October 17, 2021
These past few weeks, we’ve been making our way through the book of Job, to learn what it is trying to teach us and to understand what the Spirit meant by including it in the Bible. It started with the disaster that fell on Job, calling into question the idea that righteousness is always rewarded, and evil is always punished. Then we heard Job’s lament to God, and how lament is an act of faith because it trusts that God will hear and that God can fix the problem. And then we come to this week. This week, God answers Job.
And how does God answer Job? Out of the whirlwind. That phrase just captures the unbridled power of God suddenly appearing the midst of Job and his three friends, and the wonder such an encounter with instill in all of us. But God speaks with a unique voice in Job, and that voice is sarcasm. God fills the encounter with rhetorical questions—from how the sun rises to where the rains are stored, how the earth was made and how to tame the great sea creatures. God’s words are huge, and God’s sweeping focus is monumental.
Job is completely awestruck by God’s presence. But really, this is what he asked for. He wanted a hearing with God. He wanted a chance to argue his case. So God showed up. Job is told to ready himself—“gird your loins like a man.” God is going to give Job what he asked for. But God was going to present the Deity’s defense first, and then let Job speak. And in all of God’s defense, Job’s actual complaint doesn’t actually get directly addressed once.
Instead, God draws our eyes to a wider picture. God paints a picture of the majesty of creation, he awe of the mountains, the thundering rainstorms, the beauty of the sunrise, the secret places where animals have their young. God tells Job of the dance of the Pleiades, how Orion was set in order in the sky, the course God set for the Sun to track across the sky. Where so much of the Bible puts humanity at the center of the universe and the center of God’s attention, God in Job pulls us all back from that self-centeredness to see the absolute grandeur, majesty, and awe of the whole breadth and scope of God’s creation. God’s words aim to remind Job of just how small he is, and how little he knows of how the universe operates.
It’s like how, on the Pacific coast of South America, there are these absolutely massive pictures carved in the desert floor. They’re huge looping tails of monkeys, giant hummingbirds, and even massive humanoid forms drawn in lines across the rocky landscape—the Nazca lines. And the thing is, the only way to tell what they are is to see them from way up high. From the sky, you can see the intricate and amazing pictures they make. But on the ground, they just look like simple white paths in the brown desert.
Like those Nazca lines, humanity has a limited view of the universe. Most of us will only live for a century at most, and most of us won’t go that far from our homes. Even the smartest and wisest among us only understands a fraction of a fraction of the whole scope of the universe. There is so much that we simply don’t—and won’t—understand. So when Job asserted that he needed his complaint addressed, that it was God who was in the wrong, that he deserved an answer, he was revealing the all-too-human tendency to think we are the center of the universe, and the center of God’s attention.
What if our eyes turned to what God was talking about? Where Job was focused on his life, his experience, his specific place in the universe, God called on him to look wider. God pointed to the works of nature—how the rain comes, when the sun rises, where the deer have their young, what the lion eats, and why the stars twinkle in the sky. And every piece of the whole complex and wonderful universe fit together because God was guiding it. Can we even begin to understand the depth of that complexity?
Now, that’s not a very satisfying answer to Job’s complaint. Job wasn’t asking for a lesson on how big the universe is; he was asking God why he was suffering. We bring that same question when we open up the book of Job. But like I said at the start of this whole thing, the book of Job might leave you with more questions than answers. And, in a way, perhaps the answer to our question of why suffering happens is right there in God’s description of a vast and unknowable universe that God alone knows how to operate. It’s an appeal to be humble, to recognize our place as something besides the most important piece of God’s creation, the center of God’s universe. It’s a reminder of the utter incomprehensibility of God’s work, too.
And in a way, would we understand the answer even if God gave it to us? It’s like a five-year-old asking a quantum physicist to explain exactly how gravity works—if they got the exact answer, down to the minutest detail, would they even understand it? If God broke down exactly why our suffering happens, how it fits into the impossibly vast complexity of the universe, its exact causes and exact effects, would we even understand? When God pointed Job to the majesty of creation as the answer to his question, God was reminding Job that it is God who directs and controls all the vast myriads of the universe, and God is trustworthy to know what God is doing.
So really, maybe that is the answer that we get. It’s not a super satisfying answer, and I’m sure we’d all like some kind of formula we can plug in to figure out when suffering will happen, but Job reminds us that just doesn’t happen. Instead, God points us to the amazing workings of creation, and reminds us that God is the one who is in charge of all of it. All things work toward God’s greater good, and we are just not going to be able to comprehend how most of the time.
But we can trust God.
We can trust God, because God is bigger than any of us. God knows this universe better than any of us ever could. God guides this universe with certainty and precision, because God is the one who made it. And when we don’t understand it, like Job we may raise our lament to God. We may get frustrated and angry because without knowing the master plan we see things as being unfair or unjust. God understands when that’s our reaction. But whatever happens, even if we don’t understand why, we can trust that God is getting us to where we need to be. Because this is God’s creation, and God is good.
Thanks be to God. Amen.