Our sacred text constantly reminds us that our God is big enough to handle our doubts, to handle our fears, to handle our worries, to handle our anger, to handle our questions and still…and still be in relationship with us, and still show us grace upon grace upon grace.
October 22, 2023
God, Why Are You Punishing Me?
Rev. Dr. Heather W. McColl
After this Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth. Job said: “Let the day perish in which I was born, and the night that said, ‘A male is conceived.’ Let that day be darkness! May God above not seek it or light shine on it. Let gloom and deep darkness claim it. Let clouds settle upon it; let the blackness of the day terrify it. That night—let thick darkness seize it! let it not rejoice among the days of the year; let it not come into the number of the months. Yes, let that night be barren; let no joyful cry be heard in it.
Let those curse it who curse the Sea, those who are skilled to rouse up Leviathan. Let the stars of its dawn be dark; let it hope for light but have none; may it not see the eyelids of the morning because it did not shut the doors of my mother’s womb and hide trouble from my eyes. “Why did I not die at birth, come forth from the womb and expire? Why were there knees to receive me or breasts for me to suck? Now I would be lying down and quiet; I would be asleep; then I would be at rest with kings and counselors of the earth who rebuild ruins for themselves, or with princes who have gold, who fill their houses with silver.
Or why was I not buried like a stillborn child, like an infant that never sees the light? There the wicked cease from troubling, and there the weary are at rest. There the prisoners are at ease together; they do not hear the voice of the taskmaster. The small and the great are there, and the slaves are free from their masters. “Why is light given to one in misery and life to the bitter in soul, who long for death, but it does not come, and dig for it more than for hidden treasures; who rejoice exceedingly and are glad when they find the grave? Why is light given to one who cannot see the way, whom God has fenced in? For my sighing comes like my bread, and my groanings are poured out like water. Truly the thing that I fear comes upon me, and what I dread befalls me. I am not at ease, nor am I quiet; I have no rest, but trouble comes.”
God, Why Are You Punishing Me? Job 3
Over the last few weeks, as a community of faith, we have explored the questions we often found ourselves asking while in the midst of grief. We have wondered if God was there. We have wondered if God really cared for us. This week, we are asking THE Question, that question being whether God is punishing us because bad stuff is happening in our lives.
Before we start, let me say, I did not choose this Scripture lightly. I know that for some, it may bring up painful memories or experiences over loss. My intent was not to dismiss or belittle those experiences. Rather, it was my hope to invite the anguish found within this text to help us recreate the mental, emotional and spiritual framework we often experience when dealing with loss. It is often raw. It is often vulnerable. It is often overwhelming…all the emotions and thoughts we hear within Job’s words found within this text.
I also feel I need to say from the very beginning, that this is going to be a very short sermon for one simple fact. I do not believe that God punishes us. When we ask that particular question, the question of Why God is punishing us, for me, I perceive this as us, as people of faith looking for a logical answer when we experience the illogical loss and grief in our lives. I will also share that I appreciate that our sacred story deals with this question, the Book of Job being one instance of many found within our sacred text. Because when we realize the fact that our faith text embraces the range of human emotions and human experiences, we discover we are not alone in asking the particular question of Why is God punishing us. In fact, when we look at our sacred text, we discover that for some two thousand years or more, people have wondered why bad things happen to good people, to borrow from Rabbi Harold Kushner.
This knowing oddly gives me a sense of comfort. It reminds me that I am not alone, that I am not the first to experience such feelings, to have such thoughts. It also reminds me that I am, that we are part of something bigger than ourselves, that we are connected to a greater reality.
The fact that our sacred text invites such questions, ask such questions, explores such questions fills me with more hope, gives me more courage, and strengthens me with more grace and love than I could ever imagine. Our sacred text constantly reminds us that our God is big enough to handle our doubts, to handle our fears, to handle our worries, to handle our anger, to handle our questions and still…and still be in relationship with us, and still show us grace upon grace upon grace.
For me, that’s why the Book of Job is such a great text to explore this question of God, Why are you punishing me? The book of Job poses the question of suffering and why it happens. I would also argue that it poses some interesting questions about the character of God because as Virginia Woolf is quoted as saying… “I read the book of Job and God does not come out well in it.” But that is another sermon for another day. For today, we are looking at the section just after Job has lost almost everything. His property is carried off. His children are killed. He is infected with sores from his head to his feet. Then Job’s friends come along and sit with Job for seven days in silence. Following this is where our text comes into the story.
The interesting thing about Job’s statements is that it comes in the form of a soliloquy. It is a conversation that Job has with God although God is not perceived seen as being on scene. Job’s conversation is a reversal of creation, naming that his life is in chaos right now. It is a lament, which seeks to connect Job to his Creator at the most basic level. It is a prayer that does not address the why. Rather it asks God, now what..now that he has lost everything, now what? What will God do? How will God be present? How will God be the God Job knows, that we know God to be, our God who is faithful to generation to generation, our God who is steadfast in love, our God who isn’t some puppet master, playing with our lives.
Job offers this lament as a prayer to his God because as a person of faith, at his core, Job understands that God has given us a promise and for God to be the God we know, that we have experienced, God has to show up, God has to hold to that promise, God has to hold to the covenant.
Or to paraphrase Rabbi Harold Kushner once more….no one wants to be in a relationship with a fickle God, in a relationship with a God we cannot trust, Our God is not some deity sitting up there in a heaven far away playing dice with our lives. In the end, what it comes down to is that we as people of faith live in a world where bad stuff happens to good people for no logical reason. We as people of faith live in a world where hurt people hurt people. We as people of faith live in a world where we cannot control everything, which is frustrating, frightening, and humbling.
As with all things, the only thing we can control is how we respond. Which is something again the Book of Job reminds us, which is something again our sacred text tells…in all things, we can bring our anger, we can bring our doubts, we can bring the chaos of our lives, of our world to God and expect God to be God and still know that in the end, love and light will have the last word. Although it may not be the outcome we wanted, in every situation, we know that it will be okay because our God is steadfast from generation to generation, our God loves us more than we will ever know. We can hold to the promise that in a world where bad stuff happens to good people because we know our God is here, moving in and among us, bringing healing and wholeness to all of God’s people because that is who our God is.
See also: Theology Tuesday for Sunday, October 22, 2023 – God, Why Are You Punishing Me? Job 3.