Transcribed from the sermon preached November 1, 2011
The Reverend Max Lynn, Pastor
Scripture Readings: Job 38:1-13, Job 39:13-30, Job 42:1-1
I saw a cartoon posted on Facebook the other day where a reporter was interviewing a football player after a game. And the caption below the player read: “First, I’d like to blame the Lord for causing us to lose today.”
So today we get to God’s answer to Job. Job has accused God of injustice. Job’s friends have accused Job of lack of faithfulness, of sin, of injustice, and therefore, they argue, God is punishing Job. The implication is that it is either one or the other. Job wants God to address his case, as in a courtroom. But as God speaks, we see that God will not directly address Job’s questions; he doesn’t engage the case. Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Who pent up the sea behind closed doors when it leaped tumultuous from the womb? God asks. Job and his friends have tried to limit the pathways and freedom of God, acting as if God exists to pander to humanity. What is clear is that the world has been around a long time before Job and his fellow humans. The notion that God exists to give us what we want if we are good is thrown out the window.
“Who bores a channel for the downpour or clears the way for the rolling thunder so that rain may fall on lands where no one lives? God asks. It is clear that God is up to more in creation than serving the needs of humans. God is creating out of the joy of creating. God is an artist, a poet. God is criticizing the theology that purports to know divine action in history and presumes to know it in advance. This is the point of view of Job’s friends, and deep down of Job too. God will not be imprisoned. Job’s friends assume that if Job is suffering it must be because God is punishing him…because that is how God works they think. So Job should repent and ask forgiveness. Job thinking within the same paradigm assumes the opposite: if he is not guilty, God must be. But “God is free”, says Gustavo Gutierrez in On Job, “God’s love is a cause, not an effect that is, as it were, handcuffed.”
God uses further example of the animals, the wild donkey who roams the wastelands, the wild ox who will not submit to domestic tasks, the eagle who flies free, who will not bend to human will. They have been created with their own lives, free of human cause or service. We see that even without human relations to them, God delights in the presence of these animals. God refuses to be limited to a direct cause and effect understanding.
God then talks of the quirkiness of creation, using the ostrich as an example of something both strange and beautiful… still pleasing to God. We think we are so much more intelligent than animals, yet are we not foolish and ignorant of so much that our wisdom is closer to that of the ostrich than to God? Yet this does not disqualify us or the ostrich from causing delight in God. From God’s point of view, life is beautiful. God expresses delight in Creation. God has set certain creative processes in motion. God sets the “Divine Aim” for each and every moment, as Process Theologians would say, and God gives each becoming moment the freedom to move forward. Utility for humans is not God’s primary purpose for himself or for creation. We are made in the image of God, but we are not the center of the universe. We live in relation to many millions of processes.
This has implications for human history says Gutierrez: “Must all that happens in history, including God’s action, necessarily fit hand in glove with the theological categories that reason has developed?” (p.75) We cannot foresee or manage God’s action.
Now God asks Job to speak, and Job doesn’t have much to say: “I feel my littleness: what reply shall I give?” Job asks.
He acknowledges his littleness but doesn’t confess his sin. He expresses humility but not resignation. (p. 76) Job still holds he is innocent and God does not accuse him.
The first speech of God speaks of the plan of creation. The second speaks of God’s government. With irony God asks: Has your arm the strength of God’s ; can your voice thunder as loud? Come on, display your majesty…Let the fury of your anger burst forth, humble the haughty at a glance! Bury the lot of them in the ground, shut them, every one of them in the Dungeon. And I shall be the first to pay you homage, since your own right hand is strong enough to save you. (40:9-14) Here God is not talking of the joy he takes in Creating, the delight in creation. He wants justice to reign in the world, but God doesn’t impose it. As God is free, so God grants us freedom: this is our nature that God has created us into. God has even set boundaries for God’s self. Gutierrez again, “God’s power is limited by human freedom; for without freedom God’s justice would not be present within history. Furthermore, precisely because human beings are free, they have the power to change their course and be converted.” (P.77) The all powerful creator thus creates for himself a weakness. “The mystery of divine freedom leads to the mystery of human freedom, and respect for it. Human beings are “little” as Job says, insignificant, but they are yet great for God. Great enough that God chooses to set a boundary for Herself at their freedom, and ask for collaboration in the building of the world and establishing just and fair governance.
God challenges any audacious theology that presumes to know everything about God, to account for God’s actions, and foretell how God will intervene. God will not be put in a box so that we feel in control of the universe.
“Life is not fair. The wrong people get sick and the wrong people get robbed and the wrong people get killed in wars and in accidents. Some people see life’s unfairness and decide, ‘There is no God; the world is nothing but chaos.’ Others see the same unfairness and ask themselves, ‘Where do I get my sense of what is fair and what is unfair? Where do I get my sense of outrage and indignation, my instinctive response of sympathy when I read in the paper about a total stranger who has been hurt by life? Don’t I get these things from God? Doesn’t He plant in me a little bit of His own divine outrage at injustice and oppression, just as He did for the prophets of the Bible? Isn’t my feeling of compassion for the afflicted just a reflection of the compassion He feels when He sees the suffering of His creatures?’ Our responding to life’s unfairness with sympathy and with righteous indignation, God’s compassion and God’s anger working through us, may be the surest proof of all of God’s reality.”
In Christ we see this wonderful gratuitous nature of God, both living love freely and respectfully leaving us the freedom to do likewise. Jesus chooses to be loving and forgiving, to live fully into his God given potential. Therefore we see the unconditional, eternal love of God. When we see Jesus, like Job, we sense our smallness, our fallibility and finitude. Yet we also sense God’s love and delight in us anyway, calling us forward in Divine relationship. God grants us the sustenance of bread and grace, in humility we accept that grace; then we are empowered by the Holy Spirit and given the freedom and responsibility to live out our lives with that God given energy and grace.