Sunday, October 18, 2015

Questions from God -- Sermon for Pentecost 21B

Job 38:1-7, 34-41

For thirty-seven chapters Job and his friends have been debating the question: “why me?” That’s a question that many of us ask at one point or another. Bad things happen and we want an explanation. Sometimes, as is the case with the answers provided by Job’s friends, the answers don’t make sense. Sometimes we even want to take up the conversation with God, but we’re not sure we’re up to the task. 

Last Sunday we listened to Job as he challenged God to appear in court and answer his questions. He believed he was innocent, but he was also terrified of the possibility that God might actually show up. One of Job’s friends assures Job that he needn’t worry about God showing up. God was too busy to bother with his futile questioning. 

Elihu is the fourth “friend” to enter the debate with Job. In many ways these four friends, demonstrate the principle that with friends like this, who needs enemies! Elihu feels the need to defend God’s honor. He tells Job to “stop and consider the wondrous works of God.” Just look around at creation, and take in the wonder that is creation. When you take in the grandeur of creation, you’ll know that God’s concerns are much larger than your complaints (Job 37:14, 23).  

Elihu may have been the most sophisticated of Job’s critics, but I don’t think he convinced Job to stop looking for answers to his questions. But before Job can answer Elihu’s critique, God actually shows up.  Yes, God shows up ready to debate!

God appears in the form of a whirlwind. This isn’t the only time God does this in Scripture. For example, in 2 Kings 2, God appears in a whirlwind to take Elijah up into heaven. The prophet Nahum declares that “the Lord is slow to anger but great in power, and the Lord will by no means clear the guilty. His way is in whirlwind and storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet” (Nahum 1:3).

When you see a funnel cloud forming, it is best to run. But it seems as if Job, like Elijah doesn’t run. In Job’s case I think he’s stunned. He’s stunned because God speaks to him, and this whirlwind is a reminder to him of God’s power. When God speaks to Job, God doesn’t really answer Job’s questions. Instead, God has a few questions for Job. 

Before we get to God’s questions, it might be good to reflect for a moment about our own expectations of meeting God. We offer up prayers. We sing songs of praise. We give thanks to God at the Table. But do we expect God to actually speak to us?  If God did make an appearance in the way that God appears to Job, how would you react?

If the President of the United States unexpectedly showed up here at church, what questions would you ask? Or would you feel a bit intimidated and keep quiet?  It’s one thing to ask questions of the TV, but it’s another to ask them in person. 

Once upon a time Senator Mark Hatfield was the graduation speaker at Northwest Christian College. I was a staff member then, and I had always admired him. I really to talk with him, but I decided I wouldn’t bother him before the ceremony. I could always talk to him later. Unfortunately, because of my shyness, I didn’t get my chance because he had to leave right after he spoke.

There was another time when I found myself standing before someone I truly admired, but couldn’t come up with words to speak. I was at a conference at which Jurgen Moltmann was the featured speaker. Moltmann is one of the great theologians of the post World War II era, and as I was going down to dinner from my room, I ran into him sitting on a bench in the hall.  Here was a chance to talk to one of my heroes, but all I could get out was “hi, how are you this evening?” When the elevator opened, I entered, and my chance to talk theology with him was gone.

So what would you say to God, if God appeared to you in the form of a whirlwind?

It seems to me that God didn’t  give Job much of a chance to ask questions. God did have some questions for Job. At the heart of this series of questions is this question: “Who are you?”  Where were you, God asks Job, when I created the world? Yes, pull up your pants, tighten your belt and give an answer? 

Could it be that God had heard enough from Job and these four friends. Could it be that the phone had rung one too many times, and God wanted to bring the debate to an end? I’m not even sure if God was directing the questions to Job. Could it be that God was telling Elihu that his defense of God’s honor wasn’t really all that persuasive? Could it be that God is saying to Elihu: Who are you to defend me? Do I even need to be defended? Do you – either Job or Elihu – know what you are talking about?

In your first reading of this encounter, perhaps you were like me and you sort of felt sorry for Job. It seems as if God is being a bit unfair. In fact, it almost seems like God is a bully. After all, didn’t God give the Adversary permission to bring disaster to Job and his family?

When I read Job, I find it to be a rather unsettling story. Maybe that is the way it should be read. In this encounter between God and Job, God asks Job if he has sufficient knowledge and wisdom to debate the big questions of life with God.  God asks Job: Do you know what I know? Can you see the big picture? Were you there when I created this world you inhabit? In fact, who gave you the wisdom that you do  possess (vs. 26)? And Job doesn’t seem to have any answers. 

One of our biggest questions in life, as people of faith, concerns the nature of God. Who is God? Whenever the Bible speaks of God it does so through metaphor and analogy, and metaphors and analogies have their limits. While I think the book of Job raises important questions about God, I’m not sure it gives us an accurate picture of God. That’s probably not the purpose of the story.  What it does is force us to wrestle with difficult questions. One of those questions has to do with why bad things happen to good people. 

Perhaps the answer that comes to us, comes in the form of a question – or really a barrage of questions. Could it be that the answer to our question is that we simply do not have enough wisdom to figure out who God is in God’s essence? But could it also be that God wants us to keep asking the question?  After all, God says to Job – pull up your pants and tighten your belt, and enter into a conversation with me. Could it be that the answers come as we continue the conversation? 

At the same time, could God be reminding us that despite our desire to control our own destiny, we are not God. Think back to the Garden. The Serpent suggested to the woman that if she ate the forbidden fruit she would see things clearly. Who doesn’t want to have a clear picture of the future? The question is – do we have sufficient wisdom to handle the truth?  

You may remember the exchange that comes in the film A Few Good Men. Tom Cruise’s character, Lt. Kaffee, is grilling Jack Nicholson’s character, Col. Jessup about the death of a marine. Kaffee tells Jessup: “I want the truth!”  And the Colonel responds with one of the great lines of film: “You can’t handle the truth!” 

Paul speaks of seeing through a mirror dimly. He has a sense of what God is up to, but that doesn’t mean he can see things fully and clearly. Some day he might be able to understand more fully, but not now, Paul knows he will see God face to face. Then he might have answers to his questions, but not now. No, when it comes to life, there are more questions than answers. We only know the things of God in part, but this is what Paul is sure of: “faith, hope and love abide,” with loving being the greatest (1 Cor. 13:12-13).  In this alone, we can put our trust. 

Preached by:
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall, Pastor
Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Troy, Michigan
Pentecost 21 B
October 18, 2015

No comments: