some people are here today trying to negotiate the journey of life, trying to negotiate the journey of brokenness and pain all by themselves. God you didn’t create us to do this alone, you didn’t create us to do this alone. It is impossible, we need others, we need a community, and we need You. Lord, I pray for those who need to stand and walk down these aisles today and give their hearts and lives in surrender to You. And to find the power and the grace and the comfort to carry on and thrive even in the midst of incredible brokenness and pain, God you can do that, we can’t. God I pray for those who need to stand and walk down front today.