In the Storm: Some Days Are Like That
Topic: Hope in Christ Scripture: Job 1:1–1:22
Our church’s 150th anniversary means that 75 years ago - we were half-way to now. At that point in our journey, the world was embroiled in the most gruesome war in human history. Nobody was unaffected. The First Pres pastor at the time, Rev. Harry Wooding, left his post here to become a military chaplain and returned later.The war was a Job-like experience for the planet. Estimates of total fatalities ranged between 60 million and 105 million. Those are unbelievable numbers to wrap one’s mind around. One day, the war came home for a family in Waterloo, IA. Theirs had been a happy home, where joy and laughter prevailed. All five boys in the family enlisted in the navy, insisting they be allowed to stay together. George, Frank, Joe, Madison, and Al were assigned to the USS Juneau. When the ship was torpedoed during the battle of Guadalcanal, all five brothers perished together. For their parents, Tom and Alleta Sullivan, the world as they knew it, ended that day. They had entered Job’s world—a place of devastating emotions and spiritual confusion.
When we meet Job, we’re struck by what a truly good man he is. He has a full and prosperous life. His ten children are happy, and they get along well with each other. His livestock number in the thousands. He is devoted to God, and daily, he offers sacrifices, just in case one of his kids might have sinned. Job was a good man.
That makes his suffering, and the magnitude of his loss, all the more of a shock. The common wisdom held, that the good were blessed and the bad get what’s coming to them. This unusual book turns that folk wisdom on its head. The wicked prosper, and get away with evil, while the good—well, just look what happened to Job. The question that hovers in the background throughout is: “Why? Why Lord?”
Of all Job’s afflictions, maybe the worst catastrophe was when his friends came to console him. After chapters of their well-intended but misguided advice, we find Job wishing they’d just go away. It’s kind of how I am when my in-laws visit. Job’s primary thought: with friends like these, who needs enemies? Their insistence that he must have done something to deserve this suffering, only made Job more furious by the minute.
How does Job’s experience help us? Why is such a book even in the Bible? We have come to understand that stuff happens. Often, the stuff that happens is unconnected to virtue or its lack. Disease and natural disaster take their toll indiscriminately. The victims of war, crime, and racism, most often are those least responsible for perpetrating these evils. Too frequently, they are those who have stood against injustice. The life of Jesus is a prime example. He stood for good, knowing the cost, knowing there was a cross in his future. The easy answers of Job’s counselors don’t apply. The glib cause-and-effect response is clearly not so.
We should also be aware that there are “Jobs” all around us. People’s suffering and losses are often unknown to us, but they are very real. Sometimes, there might be a degree of suffering in their background that we have no clue about. We’re learning the effects of trauma and PTSD in childhood or adulthood, not only for those who have been to war but for all kinds of people. So, kindness and understanding are always in order. Be kind, because we don’t know what the other person is going through. This includes ourselves. When we’ve had cumulative losses in our lives, we should acknowledge that fact, and not be hard on ourselves. Sometimes we must say, “Do you realize what you’ve been through for the past many months or years?”
We also know that we have an Easter faith. Christ has risen and reigns in power for us. Therefore we have hope in the midst of life’s deepest hurts. If God is for us, who can be against us? Job has a happy-ever-after ending that might have been designed by Hollywood. Yet, there is such a thing as new starts in life. After a loss, life can get healed, and life can get better again.
Tom and Alleta Sullivan never got over the loss of their five sons. Who would? Their lives did go on, though. During the rest of the war years, they toured the country helping out in USO kitchens, serving meals, and speaking to large audiences, to encourage military members, their families, and the nation. Today, a museum in Waterloo honors this family, and a plaque stands on the spot where their house was.
Job’s suffering tells us: stuff happens, yes, but because of our Easter faith, our risen Lord, there is hope, and healing, and new starts in life.