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Job 38: 1-7, 34-41

Job 38: 1-7, 34-41  (NIV1984)

38 Then the Lord answered Job out of the storm. He said:

2 “Who is this that darkens my counsel
          with words without knowledge?
3 Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me.

4 “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
          Tell me, if you understand.
5 Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
       Who stretched a measuring line across it?
6 On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone —
7        while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?

 

34 “Can you raise your voice to the clouds
         and cover yourself with a flood of water?
35 Do you send the lightning bolts on their way?
       Do they report to you, ‘Here we are’?
36 Who endowed the heart with wisdom or gave understanding to the mind?
37 Who has the wisdom to count the clouds?
       Who can tip over the water jars of the heavens
38 when the dust becomes hard and the clods of earth stick together?

39 “Do you hunt the prey for the lioness and satisfy the hunger of the lions
       40 when they crouch in their dens or lie in wait in a thicket?
41 Who provides food for the raven when its young cry out to God
         and wander about for lack of food?

 


 

God is Greater,  Job 38:1-7, 34-41, June 24, 2012


For the last 30-some chapters, Job has been questioning God, arguing his innocence to his friends, and wondering what on earth he did to deserve all this trauma and chaos.

What he didn’t realize was that the question he was asking was the wrong one. Job’s question was based on a particular framework for understanding the world prevalent in ancient cultures, including Israel. Some aspects of this belief system are still with us in the 21st century.

According to this theory, simply put, God rewards the good and punishes the evil. The one who lives a good life, obeys God’s commands will be rewarded with good health, wealth and other blessings. The one who sins and disobeys God’s commandments will meet misfortune; illness, poverty, and other woes.

In short, people get what they deserve; they reap what they sow. Some even take comfort in the consolation found in the belief that the outcome is just. The victims must deserve the ‘punishment’ in some way.

Imagine how frustrated Job must have been living in this cultural mindset knowing that he WAS innocent. As much as Job tried, he could think of not one single offense that he knowingly committed. He even gave sacrifices for any sins of omission he or his family may have committed. How could God do this to him?

 

Job never knew what hit him. He didn't have time to run and hide, and when it was clear he was in trouble, he tried puffing himself up, throwing up a smoke screen or two and running to the protection of his chattering friends.

 

Whatever the options, he wasn't about to cower, roll over and expose his underbelly. He wasn't even sure who was after him. God? Satan? Or was it simply a case of bad luck?

Now a study suggests that every time we open our mouths we announce our dominance or submissiveness. Scholars from Kent State University taped 25 interviews of Larry King Live, focusing on vocal frequencies below 500 hertz. Researchers had, in the past, ignored these low-frequency sounds as meaningless noise, a nonverbal hum that carries the verbal message.

 

But they noticed that in all these conversations, these low hums of the two speakers converged, suggesting that the speakers needed on a subconscious level to be on the same wavelength. King modulated his voice to meet that of a high-ranking person, such as the President, while in most cases, his guests modulated their voices to meet that of the interviewer.

It is this so-called para-language that allows someone, when listening to a friend on the phone to interpret by tonal quality alone whether that person is talking to a boss, an employee or a friend.
 

This was Job's problem. He either had difficulty modulating his voice to meet the low humming of the divine, or he refused to do so.

Job was someone whose experience of God was completely framed by his perception that God's favor was contingent upon his good behavior. His consistent defense as he sits in the ashes of despair is that he is undeserving of this treatment:

"I have done nothing wrong, and in fact have done everything right." He continues: "I delivered the poor who cried and the orphan who had no helper" (29:12).

This is not the right question, though. Job cannot see beyond his narrow worldview. Based on his understanding of right and wrong, that people get what they deserve, Job wants to take God to court. In his understanding, God was unjust.

 

In this high state of annoyance, Job continues the litany: "I caused the widow's heart to sing for joy. I put on righteousness and it clothed me; MY JUSTICE was like a robe and a turban. I was eyes to the blind, and feet to the lame. I was a father to the needy, and I championed the cause of the stranger" (29: 13-16). I was just (fair) in my dealings. Why aren’t you, God?

 

These facts weren’t in dispute. What Job didn’t understand is that it was his concept of God that was wrong. In the face of inconsolable grief, Job, like us, could do no more than ask the questions, "Why?" and "Why me?"

 

Job could not grasp the dominance hierarchy as it related to him (He didn’t comprehend his place in relation to God and the universe. In a sense, Job was putting himself on equal terms with God. He understood his relationship with God as nothing more than symbiotic back-scratching. (Buddies, Pals)

“Job is desperate for justice, not chaos, to prevail. So when this legal framework fails him, Job seeks a legal solution—a trial. In desperation, Job challenges God to a legal hearing, convinced that if he only has a chance to plead his case in court, then surely he will be vindicated….Job demands to know why he must suffer despite his innocence: Let the Almighty answer me! (vs.31:35)

 

And God does indeed answer. Out of the whirlwind, God replies,

4 “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
Tell me, if you understand.
5 Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
Who stretched a measuring line across it?
6 On what were its footings set,
or who laid its cornerstone —
7 while the morning stars sang together
and all the angels shouted for joy?

 

God’s reply goes on for four more chapters and spans the entire universe. God’s expansive answer from the whirlwind tells Job, “Your categories were far too small. You think in terms of the courtroom. I think in terms of the cosmos.

      Your human theories cannot possibly capture the complexity of the universe, nor can they contain the chaos. For chaos is part of creation as surely as crocodiles roam the Nile.”

 

At God’s insistence, Job must confront what he fears most: the chaos of the world and immensity of the cosmos. Job’s blinders fall off: I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you” (42:5). Job’s narrow moral framework gives way to a cosmic vision of the Divine.

 

 

God is direct: "Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?" (38:4). the subsequent Socratic interrogation is utterly withering.

Moreover, when God is through, Job is humble and submissive, finally able to accept God as God: "See, I am of small account; what shall I answer you?" (40:4).

But fawning and groveling is not what God wants either. God again says, "Gird up your loins like a man" (40:7). When the dust settles, Job understands the his place in creation, and has a different response: "I know ... that no purpose of yours can be thwarted ... I have uttered what I did not understand ... I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I ... repent in dust and ashes" (42:2-6).

Now God and Job are on the same wavelength. Now they're talking. God has always appreciated the faithfulness of Job, and now Job "sees" God for the first time as one who relates to his people as God - not as an employer who rewards his employees with stock options, cars or Christmas bonuses. Job now sees himself as a faithful servant who renders his service not to place God in his debt, but because it is right and fitting to do so.
Job now recognizes his place as creature in the presence of God his Creator.
 

Job is comforted not by a verbal explanation of his earth-bound questions, but by a spiritual revelation—he has seen the Divine and lived.

          Barbara Brown Taylor observes,

“Job’s question was about justice. God’s answer is about omnipotence, and as far as I know, that is the only answer human beings have ever gotten about why things happen the way they do. God only knows. And none of us is God.” (Home by Another Way).

Ultimately, the content of God’s answer to Job does not matter nearly as much as this: God answers. That is the miracle. The chaos is still there, but so is God. And that is enough. (Leanne Pearce Reed, FW151)

Job’s question is ours as well. What constructs do we use to keep chaos at bay? How do we explain away “why bad things happen to good people?” Do we try to stick up for God and defend God with lame sounding theological arguments? God does not need defending. How often have you heard outbursts from a non-believers blaming God for crime, tragedy, personal loss, bad upbringing, illness, financial loss, broken marriages and run-away children?

Sometimes people bring these things on themselves, but not always. Sometimes the innocent do suffer and the righteous are treated like criminals.

People are always asking us “Why?” but there is no way we can have an answer to that question. Some things are beyond us. God’s justice should not be put to the test. Would you rather have justice or mercy? God gives us life; God is life and is merciful toward us.

So, in conclusion, what do we learn from God and from Job?

First, our spiritual hardships aren’t just about us. Suffering tends to be rather egocentric — “Why me?” and “Woe is me.” (Although Job never got his because,) he did realize that his hardships were about something bigger than his mere afflictions.

We can change the why — which may not get answered — to a what. What is God doing to me and through me during my hardships?

Second, Job’s God is also our God. He is unchanging, still able to claim his divine knowledge and control of things we can’t access. Although it’s an uncomfortable lesson, we need to remember that we are creature and God is Creator. This leads to humility, eternal perspective, submission and dependence.

Third, we need to be careful to never say things to God that we will regret later. All of us have felt irritated by people who speak boldly while knowing too little. Because our sight and understanding are limited, we should question God carefully and in a manner of “not my will but yours be done.”

Fourth, Job teaches us that we should continue to live faithfully, even though our faith is wavering. People often lose their bearings — emotionally and spiritually — and begin to make decisions they later regret, with lasting consequences.

Finally, sometimes you have to wrestle with God to understand him more deeply. Poet Miguel de Unamuno said it well: “Those who believe they believe in God, but without passion in the heart, without anguish of mind, without uncertainty, without doubt and even at times without despair, believe only in the idea of God, and not in God himself.”

Job wrestled with God, giving us permission to do the same and teaching us lessons from his battle. In the end, spiritual unrest is a battle that teaches us about ourselves and our God — and, if we let it, it strengthens us through the fight.  Let us pray . . . .

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