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The Peace of God it is no Peace | A Sermon on Job 1:1; 2:1-10

The Peace of God it is no Peace | A Sermon on Job 1:1; 2:1-10

A sermon preached at Christ Church, Georgetown, on Sunday, October 7.


There is a hymn that afflicts some while comforting others. Written by William Alexander Percy in 1924, it now sits in our hymnal at place 661. It reads, 

They cast their nets in Galilee

Just off the hills of brown

Such happy simply fisherfolk 

Before the Lord came down

Contented peaceful fisherman

Before they ever knew 

The peace of God That fill’d their hearts

Brimful and broke them too. 

Young John who trimmed the flapping sail, 

Homeless, in Patmos died.

Peter, who hauled the teeming net, 

Head-down was crucified. 

The peace of God, it is no peace,

But strife closed in the sod,

Yet, brothers, pray for but one thing —

The marvelous peace of God.  

I admit to being one who is deeply comforted by this hymn. Holy and haunting it speaks words that are beautiful, pure and true. It bears no platitudes. Offers no ill-fitting answers. Instead rests on a truthfulness about our broken condition and the God we follow, a truthfulness that feels hard earned. This is the hymn of one who has been there and who has found salvation in the paradox. 

The peace of God, it is no peace, But strife closed in the sod,

Yet, brothers, pray for but one thing —

The marvelous peace of God.

The book of Job sings a similar hymn. A hymn that carries many voices and offers quite the range for considering how we might speak to what many deem “the problem of suffering.” Book ended by narrative, the majority of the book of Job is poetry. It weaves the story of Job, the blameless one, who moves from mightily blessed to woefully grieved in a turn so quick that we struggle to find firm footing. This evening we are presented the very beginning of this masterful work.

There was once a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job. That man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil. 

Job was good.

And yet, Satan answered the Lord, “Skin for skin! All that people have they will give to save their lives. But stretch out your hand now and touch his bone and flesh, and he will curse you to your face. The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, he is in your power; only spare his life.” 

God allowed Job to suffer. 

What do we make of this? That God allowed Job, who was good, to suffer. This is an uncomfortable statement, to be sure. The question is, why? 

The book of Job does not, in my estimation, truly address “the problem of suffering,” nor does it mean to. Had Job not been blameless, not been good, than my guess is that we would be left with a statement rather than a quandary. 

Try this pair of statements on for size and see what I mean: Job was not blameless. God allowed Job to suffer. See, that makes more sense. Why? Because that seems just. Or, at the very least, more just than what we’ve encountered here in the first few lines of the book of Job. At the root is an unarticulated assumption that God is just. And, that’s not the only one. God is just. And, God’s justice looks like our justice. 

As Christians, we believe in a just God. A loving God. And, I think we are willing, even though it may bite a bit, to get behind the idea that God’s forgiveness may extend even where we might not wish it would. Certainly we get caught up in ourselves and long for a justice that is clean and clear and wholly directed by our own sensibilities and understandings. A justice that acknowledges that there are good people and that there are bad people. That there is the truth. And that there is the not-truth. That there is right. And wrong. And black. And white. And my way. And your way. And mine is right, by the way. We long for that kind of justice, don’t we? And yet, we know, deep in our hearts, that God’s justice often looks like forgiveness and sings a hymn of redemption. We can get behind this idea, even if it stings. God’s justice isn’t our justice.

And yet, the other side of the same coin doesn’t feel as comfortable. Job is good. And God allowed Job to suffer. And we are right back to asking, where is the justice? Or, like Job’s friends who make an appearance later, we begin questioning the veracity of our starting point. Perhaps Job wasn’t all that good. Certainly Job did something. Perhaps God didn’t really allow Job to suffer. How much do we trust this first chapter of Job? 

I beg you for a moment to exercise restraint in going down the path of casting doubt on the text. To be sure, that is an easier to road to walk. But in this case it is a road hedged in platitudes and in ill-fitting answers. So, let’s not do that. Instead, let us consider that what Scripture tells us here is true: That Job was blameless. And, that God allowed Job to suffer. And so taking this view we can imagine how Job’s grief sits alongside his anger. Over the course of 37 chapters Job’s flocks are stolen, his servants murdered, his children killed and his health ruined. And, in his suffering and anger he rails against God. Challenging God. Questioning God. Hurling accusations and demanding answers. Job, you see, believes in the justice of God. Convinced of his blamelessness, he believes that his well-ordered and well-lived life should have inoculated him from disaster. Because, that is just. That is God.

Although beyond the scope of what we have heard here this evening, the 38th chapter of the book of Job holds God’s very word. So, I’m going to take some liberties in the case that you might otherwise miss it when you go home and read through the book of Job as one does on a Sunday evening. Spoiler alert: God speaks. For 37 chapters Job and a myriad of others had their say, placed their bets, about the ways of God. For 37 chapters God stayed silent. But then.

God speaks to Job from out of a whirlwind. 

God speaks not a word of righteousness and justice. He gives no hint as to why the innocent suffer. Instead, God displays the universe. In a profoundly poetic litany, God describes the works of creation —from clouds, lightning and individual drops of dew to the calving of the deer, the majestic snorting of the horse, and the soaring of a hawk. Job’s questions are silenced at the summit of this cosmic vision. 

Theologian Ellen Davis puts it this way. “God calls Job to look at the world for a moment from God’s point of view, to look at the ravishing, dangerous world where only those who relinquish their personal expectations can live in peace. The price of peace is the surrender of our own assumptions about God, which are always too small.” 

Job is good. And God allowed Job to suffer. There is no explanation, there is only God. 

Perhaps we cannot help but long for a justice that is clear. A justice where good people get blessed and bad people get what we think they deserve. But this is a justice that brings only a fragile, fearful sort of peace. Instead, let us rest in a peace more profound: 

The peace of God, it is no peace, But strife closed in the sod,

Yet, brothers, pray for but one thing —

The marvelous peace of God.

As Davis so aptly notes, it is only when we relinquish our personal expectations of what is right and just that we can truly live in peace.

*The image is taken from Illustrations of the Book of Job by William Blake.

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