Sermon on Job 9:14-21 ~ You Don’t Need to Worry About Payback

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14 “How then can I answer Him,
And choose my words to reason with Him?
15 Even if I were righteous, I could not answer Him;
I would beg for mercy from my Judge.
16 If I called and He answered me,
I would not believe that He was listening to my voice.
17 For He crushes me with a tornado,
And multiplies my wounds without cause.
18 He will not allow me to catch my breath,
But fills me with bitterness.
19 If it is a matter of strength, truly He is strong;
And if it is a matter of justice, who will appoint my day in court?
20 Even if I were righteous, my own mouth would condemn me;
Even if I were blameless, my own mouth would prove me to be perverse.
21 “I am blameless, but I do not know myself;
I despise my life. (Job 9:14-21)

Agony-in-the-gardenIn the Name + of Jesus. AMEN. Good people get good stuff. Bad people get bad stuff. Or as the Beatles sang on Abbey Road, “In the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.” That’s a nice way to say that the world runs on payback. Tit for tat, this for that, you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours comes as natural to you as breath. While no one can deny that your actions have consequences – that if you put your finger in a light socket you will be rewarded with a shock – you do God and yourselves a great disservice when you project this false system of punishment and reward onto Him.

You lie about who God is when you moralize your suffering and the pain of others. The lab tests come back positive. You interpret it as some sort of punishment. Your loved ones interpret it the other way. Your marriage falls apart. You assume God has handed down His judgment on your lack of love or selfishness or weakness. Most people would not blame the congregation in Charlotte for what the shooter did, and who would blame the six churches that suffered the loss of their buildings because of arsonists… but that doesn’t mean you don’t moralize your pain in other more subtle ways.

Christians believe that Jesus severed the link between what you suffer and what you deserve. He cut the tie once for all on Calvary. God put the ledgers away. He settled the accounts. But when you insist on that all-too-comfortable way of cosmic score keeping you stop talking about Christianity and adopt an Americanized form of Hinduism. Then you don’t talk about Jesus as substitute FOR YOU. You talk about karma. If you are a bad person and things go well for you, it is only a matter of time before karma catches up with you and you get yours. If you are a good person, the opposite is true. Just be patient and your good deeds will come back to you. And yet, the twist in this is that many of you still believe that everybody is essentially a good person.

In day to day life you prefer to keep karma on a person to person basis. The appeal of this is obvious. No one gets away with anything. If someone harmed you, she will suffer. If you do good, you will have a good life. Karma puts you in control. The problem with this is when we flip it around.

If you suffer you deserve it. Pain is proof. No doubt many of you would object to the accusation that you share this mind-set with other Christians. That’s simple nonsense, you think. No one with any education or experience would ever hold to such a juvenile tit-for-tat system of Christian faith. But hold on for a moment. Think about the last argument you had with someone. Was there an element of “you got what you deserve” tucked into the argument? “You hurt me, so now I’m justified if I hurt you”? How many of you think this way? The teenage girl who punishes herself by cutting her arms. Does she deserve our judgment? Men who sleep around to prove that they deserve the contempt of their wives. Do they deserve to be punished? If you cling to this kind of you-get-what-you-deserve kind of thinking why wouldn’t you project it onto God? The truth is, you are all helpless moralizers, especially when it comes to pain and suffering.

Maybe, because you believe in karma, you built walls that keep God from working in your life. You don’t believe enough. You don’t live well enough. You’re afraid God will give you what you deserve. Whatever you depend on to escape God’s inevitable curse, God’s grace rejects this karma-way of doing things. The Gospel of Jesus Christ defies all attempts to make over God into a divine score-keeper.

The promises of Christ which are for your comfort and encouragement are not advertising slogans. Christ’s promises are not something you have to buy into to keep up your image as Christians – as if to say, “Look at me. I’m living the victorious Christian life, just as advertised! No more worries. No more pain. No more suffering for me. I’ve got faith. I bought into what God was selling, and now he’s going to reward me more and more.”

You are never told in the Bible that God will rescue you from your pain and suffering – never. You can’t read the Book of Job or read the letters of St. Paul and still believe that Christianity is a “Look At Me” kind of religion. The Bible is filled with examples of faithful men and women who suffer. Jesus being the most obvious example. Church history is full of examples of those who’ve suffered and died, were thrown into prison because of their faith in Jesus as Savior. “We were promised sufferings.”

As much as you may wish it wasn’t so Christian faith looks to the cross and sees the suffering of Jesus for all us rebellious sinners. That God sometimes allows suffering and pain. Jesus himself tackles this for you in the ninth chapter of John’s Gospel. Jesus and his disciples come across a blind man. His disciples ask, “Teacher, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus said, “Neither this man or his parents sinned. But this happened so that the works of God may be displayed in his life” (John 9:2-3).

That’s about as clear as it gets. The man wasn’t blind because of a curse or punishment for some wrong he’d done. God was in fact present in his affliction. God’s work is most obvious in illness and weakness and affliction. That is, you will find God with those in pain and suffering, not with the healthy and the strong. The healthy have no need of a physician… Look to the cross. The man who spoke those words did more than just talk – he lived and died them. He lived and died FOR YOU. He lived and died for bad people, because bad people are all there are. He lived and died for those in pain, who suffer, because those are the only kind of people there are… You don’t need to worry about payback. In the end, the love you receive from God you didn’t earn. You don’t get what you deserve. Jesus got it FOR YOU. So now God loves you for Christ’s sake. For free. No strings attached. That’s grace. That’s Jesus. AMEN.