The words are said at the beginning of every funeral in the Episcopal Church. And no matter how many hundreds of times I have heard or spoken them, they never fail to move me with their powerful proclamation of faith and defiance in the face of death.
“As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives
and that at the last he will stand upon the earth.
After my awaking, he will raise me up;
and in my body, I shall see God.
I myself shall see, and my eyes behold God
who is my friend and not a stranger.”
The prayer book does not attribute the author of these powerful words, but as we heard this morning, they are the utterances of the man whose name is synonymous with suffering, the Old Testament character Job.
Job’s proclamation of faith is even more powerful when it is put in context.
Scripture describes Job as “a blameless, upright man who loved God and turned away from evil.”
He is also a very wealthy and prosperous man. Life has been good to Job.
But then one day, Job receives the stunning news that his numerous livestock and thousands of camels have all been killed by fire.
While he is still trying to understand that news, he learns that his many servants have been killed by bandits.
Just when he thinks things cannot get any worse comes news that his sons and daughters have all been killed by a great wind that blew down the house where they were gathered.
Job himself then becomes infected with what the Bible describes as “loathsome sores from the sole of his feet to the crown of his head.”
His friends turn against him, sure that these series of tragedies must be because he has committed some horrible offense against God that he refuses to acknowledge. They urge him to confess his sins and repent.
But Job knows that he is innocent. In his anguish, he rails against God, who he now sees as his enemy.
“God has uprooted my hope like a tree,” Job cries. “He has kindled his wrath against me.
“Have pity on me, have pity on me, O you my friends, for the hand of God has touched me!”
This is the absolute low point of Job’s journey. He is estranged from his God, his family, and his friends. He is totally alone, desperate, afraid, in pain physically and emotionally, and begging for help.
And then, surprisingly, out of Job’s greatest darkness comes his greatest statement of faith.
“O that my words were written down! O that they were inscribed in a book…that they were engraved on a rock forever!” Job cries.
It’s as if he himself cannot quite believe what he is going to say next, that he wants it chiseled in stone so that he can hold himself to it. He wants his proclamation of faith recorded – for himself and for others.
And here is that proclamation, which has indeed been recorded – “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth… In my flesh I shall see God, and my eyes shall behold him who is my friend and not a stranger.”
Where did this sudden proclamation of faith come from? How can Job rise to the occasion like this? His proclamation is built on no obvious human foundation.
Everything that Job has believed about God has been called into question.
Job believed that God’s justice was the same as human justice – that if he lived a faithful, upright and blameless life that he would be rewarded with God’s favor, with an abundance of wealth and happiness.
Job believed that if he stayed away from doing evil, no evil would happen to him. Job believed that the innocent would not suffer in the hands of God.
Now that belief system has been shattered. The things that Job has believed about God have proven not to be true.
Faithfulness is not necessarily rewarded with material blessings. The innocent do suffer. No one is immune from evil.
But surprisingly, although Job’s beliefs have failed him, he finds that his trust and faith have not. When all of his beliefs have been stripped away, Job learns that in spite of everything, even his enormous anger at God, he still trusts God.
Job learns that the core of faith is trust, not a checklist of beliefs.
He learns the truth that Paul writes of later, that “we walk by faith and not by sight; that faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
Job’s friends would be shocked to hear him held up as a model of faith.
In their belief system, a truly faithful person would never be angry at God, would never accuse God of acting unjustly, would never challenge God to give an accounting of God’s actions.
Job does all of these things, and more. Even after his amazing proclamation of faith, he still questions God.
“Why do the wicked live on, reach old age, and grow mighty in power?” he demands to know.
When his friends try to answer him with their religious platitudes, Job dismisses them with scorn.
“Why do you try to comfort me with empty nothings?” he asks. “There is nothing left of your answers but falsehoods.”
So what is the lesson we can take from this famous but strange tale?
Maybe it could be something like this – There are many things in our lives of faith we do not understand. There are times when our standard beliefs do not seem to apply, when we have no explanation for events in our own lives or in the life of our nation or world.
We ask why, but there does not seem to be an answer.
There is nothing wrong with such questions, but answers are not always possible. In such times the story of Job rings clear and true.
Before we seek to explain and find reasons for the events of our lives, we must first trust and hope – the knowledge of the heart preceding knowledge of the head.
This is the knowledge of love and trust put before all beliefs and doctrines.
This is our primary faith – that we know that our Redeemer lives and that at the last he will stand upon the earth. After our awaking, he will raise us up; and in our body we shall see God.
We ourselves shall see, and our eyes behold God who is our friend and not a stranger.