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“Where Were You?”

Job 38

So far in Job, just about everyone has had their say:

  • Hasatan, the accuser, has challenged God on the faith of Job, insisting that if he quit getting benefits from his relationship with God, he’ll fold in a hurry.
  • Job’s friends have had their say.  Eliphaz.  Bildad.  Zophar.  We haven’t spent much time with his, but a fourth friend showed up there at the end – Elihu.  Most scholars think that Elihu was younger than the other friends – a know-it-all kid who was forced to wait until his elders had had their say.  In his mind, they had messed the arguments all up, and he had to step in and amaze them all with his wisdom and reasoning.  Of course, as is often the case with know-it-alls, his arguments were just about the same as all the other friends, just angrier and less supportive.
  • Job himself has had his say.  He has challenged his friends.  He has challenged the faith that he and they have grown up with.  He has challenged God, and demanded God show up.
  • But God has been silent.  Since chapter 2, we have not heard a word from God.  Now that everyone else has had their say, it’s God’s turn!  “Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind.”

Maybe you’ve heard the one about the pastor who worked hard to get sanitary hot air hand dryers in the church bathrooms.  After a couple of week of compliments about how well the dryers look and keep trash out of the landfills, he was feeling pretty good about himself.  Abruptly, he announced at the next facilities meeting that they had to come out.  No one understood why the quick change until one of them stuck their heads into the men’s bathroom and noticed a sign that had been placed on the hot air hand dryer:

“For a sample of this week’s sermon, push the button.”

An oldie but a goodie.  Jokes about hot air have been around forever.  In fact, the book of Job has this running joke throughout, in which both the friends and Job take turns using this metaphor of air or wind to put each other down.  We use these metaphors of air or wind – “full of hot air,” “windbag,” “blowhard” – to refer to someone who is full of words, but not really full of wisdom.  They have a lot to say, but not really a lot of substance to offer.  Job says this about his friends, and his friends say the same thing about him, calling each other windbags back and forth.

So, the author of Job keeps the running joke going when God finally speaks.  With an exclamation point:  “Out of the whirlwind.”  Finally, some wind with some substance behind it.  Here is the wind of wisdom, of clarity, of sovereignty.  For almost 40 chapters, there has been a lot of wind blowing around, but not a lot of substance.  The whirlwind of Job’s emptiness and loss.  The haughty opinions of Job’s friends.  Even the demands of Job.  Now, God responds.  And this wind is more than just hot air.

I talked last week about the ways that we challenge God with honest and forthright words.  However, just because God is big enough to handle our honesty and our vulnerability, it does not mean that ours is not always the last word.  For if we speak, we also ought to listen.  For if we believe that God is big enough to handle our honest complaint and anger, we also ought to believe that God responds to that complaint and that anger.  That God will reveal Godself to us.

And reveal God does.  God’s response in Job comes in two parts.  Beginning in chapter 38, God responds to Job and his inquiries (or demands), and then Job offers a few words in response to God.  Then, the cycle is repeated, God first and then Job.

In these two cycles, we learn a lot.  We learn about the nature of Job – who Job is and what place he holds in the universe.  We learn about the nature of God – who God is and what the character of God looks like.  And we learn about the nature of, well, Nature.

Let’s start there.  God’s response to Job is actually really interesting.  Job has asked God very specifically some questions in legal, theological, moral, and ethical terms.  God doesn’t answer any of his questions, at least not in those terms.

Look what God says instead:

·         “Have you entered into the springs of the sea?”

·         “Have you entered the storehouses of the snow?”

·         “Do you know when the mountain goats give birth?”

·         “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.”

What?  This is how God responds?  Was God listening to Job’s questions?  These don’t seem quite in line with what Job was looking for.  Job was looking for justice; God’s response is really about Creation.  The entire response, God makes no attempt to explain why bad things happen to good people, why Job seems to be punished instead of rewarded, or to answer any of Job’s questions directly.  Instead, God speaks as if he is a Master Gardener forcing his family members to watch a slideshow of pictures of his prize begonias!

At the heart of God’s response is the nature of God’s very Creation.  Instead of giving Job the answers he wants, God delights in the mysteries of Creation!  G.K. Chesterton has written, “The riddles of God are more satisfying that the solutions of (humanity).”  Tell that to Job.  He wants answers.  He wants solutions.  He wants justice.  Not riddles.  Not mysteries.  Not stories about behemoth and ostrich and prize begonias!

But that’s not what he gets.  He instead gets a lesson on the nature of Nature.  But not a scientific one.  Not a technical one.  A poetic one.  One that highlights the delight that God has in Creation.  A poem by Maurice Manning echoes this poetry.  Manning talks to one that we assume is God, but refers to God throughout as “Boss.”

the first hawk you hung up in the sky

Boss O tell me did you give

it any warning any sign

that something fun was going to happen

I wonder if you said listen Red

I’m going to let you ride the wind

you won’t even have to flap

Boss how many days ago was that

I’d say it was a lot a lot

of hawks a lot of days it’s always

a lot of everything with you

you big britches Boss you do just what

you want to do I guess you think

it’s cute to hang a little hawk

you’re full of surprises Boss you keep

me on my toes how many times

will I go tippy toe for you

you boss of all the good stuff boss

of all the numbers hang me Boss

you make me wish I was a bird

(Manning. “LXV,” Bucolics, p. 76)

God delights in Creation and invites us to delight in Creation.  But the author of Job is doing more than simply talking about the nature of Creation.  He is talking about the very nature of God.  In these chapters, we find a description of who God is.  Job asked…  We ask…  Humans throughout history have asked….  “Who is God?”  The author of Job answers this question.  From God’s response at the end of the book we can ascertain two things.

One, God is in charge.  God created.  God sustains.  God is sovereign.  And God’s response at the end of Job confirms this.  God laid the cornerstone of the earth.  God shut in the sea with doors.  God created the clouds.  And the leviathan.  And the ostrich.

Perhaps you have read within the last couple of weeks, that scientists have announced that a telescope at the South Pole has detected ripples in space that emanate from the very beginning of time.  From a trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second after the first moment of time, they have found evidence for the theory of inflation, the force that caused the universe to begin expanding.  Now, depending on your theology, this is either good news or bad news.

Some people of faith did not take kindly to this news.  You see, there are some people of faith who have this idea that all scientists basically don’t know what they are talking about.  They point to the holes and gaps in scientific knowledge – empty spaces of things that are unexplainable.  According to these folks, when there is a gap in our knowledge, God fills in the gaps.  Only the presence of God can explain what is otherwise unexplainable.  Often times, these folks suggest that scientists are all atheists anyway, so to explain the things of the universe, you have to either an atheistic, scientific explanation, OR a faithful, religious explanation.  These are the folks who talk a lot about the battle between God and science.  For these folks, this month’s news was bad news.  Because their God just got smaller.  They don’t need God as much as they did last month, because now science has explained a little bit more – taken away one of the gaps that science didn’t know how to explain, namely that first trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second.  If you need science to lose for your God to win, then this is bad news for you.

To other people of faith, however, this news was actually a reason to celebrate!  Perhaps your theology is more like Francis Collins, who is an internationally recognized scientist AND devoted Christian.  Collins uses the term Biologos, which is namely the idea that Biology and Cosmology and Science is simply the language of God.  Biologos: the Word found in life.  Therefore, when science finds more evidence about the way the world began, or evidence for a new star or planet or insect or animal or microbe, then it is good news!  It’s time for a party!  Because we translated another word in the language of God!  We found another piece of evidence that God is creative and sovereign and in charge.  That God is “Boss.”  If your theology says that a success of science is actually evidence for God and God’s power and sovereignty and might, then this one is a win.  Biologos.  God spoke.  In the first trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second, God spoke.  The same God who created the seas and the snow and the ostrich.  That God is in charge.  The evidence of Creation speaks of a sovereign and attentive God.  God’s voice from the whirlwind in Job – and throughout time – celebrates that sovereignty.  God is sovereign.  God is in charge.

And so, God’s response to Job is to remind him of this.  “Gird up your loins like a man!  Where were you when I did all of this stuff?  You want to argue with me?  You think you know everything about everything?  I’ve been around since before water was wet and snow was cold!  I was around in the first trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second!  And I was around before that!  I made it all happen!  Where were you?  When I made the clouds, where were you?  When I held back the seas, where were you?  When I made the leviathan and the behemoth and the ostrich, where were you?”

Now, if I am Job in that moment, that is not necessarily what I want to hear. After all, if God is sovereign, and my life still stinks, then why didn’t God fix it?  If God is sovereign, then he should be able to fix this injustice, make things right.  Job demands such justice.  But God does not answer Job in the way that Job wants.  However, this is not because God is uncaring or ungracious or unloving.  To the contrary…if the first word about God’s nature is that God is in charge, the second word is this:

God is in love…with us!  Look again at the argument that God makes from the ostrich and the animals and Creation.  It is more than just showing off.  Wes Eades and Milton Horne, in their book on Job titled Whirlwind, point out that God is not just talking about the majesty and beauty of Creation.  But also it ludicrousness.  Its humor.  It’s apparent worthlessness.  Look at the ostrich, God says.  Look at the donkey!  Look at the cow!  The ostrich doesn’t even have sense to take care of her egg.  She sticks it on the ground for it to get stepped on!  These things are not the most majestic and powerful creatures on the planet.

“Yet….” God says.  “Yet, I made them.  I lovingly created them.  I care for them.  Look at these animals that are irrelevant and wild and useless…yet I love them. Even though I don’t need them and they are useless to me.  Don’t you think I love you?  Don’t you think I care for you?

Even though I don’t need you.  Even though you are irrational and overreacting and angry and arrogant.  Yet, I made you.  I lovingly created you.  I care for you.

And Jesus taught: “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground unperceived by your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.”

And God says to Job: “I care about the ostrich.  I care about you.  I know that you want answers.  But sometimes the answers to too deep for words, too profound for understanding.  Here is the answer you need to hear: I created you.  I love you.  I am with you.”

May we hear that answer today, and perhaps respond as Job did…

Then Job answered the Lord:
‘I know that you can do all things,    and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
“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.
“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.’

(Job 42.1-6)

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