How many of you like the movie, “The Wizard of Oz?” It’s OK this time to put your hands up, it’s not like I’m asking you if you sinned this week or not…OK, how many of you sinned this week? With the “Wizard”, you either like it or not. Some people have pretty strong feelings about it one way or another, and probably all of us have seen it at least once. And like it or not, we all know the lessons that the movie teaches, from the very obvious, “There’s no place like home”, to good always overcomes evil, to the main lesson that if we have a calling in this life, we’ve already been given all of the necessary resources to fulfill that calling. We don’t need to go on a pilgrimage seeking a no-good wizard to find them. From a theological point of view, God has already planted them in our hearts. In the movie, the Scarecrow discovers that he already has insight and wisdom, the Cowardly Lion realizes that he is far more courageous that he ever imagined, and the Tin-Man is filled with compassion and caring.
But the lesson that I want to focus in on this morning for a moment is how to sneak into a place in which you certainly do not belong. When I was a teenager this particular lesson seemed quite important, although I’ll not go into that this morning.
Near the end of the movie, just as all is looking extremely grim for Dorothy, who is being held captive by the Wicked Witch of the West, the Scarecrow, the Tin-Man and the Lion, somehow, all manage to sneak into the Wicked Witch’s castle. And, exercising their newly discovered gifts, they rescue Dorothy and vanquish the wicked witch with only seconds to spare. Even though we may have seen this movie dozens of times, we still wonder, in those tense moments, are they going to be able to pull it off?
But how did they get into the castle in the first place? How did they get into that forbidden fortress? It was the Scarecrow’s idea, of course, but they got inside, undetected, because they disguised themselves in the clothing of the castle guard. We all panicked, of course, and feared that they’d be found out, especially when we noticed that the Lion’s tail was swishing back and forth from out of the back of his trousers.
There was once, a very long time ago, an intruder in heaven. Someone, or as I prefer to say, something. Something that did not belong there, somehow managed to get in. The Satan itself made an appearance in heaven. Now I don’t know for sure how the Satan got into heaven, but if one reads between the lines in Job, chapter one, it may have been very much in the same way that the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Lion got into the Witch’s castle.
In Job, chapter one, we read that one day, the heavenly beings came to present themselves before the Lord, and the Satan came along with them. Point of order here. I’ve been calling him “the Satan”, haven’t I? That sounds strange. But in the Book of Job, the devil doesn’t really have a name. “Satan”, means “the accuser,” or the Satan. I like that, because having a name implies personhood, and I don’t like to give personhood to such a heinous creature as the devil.
Anyway, the Satan got into heaven, along with the other heavenly beings, but unlike our heroic trio form “The Wizard of Oz,” the Satan was detected and found out immediately. He’s caught, and God shouts out at him and says, “Where have you come from?” Implied in that question is, you are an intruder, you do not belong here, why are you here, state your business and be done with it.
And the Satan replied, well, I’ve been spending some time on earth, checking things out. And suddenly, seemingly from out of nowhere, God asks, did you check out my servant Job? There’s nobody quite like him. He’s blameless, he’s upright, and a fine believer to boot! He’s a really neat guy.
Well no wonder, the Satan shouts back, you’ve made Job your pet! You’ve taken extra special care of him, you’ve watched over him, blessed him, given him great wealth, why couldn’t he be a goody-two-shoes? Tell you what God, smack him around a little bit, work him over some, and that guy will dump his faith like yesterday’s Dunkin’ Donuts. He’ll curse you until the sun comes up.
Now I suspect that this challenge intrigued God some, because God said to the Satan, have at him, do what you will with him, just don’t kill him.
And with that, all hell broke loose over Job. The Satan unleashed a brutal attack on Job. Marauding tribes attacked his cattle and killed his servants. A strong wind knocked down the house where Job’s children were eating, and they were all killed. And then, just for satanic kicks, festering sores that refused to heal, broke out over his whole body. Job was a broken man. No one would want to experience the horror that Job endured, but some of us may have come close. Terrible things have happened to some of us. Our bodies have been damaged, our hearts have been broken, and loss and grief have been our companions, and many of us, like Job, have never known the reason why. Job had no clue that a cosmic battle was raging over his life. He did not know anything about the heavenly conversation that led to the disastrous events that put his life into such abject misery.
But that wasn’t the end for Job, things got worse. Some visitors showed up. Sometimes, in the midst of a trial, visitors can be a good thing. But not so in Job’s case. It turns out that Job’s visitors functioned as the very messengers of the Satan. Maybe without knowing it, Job’s visitors were all part of the Satan’s plan to further undo and unravel the faith of this man of God.
And Job’s visitors were studied theologians to boot. And in this case that’s bad. They weren’t helpful at all. There was no love, no compassion, no empathy, no nothing, just a lot of answers. Look out for people who have all of the answers. Look out for people who want to pump you full of them. It only means that they’ve never struggled with questions that have any importance to them, or anyone else. For thirty six chapters in this book, Eliphaz, the Temanite, Bildad, the Shuhite and Zophar, the Naamathite hounded Job about the nature of God, the sinfulness of humankind, and how Job must certainly have committed some horrific sin to have deserved such a severe punishment from God. And its all quite boring and tedious, because in all of their theologizing, they offer not one word of comfort or hope. Job tries to maintain his innocence throughout the entire course of his theological education, but his visitors will hear nothing of it. All they have is standard answers that they keep trying to drill into his head. These visitors were just another part of Job’s satanic torment.
When disaster comes to our house, we want answers. We want to know the why, the why for, and how come. But we also desperately need comfort and solace. Many of us have caught ourselves wondering, what evil have I done to deserve all of this? But more often than not, the answers do not come. And this of course, is troublesome. We want to know.
After a very long time, in the Book of Job, God finally shows up in chapter thirty eight. But when God comes, God doesn’t come with any answers; he comes with more questions. It disappoints us, I am sure, that when God finally shows up, that Job does not get his answers. He doesn’t even get a “There, there, now, everything’s going to get better soon.” Instead he gets a gigantic barrage of unanswerable questions. The questions are all about God’s sovereignty over the universe. And I think there’s more comfort in that than there is in a “There, there, everything’s going to be alright” kind of answer. The message of the Book of Job is that God is in control no matter what happens. We just like it better that God is in control when everything’s going hunky-dory for us.
We know Job’s story, even though he did not. We know his story from the very beginning. We are let in on the secret. We know that Job is in good stead with God. Job’s story begins with God’s strong affirmation of his faith and of his righteousness. And that’s how our stories begin too–with God’s strong affirmation of our faith and our righteousness.
Job never learns the “why” of his troubles. Job never finds out that his story has cosmic dimensions. He never finds out that the Satan was the source of his troubles. But he does find out that he lives in a universe where there is far more going on than he will ever see, know, or comprehend in his lifetime. Mysteries abound. But in those questions, Job realizes that God is present, and involved in everything imaginable and unimaginable. And if God is present and involved in everything imaginable and unimaginable, then God is also present and involved in Job’s life. Job learns that God has everything well in hand, even, and maybe especially, when it doesn’t seem like it at all.
Its comforting to know, that when our lives fall into disaster, that God is present, because often it seems that in difficult times that God appears to be distant and remote, even dare we say it, uncaring. It’s even better to know this ahead of time before disaster strikes. The good news here is that while Job didn’t know that God was with him, we knew it. We knew it from the very beginning. And because of this, we know that God is also with us from the very beginning. God is with us now, God will be with us through every chance and turn of life, and God will be with us forever.
The most encouraging news is something that Job did not know about as he finished his life out on this earth, but he knows it now with a full heart and with full joy. He knows about Jesus. Jesus, the fullness of God in the flesh, came to this earth to bear the burden of our suffering. Jesus willingly chose to tread the path of agony and loss that Job would never have chosen himself. It is the same path that we would also never choose for ourselves. Our Lord’s suffering, far more undeserved than Job’s or our own, ultimately abolishes all suffering and loss. This is our hope, this is our promise, and above all else this is our joy.