Questioning God – October 21, 2018
A Sermon by Rev. Karen A. Mendes
October 21, 2018
Main Idea: God answers us.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
Today, finally we hear from God! So far in our study of Job we have pondered the basis outline of this parable and we have heard Job’s anguish at his suffering. We have shared his anguish as we share his questions about why we suffer. Job believed his suffering came from God and it was certainly exacerbated by the insufferable behavior of his so-called friends whose support and comfort of Job quickly degenerated into judgement and condemnation. Up to this point the whole book has been premised on the idea that God rewards the good and punishes the bad. This was Job’s understanding and the foundation of the friends’ polemic against him. They argued that because he was suffering he must have done something bad. Job argued that because he was suffering, something must be wrong with the universe. On and on, Job and the others argue and yell and plead for God to speak and prove them right. Finally, in chapter 38 God does speak. But what God says comes as a complete surprise to everybody.
Job had railed against God and his circumstances for more than 30 chapters. “Why, God, Why? I know how things are supposed to work and this is not how! I know the rules and you, God, are breaking those rules! I deserve better!” Job accuses God of not caring, of being capricious, and of mismanaging the universe. We can imagine him shaking his fist at God, daring God, begging God to answer him.
And God does. First thing to notice is the first four words. “Then the LORD answered Job”. For most of the book God is called God, the judge, or the Almighty; El, Elohim, or Shaddai in Hebrew. God is understood to be far away in the heavenly court, hidden from human experience. But here the text says the LORD which means the Hebrew word, YHWH is used. This is God’s personal name, “I am who I am”. Not just some vague divinity but the God of Moses, and of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of covenants and personal relationships, the God who lead the Israelites out of Egypt and with whom Abraham and Moses spoke face to face. Job had spoken of the distant, hidden God. But God answers in a personal, intimate way. From the vastness of the cosmos, God answers Job (and not his know-it-all friends).
God says, “Frankly Job, you don’t know what you are talking about.” This is not what Job or we wanted to hear. God continues “In fact, it is not about you at all. But if you want to talk with me, let’s talk.”
Through a series of more than 60 questions over 4 chapters, God brings Job back to the beginning of creation, when God built the earth and birthed the sea, “when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy” (38:7). When God set time into motion and differentiated between light and darkness. ”Have you commanded the morning since your days began, and caused the dawn to know its place, so that it might take hold of the skirts of the earth, and the wicked be shaken out of it?” (38:12-13) God points out that God gives rain to places in which no one lives and cares for desolate lands. “to bring rain on a land where no one lives, on the desert, which is empty of human life, to satisfy the waste and desolate land, and to make the ground put forth grass” (38:26-27). God is father to the rain and mother to the ice and “the hoar-frost of heaven” (38:29). God arranged the stars in the sky and directs the weather. “Who can tilt the waterskins of the heavens, when the dust runs into a mass and the clods cling together?” (38:37b-38). God knows and cares for the wild animals; the lions, the ravens, the mountain goats, the wild donkeys and oxen, the ostrich, the horse, the hawk, and the eagle, paying attention to what they eat, where they live, and when they give birth. God even cares for the monsters Leviathan, described as a giant crocodile, and Behemoth, described as a giant hippo, of which God says “I made just as I made you.” (40:15) Think about that, God gave as much care to the monsters as to humanity! Of the ostrich, God says ‘The ostrich’s wings flap wildly, though its pinions lack plumage. For it leaves its eggs to the earth, and lets them be warmed on the ground, forgetting that a foot may crush them, and that a wild animal may trample them. It deals cruelly with its young, as if they were not its own; though its labour should be in vain, yet it has no fear; because God has made it forget wisdom, and given it no share in understanding. When it spreads its plumes aloft, it laughs at the horse and its rider.” (39:13-18) The ostrich is foolish and ridiculous and yet wonderful, amazing, and beloved.
God’s answer to Job is a beautiful and kaleidoscopic journey through all of creation, revealing to Job that God is in charge, just not in the way in which Job had presumed. “Job and his friends were completely wrong about God. God is simply not in the business of rewarding and punishing human beings. [Let me repeat this so we are sure to hear it.] God is simply not in the business of rewarding and punishing human beings. God’s revelation to Job and to us is that the universe is far bigger, far stranger, and far more mysterious than we can imagine.” (John Holbert, workingpreacher.org)
But what does this say to those of us who are suffering? How does it answer Job’s legitimate questions?
First, remember that YHWH answered Job. God was not distant even though Job thought that God was. God was paying attention and God speaks to Job as a valued and beloved child. God is with us in our suffering and hears us when we pray.
Secondly, if God is not in the business of rewarding and punishing us then we must let go of the judgement we place on ourselves and on others. God does not give us hardships to teach us lessons. No one deserves to get cancer. No one dies because God wanted them in heaven. And on the flip side, our good fortune does not prove that we are better or more blessed than others. Bad things sometimes happen to all of us and these circumstances do not define our worth.
Finally, when we are suffering and in crisis, we can be overwhelmed by our pain and see nothing beyond ourselves. From our pain, we see only pain around us. Job could see only pain. But God responds to Job’s pain with beauty and wonder. “Look Job, look around.” God lifts Job’s eyes beyond his suffering to see life and love and grace and hope. God lifts our eyes to see that the world continues and that there is more to our lives than the suffering we are enduring in the present. There is always more to us than our suffering and pain.
In the end, Job says to God, ‘I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. [You asked] ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. [You said] “Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you declare to me.” I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” (42:2-6). In response to God’s grandeur, Job feels worthless and ashamed. But God lifts Job up from the ash heap. No more of that, God says. Instead, God speaks harshly to the so-called friends “for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has done.” They are required to make sacrifices and to ask that Job will pray for them, which Job does.
God loves Job. God loved Job when Job’s life was going well and God loved Job when his life was misery. God loved Job when he was sang God’s praise and God loved Job when he shouted out his fury. The world is full of wonder and beauty and pain and God cares for all of it. God loves us with an unending love. Thanks be to God.
Let us pray,
Loving and mysterious God, we thank you for the marvelous creation of which we are a small part. Thank you for your love which sustains us at all times. Help us to trust in you in all that we do. Amen.
Notes and Quotes
For the first time since the prologue, God’s personal name YHWH is used.
prophetic grief meets prophetic beauty. “Job casts a vision of a world overshadowed by pain and suffering. God responds by showing him the beauty and hope of the same world.” (David Henson, patheos.com)
Rewrite God’s response.
Who is this who is