By Woody Woodrick
Living with Tragedy
Purpose: To wrestle with suffering and tragedy as faithful people of God.
Bible Lesson: Job 1:14-15, 18-19, 22; 3:1-3, 11
Key Verse: “Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.” — Job 2:10
Sitting in the parking lot of the convenience store, I had everything ready for the trip. The car was full of gas. I had purchased a soft drink and a small snack. The radio was tuned to the right station. The engine was running. All that was needed was to shift gears and step on the gas.
I hesitated, just sitting for a minute or two. I didn’t want the trip to begin because when it began, the reason for it would become real — a reality I didn’t want to face.
My best friend from high school had died. Less than two weeks after a much-needed and long-delayed kidney transplant, he had died. At first he did great. His body responded well. They even let him go home for a weekend. But a few days later, his body began to shut down. One thing after another eventually went bad. And he died. I think about him almost every day.
Danny was simply a good man; respected in his community, loved dearly by his friends, cherished by his family. Why did he have to die? Why not some low-life who breaks the rules and seems to get away with it? Why?
Job is where we try to gain something of an answer to that question. Why do bad things happen to good people? What possible reason could God have for allowing these things to happen? Why doesn’t God stop tsunamis or Hurricane Katrinas?
The Bible tells us Job was a good man, the best in the East. Yet, God allowed the satan to heap great tragedy upon this good man. He lost his wealth, his cattle, his servants and finally all his children. Losing one child is terrible, but losing all of them at once is unimaginable.
Think of someone who faced seemingly undeserved suffering. How did they cope? How would you cope?
Job, like most of us, starts coping as most of us would — grieving. Then, he began to wonder why these things had happened. Wouldn’t we all? I wonder, however, if we really want an answer.
In Danny’s case, doctors can give a wide variety of reasons his body gave out. I don’t care about all that. That’s not the why I’m asking. As our author says, when we ask why in times of tragedy or grief we’re really asking for help.
Job eventually reaches the point of lamenting his very birth. His pain is so great he wishes he had never been born. How many of us have used that line? I wish I had never been born. Most often it’s used when we’ve done something wrong, gotten caught and are expressing anger and disappointment in ourselves. However, Job’s desire is to end his pain.
Whenever I hear the line “I wish I had never been born,” I think of one of my favorite movies It’s a Wonderful Life. Most of us have seen it on TV at Christmas time. It’s a Wonderful Life tells the story of George Bailey, a small-town man who resembles Job. All his life George has done the “right thing,” putting aside his own hopes and dreams. He builds a good life, but tragedy strikes. When he states that he wishes he had never been born, George is given the chance to see how his town would be been different had he never been born. It’s not pretty.
How might lives have been different had Job never been born? How might our lives have been different?
Finally, Job gets mad. By gosh, he’s suffered a lot for no apparent reason and he wants some answers. Have you ever been angry with God? Why were you angry? How do you think God responds when we’re angry with Him? What does being angry with God say about our relationship with Him?
When All Seems Hopeless
Purpose: To discover in our feelings of hopelessness the promise of God’s deliverance.
Bible Lesson: Job 14:1-2, 11-17; 32:6, 8; 34:12; 37:14, 22
Key Verse: “All the days of my service I would wait until my release should come.” — Job 14:14
Friends can fool you. Sometimes, when you just need them to listen, to hear you out, they mess up by opening their mouths.
Job’s three friends sat with him in silence for seven days, a sign of mourning. What a great thing for them to do. However, when Job becomes angry over his situation, they begin to chastise him. To be fair, sometimes a good friend will point out where you are wrong. I see Job’s friends making two key mistakes.
First, they must not have known him as well as Job thought they did. Otherwise, they would have known Job was a righteous man. They would have seen his point about being innocent, even if they disagreed. Think of a friend about whom you’ve heard a nasty rumor, one that seemed out of character. Did you believe it or think, no, that’s not the person I know?
Second, it seems to me that Job’s friends failed to recognize that he just needed someone to listen. Listening is often not my strong suit, but over these many years I like to think I’ve learned to tell the difference between when a friend just needs to vent and when he or she really wants a response. I think Job wanted someone to listen to him rant and rave and then offer hope.
Job had reached a point of hopelessness. That’s a hard place to be. Have you ever reached that stage, where your despair reached a point beyond hope? What is the difference between hope and optimism?
The difference might be illustrated in examining the difference between Palm Sunday and Easter. Palm Sunday is about optimism. Into
Then there is Elihu. My wife is a certified public accountant specializing in taxes. She once told me about a young man who had joined the CPA firm where she worked. He was hired right out of college and had been near the top of his class. As they held meetings during the summer to plan the looming tax season, he had no reservations about sharing his ideas of how the firm could do things better. My wife said she listened politely, but no changes were made. About a year later, when the young man had been through the stress and rigors of a tax season, he even admitted his ideas — while good theory — would never have worked.
That’s who I see in Elihu, except for one great difference. Elihu starts off humbly, but with a big dose of self importance calls Job to task for claiming that God had been unjust. God is always just, Elihu admonishes. Elihu had no sense of Job’s pain or he might have used a different tack, but his message was not wrong. God is always just.
So, what does that tell us about what had happened to Job and his desire for “justice?
From Life to Death
Purpose: To explore how new life is God’s answer to suffering and death.
Bible Lesson: Job 38:1, 4, 16-17; 42:1-2, 5; Mark 16:1-7, 9-14, 20
Key Verse: “Do not be ashamed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him.” — Mark 16:6
Back in ninth grade (no,
We didn’t like the answer. We griped and complained, but she refused to reveal more about the mysteries of algebra (which are still mysteries for some of us). Sure, enough, later in the school year our learning reached a stage where we suddenly understood why formulas had to be worked a certain way. We understood that simply getting the correct answer wasn’t enough; we had to understand how we got the answer. Suddenly, we could see.
Job’s suffering was far more than my struggles with algebra (some of us might argue that point). He, too, had to have his eyes opened. After listening to Job’s demands for an explanation of his suffering, God starts asking Job questions of his own. Job quickly realizes that God’s plan and reasoning is far beyond our understanding, or even our right to know. Job responds by listening, and then admitting he could now “see.”
How would you react to similar questions from God? Did Job sincerely repent of what he said about God?
Certain parallels can be drawn between Job’s suffering and that of Jesus. Both were blameless, both found little real help among their friends. Yet, Job lived through his suffering, while Jesus died. Jesus’ resurrection wasn’t a continuation of his life, but life in a new way.
So what can we learn from studying these two stories? How does our study of Job’s suffering help us understand or more greatly appreciate Jesus’ suffering? How is Easter God’s answer to the question of suffering and death?
Where Is Peace Found?
Purpose: To struggle with the question, “Where can peace be found?”
Bible Lesson: Ecclesiastes 1:1-9; John 20:19-23
Key Verse: “Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’” – John 20:19
Routine; a common word that can convey quite different ideas. In baseball, a batter hits an easy grounder to the shortstop, who fields the ball and throws to first base for the out. A routine play. To a baseball purist, the “routine” play can represent the consistency of a good player who has spent hours and hours fielding ground balls in practice so that in games he won’t make an error. However, to someone who’s not a baseball fan, the routine grounder represents a dull, slow-moving game. It’s all a matter of perception.
The verses in Ecclesiastes can come across as representing the monotony of life. The sun rises and sets. We’re born, we grow, we work, we have children, we die. Our children have children. Nothing changes. All that we do is in vain.
Seems pretty bleak.
However, taken from the perspective of a believer, those verses can take on a completely different meaning. The fact that the sun rises every day or that the wind blows every day, that streams run to the sea every day, can provide us with reminders of the awesome power of God. These “routine” things show us the wonder of God’s creation. They can also assure us of God’s consistency, that’s He’s always there. The routine can be a source of peace.
Consider Hurricane Katrina. Early on, experts in childhood development urged parents in the affected areas to do all they can to get their children back into as normal a routine as possible. Returning to familiar ways of doing things helps children find some stability following such tremendous upheaval.
Adults really aren’t any different. Sometimes in the face of suffering, the best thing we can do is keep following our routines. When a loved one dies, sometimes what we need most is to simply keep getting out of bed, brushing our teeth and going to work. The routine helps dull the pain a bit until we reach the point where the numbness wears off and we find peace in Christ.
Of course, it’s not unusual to go through periods were the routine seems meaningless. When has your life seemed meaningless? Why? What pulls you through those times?
Our selection from John gives us the answer to those questions. The disciples most likely saw little meaning in their lives. All that work, all that faith had come to nothing, or so it seemed. They knew following Jesus had been right, but it had ended far differently from what they had expected. It is understandable that they might think it had been meaningless.
But when Jesus appears to them, He says, “Peace be with you.” His appearance and words eased their minds. His instructions and the power He bestows on them renews their spirits.
Jesus Christ, His suffering, death and resurrection give meaning to our lives. His spirit within us turns the ordinary into the extra-ordinary.
Everything Has a Season
Purpose: To see that every human experience has its place in the eternal time frame of God.
Bible Lesson: Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, 14-15
Key Verse: “For everything there is a reason, a time for every matter under heaven.” – Ecclesiastes 3:1
Hardly anyone in the Baby Boomer generation can read or hear our verses for today and not think of the 1965 hit Turn, Turn, Turn. Time has become important in our lives. We try to cram so much into each and every day. We set times to do this or that. We keep schedules, assigning a specific day and time for various tasks. Some couples’ schedules have become so busy they have to check their daily planners to set aside time for intimacy.
How does your use of time reflect our priorities?
Many of us worry about running out of time. The rock group Pink Floyd recorded a song called Time that takes a pessimistic look at how quickly our lives pass:
“Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day
“You fritter and waste the hours in an offhand way.
“Kicking around on a piece of ground in your home town
“Waiting for someone or something to show you the way.
“Tired of lying in the sunshine staying home to watch the rain.
“You are young and life is long and there is time to kill today.
“And then one day you find ten years have got behind you.
“No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun.
“So you run and you run to catch up with the sun but it’s sinking
“Racing around to come up behind you again.
“The sun is the same in a relative way but you’re older,
“Shorter of breath and one day closer to death.
“Every year is getting shorter never seem to find the time.
“Plans that either come to naught or half a page of scribbled lines
“Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way
“The time is gone, the song is over,
“Thought I’d something more to say.”
Yes, we can get caught up in worrying about time. Certainly, some of our concern about time is appropriate. We need deadlines for some things (like writing Sunday school lessons). Otherwise, our world would be chaotic.
But as the song indicates, time is relative. Those who have traveled to the
Our verses guide us through certain events and seasons that aren’t specific, but over which man has some control. We know there is a “time” to plant based on the seasons. Through experience and maturity, we know when to laugh and when to cry, when to mourn and when to dance.
Do you agree that there is an appropriate time for every human experience, even killing and war? Why?
In contrast to our time, even indefinite time, is God’s time. God’s time usually bears no relation to chronological time. It represents kairos, which means “the fullness of time” or the “right time.”
I have been involved in a lay renewal retreat that depends greatly on kairos, or the right time. Participants are invited to attend; sometimes they can, sometimes they can’t. Those of us involved in the retreat believe that participant come to the retreat in God’s time. We might desire to have someone attend a particular weekend, but we have to accept that they attend in kairos, the right time. We even have a song, In His Time, which states, in part:
“In His time,
“In His time,
“He makes all things beautiful in His time.”
When is it important to be reminded of God’s eternal time frame?
When we pray for God’s guidance, we often ask for things based on our time. The hard part is waiting for God’s time. When I first applied to work for the Mississippi Conference, my application wasn’t accepted. During the year that followed, I was re-assigned at my previous job. I then applied to the conference again. This time I was hired. It didn’t take long to figure out that the things I learned in the year between applications fit perfectly with what I needed to do at the Advocate.
In His time.