Summary: To the issue of why bad things happen to good people, Eliphaz’s answer is spiritually lazy and assumes that we can earn God’s favor. Job’s response is to have faith in a God who will ultimately accept responsibility for sin.
You and I are about to enter the realm of mystery together. I know of nothing which challenges the mind and the imagination quite so much as the mystery of human suffering. Why men and women should have to suffer physically or emotionally – that has never been answered completely.
In recent weeks I have noticed some of you suffering and asking the questions that are right and appropriate in the middle of that suffering.
Some have lost loved ones and have wondered why. What does it mean that someone I care about so deeply is snatched away from me? It seems so cruel and pointless. You have hurt and you have asked why.
Only a few days ago some of you who had been caught up in the struggles of Joanne Johnson, lost at the age of nineteen to a destructive disease, peered through your tears and asked the "Why" question. And you should have, you most certainly should have. Your pain is real; it is important, and it is mysterious.
Others have experienced deep disappointments of one kind or another. Someone has done something to you that angers you or upsets you, and you cannot make sense of it. That other person may be the one who did the wrong thing, so why is it that you are the one doing all the hurting? It makes no sense, but there it is. And you have asked why.
Still others, and I count myself in this group, have felt some kind of vague inner hurt. No particular logical reason, no real and tangible issue, but just an aching inside. Maybe we feel like failures: we have not been able to accomplish what we hoped to do.
Or we feel disconnected, hurting because nobody out there takes us very seriously.
Or we feel our mortality; we work so blessed hard and do try so hard to get moving, but we aren’t as young as we used to be, and our powers are waning, and we feel as though we’re not getting anywhere. After all, you have witnessed both of your ministers having birthdays in the last month, and we smiled and played and said it was a celebration, and one of us would not even tell his age – but who knows whether there is not some nebulous pain associated with getting another year older and still not having attained that unreachable star?
There is pain all over the human landscape, and it is mystery. Within these walls today, despite our smiles and our painted-on merry-making, there is a whole lot of inner hurt. Many of us groan inside. And that is mystery: God has made us that way, and we do not understand why.
And so we struggle with it and feel we ought to be able to learn, somehow, to handle it better. Surely somebody has some answers about how to feel better when life is burdensome. And so we try various remedies. Some of us go to various physicians and counselors. And that’s positive, that’s all right. Certainly both of your ministers want you to share that burden with us and let us walk with you as best we are able.
But some seek refuge in some negative things – mind-numbing substances from alcohol to cocaine. Or we deny that we have any problems and run off chanting, "Don’t worry, be happy; don’t worry, be happy". Or we listen to various TV evangelists exhorting us to be joyful in the Lord, if we’ll just mail in our check. None of that works for very long, does it?
But the mystery of pain deepens when you begin to thank about this season of the year. It’s Lent. Lent is the Christian season that is designed to focus on the suffering of Jesus of Nazareth and all that His cross means. And from a human point of view there is nothing more absurd, nothing more mysterious and even pointless than the pain of Jesus. He did no wrong, he broke no law, he injured no one, and yet, as the prophet said He wouId do, "He gave his back to the smiters, and his cheeks to them that plucked out the hair. He hid not his face from shame and spitting".
And from that cross His cry of loneliness rings out across the ages as the most awful ever uttered by human lips. Who can feel pain any more deeply than this, to cry, "My God, why hast Thou forsaken me?"
And so in this season of Lent I have chosen to struggle with you along the theme, "The Cross at the Garbage Dump", "The Cross at the Garbage Dump". Why garbage dump? Just because that’s where a whole host of people feel they are: at the garbage dump. Discarded, thrown away, needing only to be plowed under, and buried.