My sermon at Presbyterian Church of the Good Shepherd in Melbourne went something like this…. (based on the lectionary texts from Job 38 and Psalm 104)
There is no shortage of images in this chapter of Job… but the one that captured me as I read the passages for the week was God speaking to Job from the whirlwind. Perhaps because it started me thinking about the other places in scripture that involved storms….
There’s the great flood- We tend to think about Noah and his floating zoo as we see it in the murals and drawings in children’s rooms. But this flood was the outpouring of God’s wrath for the people of the earth. I just can’t see it as a slow quiet drizzle. There had to have been days and days of thunder and lightning like the people had never seen before.
Then there’s Jonah’s storm- he thought hopping a ship headed away from Ninevah would be a good plan. But the Lord sent a storm that tossed the ship so badly that the sailors who didn’t even believe in Jonah’s God asked what on earth he had done. And, they were willing to toss him overboard to try to appease God and save themselves.
Storms are powerful images. Maybe because we are all descendants of Noah and have that understanding of God’s power deep in DNA. Or maybe it’s because we have all seen storms in our own lives. But the image that I see when God speaks to Job from the storm is one from my childhood.
I was six years old, and I’d spent most of the summer with my grandmother in a tiny little town in Southwest Oklahoma. That part of the state is as flat as you can imagine. Mostly farm country. At the center of town – right next to the Dairy Queen- was the grain elevator. The tallest structure for miles. That afternoon, I was out on the front porch watching the thunderstorm building to one side when I noticed that it was really still. Even at that age, it seemed odd that the clouds were moving that fast with no breeze in sight. I looked down the street toward the grain elevator, and all I could see was red dirt – as wide as a couple of city blocks. Just as the storm sirens started, I could see it taking shape… it was a huge tornado. My grandmother called me through the kitchen window, and the next thing I knew we were running across the road to a neighbor’s storm cellar. We sat and listened to the roar of the storm for what seemed like hours.
It turns out that in the time we were inside, safe from the storm, no fewer than 5 tornados ripped through that little town, as if they were working together to do as much damage as possible. We spent the next couple of days without power. When we finally ventured out to see what had happened, I saw houses blown completely apart, buildings that looked normal- except their roofs were on the ground beside them. And next to the grain elevator, we saw one of those trailers that carries cars rolled up around the rig that was supposed to pull it. I’ll never forget that sight.
And so, when the Lord speaks to Job out of the whirlwind, I sit up a little straighter.
Now, imagine Job – he’s been stripped of everything… his belongings, his children, his wealth, his standing. His “friends” are convinced that he’s done something do deserve this fate- and that he needs to repent. Now, remember, one who is unrepentant is not really a member of the community. Between that and his illness, Job is essentially “unclean.” He has lost any standing he once had. Even his wife has come to the end of her patience with the situation. So we picture Job sitting, in sack-cloth and ashes, feeling about as alone as a man can be.
But what would cause God to come to Job in the storm? Not a burning bush, not an angel or prophet… If we back up a few chapters, we can see where sweet, patient Job actually let loose a little bit.
At the start of Chapter 23, we hear Job say:
“Today also my complaint is bitter; his hand is heavy despite my groaning. Oh, that I knew where I might find him, that I might come even to his dwelling! I would lay my case before him, and fill my mouth with arguments. I would learn what he would answer me, and understand what he would say to me. Would he contend with me in the greatness of his power? No; but he would give heed to me. There an upright person could reason with him, and I should be acquitted forever by my judge.
Job is calling God out. In fact, Job seems to be inviting God to be on Judge Judy or one of those other courtroom programs that allows people to make their case and get what they’ve got coming to them. Job wants to take the stand and state his case before the Lord. Job would lay it all out, and God would judge Job with mercy. “Would he contend with me in the greatness of his power? No- but he would give heed to me.”
And the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind. The Lord, who controls the wind, creates and calms the storms, answered Job out of the whirlwind. I’d say that God was ready to contend with Job in the greatness of God’s power. And God made it clear from the outset exactly what was going to happen. Job wanted a trial, and that’s exactly what he got.
God asked, “”Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? 3Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me. God is saying to Job- OK, then, take the stand. I will question you and you can give your testimony. And the litany of questions begins…
“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements — surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? 6On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?
The lectionary reading actually leaves out a good bit of this chapter. The Lord asks Job
“Have you ever given orders to the morning, or shown the dawn its place,
“What is the way to the abode of light? And where does darkness reside?
Can you take them to their places? Do you know the paths to their dwellings? Surely you know, for you were already born! You have lived so many years!
Does the rain have a father? Who fathers the drops of dew?
From whose womb comes the ice? Who gives birth to the frost from the heavens
when the waters become hard as stone, when the surface of the deep is frozen?
“Can you bind the beautiful Pleiades? Can you loose the cords of Orion?
Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons or lead out the Bear with its cubs?
Sitting and reading this chapter and the two that follow, it’s easy to get swept away in the poetry and imagery. The psalm that we read today contains similar passages that ascribe glory to God for the ongoing wonder of creation.
But Job wasn’t sitting and reading this… Job was standing, all but naked before God, the Lord of Hosts, the Creator of the Universe. Who was speaking out of a whirlwind. Job was coming to understand what we would call in my doctrine class The Transcendence of God. That is to say, Job was beginning to understand that we can’t know God completely. We can’t understand all that God does, and we can’t be on equal footing with God. God doesn’t answer to people. God is unknowable, unfathomable, indescribable, ineffable. Untamable. God is above all things.
That is why the question God started with was actually NOT Where were you… but WHO ARE YOU? Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? And The questions that followed were meant to lead Job to one particular answer. NOT GOD.
You see, much like his modern counterparts, Job thought he had come to know God pretty well through the scriptures and discussions with his friends. In fact, Job was in this pitiful state because he was a righteous man. He hadn’t done anything wrong- just as he told his friends. At least he hadn’t done anything wrong until he stood up and asked God for a hearing.
Now, I want to be very clear about something here, because I think the story of Job has caused no end of frustration over the years. After all, here is God, allowing bad things to happen to a good person. And then, when this good person cries out to God for an answer, God doesn’t give him an answer. God just gets angry.
The truth is that bad things do happen to good people. Every day. People like my friend Megan- her daughter is 15 and has suffered from severe epileptic seizures since she was a child. They have gotten worse instead of better, despite our praying for healing every day of her life. They have had her tested this year to see if she is a candidate for surgery to stop the seizures. This surgery involves taking out a part of her brain, which requires more removing part of her skull. We’ve been waiting with them to hear about the surgeon’s decision – for over a month. And in that month, Amanda has had multiple seizures. One lasted 11 minutes.
It’s natural to want to know why… why Amanda and not her sister Heather? Why anyone? Why do some of the seizures last so long? Why can’t we just be a normal family? Why does Amanda have to endure the embarrassment of seizures at school? What are we doing wrong that our prayers haven’t worked?
And I don’t think God is telling Job to stop crying out. In fact, that would go entirely against our instructions to ask, seek and knock. And a quick trip through the Psalms and the story of David reminds us that God is not put off by raw emotions, including anger.
What God is saying to Job, and to the rest of us, is that there is much more to this world than what we can see. Like the photo puzzles that show a close-up of an everyday object and force you to imagine the whole, God is lifting our eyes – not to the horizon, but to God. God is saying that as big and complex and amazing and baffling as all of creation is. I am bigger still.
What Job sought- and what we want when we cry out for answers – is knowledge. But why? Because we have been taught that knowledge is power. And we hope that by knowing, maybe we could change things. Yes, we want control of our lives, even if we aren’t “Control Freaks” all the time. I’m a pretty laid back person, but I could list off more than a few parts of my life where I resist giving God control. Giving God LORDship. Not the least of which is finances. And how I want my child to turn out. What I wanted to be when I grow up. And when I look back over my life- the places where I was in charge – I can see that
The God who told the floodwaters to recede….
The God who prepared a way for Jonah to live and rethink his plan for running away…
The God who sent Jesus – not just to calm the storm for the disciples, but to save them…
That God, who sees so far beyond our horizons that the cosmos spin on God’s command… took care of me. Saved me from myself. And God does the same for each one of us who calls on the name of Jesus.
The question God is asking Job – and asking us- is How are you standing today?
In humility, aware that the God of the universe is the God who you in your mother’s womb? Are you willing to hand over all of your life to the one who knows every hair on your head, just as he knows the names of each star He placed in the sky? Or are you holding back, thinking that you can do a better job? We rarely get “the answers” this side of heaven. But we can and do answer God’s question over and over, every day, in our words and in our deeds.
May we always be found standing in humility, with open hands, submitting the whole of our lives to God.