On the remembrance of Jane Smith at this funeral, it may seem strange to speak about worship, especially since, to some, our prayers for her in her suffering did not remove her suffering nor prevent her death. In particular, we find our attention drawn to the many good things about Mrs. Smith, which only makes the matter of her death more painful to us. How is it that we should worship God at a time of tragedy? The answer, I believe, can be found in the first chapter of the Book of Job.
We know from the first chapter of the Book of Job that he was a righteous man, a man who was blameless and who feared God and turned away from evil (1:1, 8). We know also that he was a man blessed by God, he was rich in the goods of this world (1:3), and he was blessed with a family of ten children (1:2).
We know, as Job did not, that God had chosen to use Job as an example of a faithful man. Satan, however, protested that anyone would worship God when God prospered him for doing so. Let his life turn sour, and then see what becomes of Job's piety," Satan challenged. This scene in heaven is the backdrop for all the tragedy which is to follow.
I do not wish to focus on Satan's folly, however, but on Job's righteous in a time of family tragedy. Our text tells us that wave upon wave of announcements of tragedy quickly were thrust upon this godly man. One messenger reported that all of Job's oxen and donkeys had been stolen, and the servants who kept them slaughtered (1:14-15). Then another came to convey the news that lightening had destroyed all of his sheep, and those who tended them (1:16). Then another came to report that a raiding band had stolen his camels and killed his servants who cared for them (1:17). The most devastating report came last. A wind had struck and collapsed the home of his eldest son, where he and all the other children were gathered, and all were had perished (1:18-19).
Satan was certain that Job's faith would collapse, like the roof of the house of his eldest son, crushing his devotion to God. And there was good reason, in Satan's mind, for such anticipation. After all, Job was a righteous man. Why should God allow tragedy to strike not only his possessions, but his loved ones? Even beyond this, we have been told that it was Job's habitual practice to intercede for his children, asking God's special care on them. The tragic death of his family was surely contrary to Job's righteousness, contrary to his prayers, and contrary to his faith--or so Satan reasoned.
Some of Job's responses were predictable. He tore his clothes and shaved his head--all signs of mourning and grief. But what he did after this is the key to our comfort in the face of grief--Job fell to the ground and worshipped (v. 20), and these are his words:
"Naked I came from my mother's womb, And naked I shall return there. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord." Through all this Job did not sin nor did he blame God.
In these words we find the reason why Job could worship God, even in the greatest tragedy he had ever known--the loss of his loved ones.
As I point of the reasons for Job's worship, I want to be clear in saying that Job's grief was not inconsistent with his grief. Job worshipped God with a torn robe and with a shaved head and a tear-stained face--all genuine tokens of his grief. But in his grief, he did not lose sight of his God. Indeed, it was in his grief that God become ever more real. I do not wish you to think that grief is inappropriate this afternoon, for it is altogether right. But in our grief, we will only find consolation as we are able to worship God in the face of tragedy. There are two truths revealed in these words of Job which were the basis for his worship.
First, Job was confident of the greatness of God.
He said, "The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away" (v. 21). Job understood that God was in control of His creation. Whether it be the cruel and heartlessness of a raiding army, or the forces of nature, it was, in the final analysis, God who had given him his riches and his family, and it was God who took them away. Whatever had happened, Job knew that God had allowed it, and that He was still in control.
This same truth is true of the death of Jane Smith. God gave her life, and God, in His own time, took her in death. Just as Job recognized this when he prayed for the protection of his family, so Bill and Ida and others recognized it when they prayed for the healing of Mrs. Smith. Just as Job remained confident, though his prayers seemed unanswered, we, too must be confident of the sovereign hand of God in the suffering and death of this woman whom we have loved.
Second, Job was confident of the goodness of God.
It is good to know that we can worship a God who is all-powerful, who controls every aspect of our lives. But it is even better to know that the God who is great, is also a God who is good. When greatness and goodness are both found in God, there is every reason to worship Him. Verse 31 tells us that Job did not sin, nor did he blame God, as though He had done wrong.
While Job did not understand the purposes which God was working out in this tragedy, He did trust in the Person who was in control. Thus, he could worship, even in his grief.
Knowing the greatness and the goodness of God was sufficient basis for the faith of Job, which was revealed more in his worship at the time of tragedy than at any other occasion. These two truths, the greatness of God and His goodness, should be sufficient for our worship, but there is even more for us, for we have been given additional revelation, which was not made known to Job at his time of sorrow. Allow me to briefly mention these.
We have the additional revelation of the Book of Job, which shows us how and why God was great and good to Job. Job not only glorified God by revealing his faith, but Job grew in his faith as he was tested. And, the last chapter tells us that when Job's faith was strengthened, God prospered him twice as much in the end, as at the beginning (cf. 42:10-17).
The greatest revelation, however, is that of the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, as recorded in the words of the New Testament. Here we discover that the saint not only can have victory in death, but can also, through Jesus Christ, have victory over death.
During His life, the Lord Jesus raised the dead. In John chapter 11, we have recorded, the raising of Lazarus. There, our Lord assured Mary and Martha that He was the resurrection and the life, and that those who place their trust in Him would never die.
The gospel accounts tell us that Jesus staked His authority and the truth His message on His resurrection from the grave (cf. Matt. 12:38-40). They then describe the arrest, crucifixion, and burial of our Lord, followed by His resurrection on the third day.
In the New Testament epistles, we are told that it is the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ which is the basis for a man's forgiveness of sins, and for his ultimate victory over death, for our Lord will come to receive unto Himself, those who have trusted in Him.
I submit to you, that in the face of the tragedy of the death of Jane Smith there is more than enough reason to worship God. You will only be able to do that when you, like Job, and countless others throughout history, have placed your trust in the God who is both great and good, and who has sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to die on the cross in your place, and to be raised to new life, for your deliverance. I pray that because of Him you will be able to worship.