and then God said…

God finally answers Job, showing up in mighty fashion. It may not have been the answer Job was looking for or hoping for, though. It goes on for four chapters – Job 38-42. Rather than give answers, God asks questions: where were you when I made the world? Where were you when the morning stars sang together? And ruminates on and on about creatures real and mythic. My thoughts about the passage were shaped and helped greatly by Sam Balentine’s magnificent commentary on Job. Again, William Blake’s watercolors offer vivid images of the language. Some thoughts on the passage are after the jump.

God Answers Job out of the Whirlwind

 

Were you there when the morning stars sang together?

Behold the Behemoth and Leviathan

 

Is this even an answer?

Job has asked some very pointed questions over the last thirty-six chapters. He’s called on God to account for why his children have died, his wealth has disappeared, and his health has failed. Now, finally, God shows up.

But is this an answer? This long rant? We only heard about half of it. It goes on and on for four chapters.

We might be tempted to say, no, this is not an answer. This is a monologue. God doesn’t even directly address Job’s situation. God just goes on and on about creation and weather, critters—real and mythical. What good is this?

What good is this in our own lives? As we face the real problems of life—the diagnosis that comes out of the clear blue sky and changes everything, the loss of a someone we can’t live without, the addictions that plague our lives and our loved ones and that seem like they will never end, the long search for work, and the horrors of unending war and poverty all around—as we face all of that, what good is this answer? Is it any good?

The comfort, or insight we may or may not find here, will vary. Some of us will find words of life, while others of us will need to tuck these words away and come back to them later, and search again for life.

And maybe that’s the genius of it. There are no direct, pat answers to suffering like this. And if the poet put some sort of easy answer in God’s mouth, God would become just another theologian offering some sort of A+B=C formula to explain suffering.

But God doesn’t give answers here. God asks questions:

Who are you?

Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Where were you when the morning stars sang together?

Questions are far more powerful than answers. In the space they open, we may suddenly find insight. Or we may find a reminder of how little we know.

God’s questions here do something that answers could never do. They invite Job in. These questions come to Job who has been through the wringer, and faced the whirlwind of his life, and they invite Job even deeper, into a mystery older and bigger than he can fathom. These questions invite Job into a new relationship with God.

There is good news here. Job’s most consistent plea has been for God to show up. And God does. God shows up and devotes full attention to Job. And while that must have been terrifying, and overwhelming, I wonder if Job also let out a shaky breath when that voice first spoke out of the whirlwind. I am not alone. There is More to this world than my eyes can see.

As Christians we tell this same truth, that God is willing to be deeply present in the midst of suffering, when we tell the story of Jesus. It is our central testimony: God does not shy away from the darkness, but enters in, and, says one early Christian, not even the gates of hell will prevail against this mighty love.

This is what Job found first in that whirlwind.

God may not always show up on our schedule, or how we’d like. God may not provide the solace or the answers we think we need. We can probably count on God not living by our expectations. God is God, after all. But we are not left alone to face the horror that life sometimes hands us.

For Job, God shows up and asks question after question. Who are you? Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Where were you when the morning stars sang?

Tone is so important. We wondered about this at Bible study on Tuesday. Is God angry? Is God like a lecturing parent here, putting Job in his place?

Is it possible that God might be compassionate here? Bigger, transcendent, and powerful, but also reaching out to Job in an effort to heal, to bring Job back toward wholeness?

We wondered on Tuesday if God’s intent could be compassionate, and if the questions might be something of a litany of God’s gifts.

Maybe God is seeking to to bring Job out from his pain into a new place, to broaden Job’s frame of reference, expand his universe, and help him find his place once more.

God draws Job’s eyes and heart up and out, up to the heights of the sky, down to the depths of the see, to snow capped mountains, fields crawling with wildlife, all the goodness that God has made. Look at it, God says. Look at all I’ve given.

Felix Baumgartner is the man who jumped from a capsule twenty-four miles above the earth last week. If you missed it, you can watch it on youtube. He steps out on this little platform way, way, way above the earth. He is so far up, that you can see the curve of the earth below him. Just before he jumps you can hear him say something, garbled with static. The transcript tells us he said, “…Sometimes you have to go up really high to understand how small you really are.” (New York Times)

That sense of perspective, mixed with a little vertigo, is the new place into which God draws Job.

When we face our hardest days, it can be a tremendous relief to have an experience that that pulls us out of ourselves. Whether that sense of perspective, that sense of smallness in the face of a great big world comes through divine revelation, or through prayer or contemplation, or through an encounter with creation, it can be a moment of healing. It won’t fix everything, but it can give us a measure of strength to continue, patience to watch what is unfolding, and trust that there is more to this world than we know. It may startle us into silence. That’s what happened with Job. He was speechless. But God didn’t stop there.

Job says, I have nothing else to say. And then God launches into this poetic praise for two mythical creatures—the behemoth and the leviathan. The behemoth was a mythical land animal, and the leviathan, a sea monster. They were the strongest of all God’s creatures. They were challenging and wild and free.

Has God gone off on a tangent here? We might be tempted to skip these two chapters, chalk them up to a pre-modern worldview and move on. Except there is one little detail that might give us pause.

Toward the beginning of God’s ode to the behemoth, God says, Behold the behemoth, which I made just as I made you.

This is the only statement about Job, or even humans in general, that God makes in the entire response.

God has describe all of creation, but has left out humans. Where do we fit? In this little verse we have a clue. God says, You were made just like the behemoth.

You were made mighty and strong, wild and free. Even as God challenges Job with questions Job can’t possibly answer, at the same time, God compares Job to the greatest of all the creatures, the one who no one can tame.

And God isn’t upset that the behemoth and the leviathan can’t be tamed. God is not threatened by their power, their might. In fact, it sounds like God loves it. What we see here is that God delights in, respects, even encourages, the wild, powerful freedom of God’s creatures—the behemoth, the leviathan, Job, and even us.

So no matter where this story finds us today, whether we find ourselves struck mute like Job at first, or unsatisfied and yearning for more, God welcomes our honest, full response—whether we shout out in praise or lament, with questions or anger or shouts of joy.

We do not have to get our lives pulled together, or our theology straight to come to God. And the Powerful Love at the center of it all is not horrified by our questions, or our doubts, or the depth of our pain, or the old wounds we hide, or the grief that won’t stop, or the anger that threatens to erupt, or the fear that chokes us in the night.

Because the God who made us, who made us with inquiring, discerning wise minds, and hearts that break, and voices that shout and hands that can clench and clap and embrace, the God who gave us all that, is the God who made the world, who laid the foundations, who was there when the morning stars sang, who brought light to the darkness. And our God, this Eternal Power and Mighty Spirit, does not stay far off, but comes close, enters into relationship with us, enters, even, in the middle of the whirlwind, into our own lives, our breath, our very flesh, coming to dwell with us in Christ, abiding with us in the Spirit.

by Sarah W. Wiles
October 21, 2012
Bethany Presbyterian Church
Tacoma, WA
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2 Responses to and then God said…

  1. mahrilf says:

    Beautiful. Thank you, Sarah.

  2. Carolyn Joy says:

    Amen and amen.

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