A sermon based on Psalm 104:1-15 and Job 38:1-13, 16-21, and 24-33 preached on May 29th, 2016
Job wants answers. And he wants them now.
At the very center of the book of Job stands a man who pleads for explanations for all his troubles, and answers for all his questions. Job’s family, his wealth, really his entire being, has been taken away from him. His land and livestock, his wife and kids have suddenly and unfairly been snatched away from him.
Job had assumed, and continues to assume throughout most of the book, that as long people are good, God will be good to them. Why then has any of this happened? Job’s entire life has been ripped away from him. All he worked so hard to achieve, all that he was proud of seemed to disappear all at once, and Job stands a broken and lonely man standing in a heap of dust and ashes and with a mound full of questions. And as the story moves along, Job seems increasingly hell-bent on confronting God. Job demands a response from God. Surely there must be a reason for this slew of terrible things that has happened to him, and surely God must be held accountable for them!
The Book of Job is the oldest book of the bible. It’s the most ancient thing we have, and it tackles the most ancient, persistent, and irritating question human beings have inside of them: Why do bad things happen to good people?
Throughout the first 37 chapters, Job contends with God. He shouts at the emptiness and silence of the heavens above, and he demands that God respond! Job uses legal language in his complaints to God throughout the story, and like a trial lawyer, he wants to take God to court, to sue God for all of this. And Job is not going to shut up until he receives a satisfying verdict that convicts God of His wrongdoing.
God better give me a good reason for all this,
Job says in one way or another throughout this story.
And then there are Job’s friends who think they know why he has suffered such misfortune. Surely Job must have sinned against God. There must be a good reason why Job had been met with such heartbreaking tragedy. Clearly, God took his wife and children, and land, and all the rest away as some sort of punishment for past sins. That wasn’t the case at all, and Job stands firm throughout the story that he has done nothing at all to deserve such treatment from God. There is something in our minds that has us think this way, isn’t there?
A man who has never smoked a day in his life is diagnosed with lung cancer and says aloud to all who will listen that he must have done something wrong in his past to deserve this.
A mother who sits helpless next to her son as the blood in his little body is somehow poisoning him. All the mother can do is blame herself for what is happening. She starts thinking about all the “what-if-I-just-had’s” and all the “what-did-I-do-wrongs.”
And all who look upon those who suffer have the same kind of thoughts Job’s friends had:
What could he have done to ever cause him to get this sick?
Even if they just ask the question in the silent reaches of their minds. We human beings have minds that crave answers to the unanswerable, explanations for the inexplicable. We want to understand why, and we first reach for low-hanging fruit in our explorations: there must be something or someone to blame for this! The word for that sort of thinking is karma, and there’s nothing in our biblical faith that supports it. That there might not be a cause for suffering seems like the most haunting discovery of all!
Job cannot escape his need to have good answers to all of his questions. He refuses to settle for God’s silence. But what happens at the end of the Book of Job is not what he or anyone else could have ever anticipated or prepared for. God finally speaks up 38 chapters in.
Those of us who are rational and analytic, who like our answers clear-cut and our explanations as plain as day, will be completely frustrated by God’s response to Job. We have a longing to know what is often unknowable. We love to be certain. Certainty is treated as some sort of virtue, and its corollary, doubt, has long been seen as a weakness–something to get rid of, to grow out of. Sometimes doubt is cast as a sign of an immature or a lapsed faith.
Job levies every one of his charges against God like a prosecuting lawyer. He wants to throw the book at God! But God refuses to stand trial. Instead of answering Job’s lawyerly questions, God waxes poetic. For 4 entire chapters, God engages Job, but He refuses to do so on Job’s terms. Job doesn’t get to ask any more questions. Whenever God speaks, God will do so on His own terms.
God’s words stretch on, and take Job, and all the rest of us, on a journey. God doesn’t speak in these last few chapters of the book of Job to teach Job a lesson or shove anything down his throat. But with these words, God wants Job to realize how small he is, and how big God is. God dazzles Job with things far beyond his or any of our imaginings. God takes Job on a lightning tour of the inner workings and wonders of the entire cosmos. God speaks to Job and challenges Job’s nice and tidy worldview with visions and mysteries of the expansive and majestic cosmos—the one that works in all of its awe-inspiring ways because God makes it happen, God oversees and orchestrates it all. And with each and every new example we hear of how God is sovereign over every little detail of our constantly moving and ever-majestic world, we can imagine Job shrinking back down to human size, and suddenly Job’s beef with God doesn’t seem so big anymore.
It’s as if God says to Job,
I have the whole universe in my hand and under my control…Now, you said you had a question for me?
And in that moment, every self-righteous argument that Job had prepared as his defense melted down like wax into nothing but a puddle, and all he can do is stand there speechless, beholding God’s glorious presence with his jaw dropped open, and after a long silence, all Job can muster is a stuttering confession:
I surely have spoken of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. …My ears have heard of You, but now my eyes have seen You, therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.
Job now knows his place. God lets Job know that there is only one God, and Job isn’t it. Job realizes how puny and inadequate and simplistic his understanding of the world is. This is the God who gives orders to the morning, who spins the whirling planets, and who set it all into place, who continues to create and uphold all of it. And nothing at all can ever prepare us for an encounter with such a holy and sovereign God.
Throughout the Old Testament, God is that Presence who everyone must turn their eyes away from. That’s because we are all unprepared to witness the radiance and glory and power of our living God! Encountering God is not for the fainthearted!
Even God’s name, first told to Moses in the third chapter of Exodus, refuses category. God’s name is Yahweh, which is even hardly translatable into English. The closest we can come to it is, I Am Who I Am. God is being itself.
Every measurement, conception, idea we have about God will always be proven woefully inadequate. God refuses to be known as a noun. God is the most elusive verb there is!
And what of this universe that God has created? It too refuses to be understood. It too refuses to be tied down by any of our own tiny notions of it or plans for it. We certainly have never been able to control it! God’s creation is just as complex as God is, and that means chaos will always a part of it.
Job is confronted by the chaos of the world and the immensity of God, and realizes that God doesn’t owe him a thing! Having control of these things is only a delusion we have. God is the only One in control.
Over the years, I have practiced the art of letting go. I’ve grown to accept the phrase “let go and let God.” For so long I hated that phrase. I’m still not all that comfortable with it, but I think there’s more truth to it than I’d like to admit.
There’s something to the fact that many of Jesus’ teachings are about loosening our grasp on things, and letting go of the anxieties we have about tomorrow, and living instead for today. This means living with less answers and with more questions. It means less grasping and more gratitude. It means less why? and more wonder.
Job’s questions never get answered. Not a one of them. Job never got the best of God. There is no way to force God’s hand and eek some sort of divine answer or explanation out of God. That cannot and will not do.
We can search scripture high and low and we won’t find such a thing. The bible doesn’t provide us with those answers. Scripture is astonishingly void of neat little tidy resolutions to all of our gnawing and troublesome questions and concerns. So, we continue to speak them to the skies with faith that they are heard by a God who understands us, who walks with us through our days, and comforts us through our inexplicable sorrows.
They say that the longer we live and the more we see, the less we know. I think that’s true. It certainly is the truth is Job’s case. God takes all the neat little categories that we like to arrange our lives with, and says to us,
They’re all too small and inadequate.
But that God speaks into our lives at all—not with expected words that we want to hear, but with surprising words that we need to hear—is a great comfort in and of itself.
This God who gives orders to the morning also reaches out and speaks to us.
All praises to the One who made it all and finds it beautiful!