Shhhhhhh... Job, Part 3 of 4
When was the last time you were silenced by God? `That you were literally brought to silence in some situation in which you understood God’s presence? Last January, as I stood on the edge of the natural wonder in South Dakota that is called the Badlands, I was brought to complete and utter silence. There just are no words for the majesty, the artistry of our Master Creator, or the gift of such splendor. Nearly 400 square miles of towering spires carved out in the ground farther than the eye can see. Truly, a sacred land. And truly something that stuns one into silent contemplation. There just are no words. But we’re silenced by God not just in times when we witness God’s majesty in creation — that is mountain ranges, natural wonders, a midnight sky with more stars than darkness, the miracle of life as seen in a new baby and the feeling of elevation in true worship… These things all cause us to stop in our tracks. To be silent. To give thanks with words that don’t quite seem adequate. But sometimes we are silenced in different ways, too. Sometimes we are silenced in our suffering. Anyone who’s been very sick, anyone whose suffered great loss, anyone who has endured physical or emotional abuse knows of this kind of silence. Most you know that when I was in my late 20s, I suffered not only from cancer, but also two badly botched surgeries that added much time to my recovery. I was living in Florida at the time, and my family was far away in the Northeast. Those who suffer know of the agonizingly long and silent nights. They seem endless and cruel, even. And going to bed each night is a begrudging lesson in endurance. I remember waking up, not enough strength to walk, but making my way to another bedroom that was converted into a study, and sitting on the daybed, propped up with pillows and trying to write. Writing can be cathartic and healing for me, but in what seemed like months of sleepless nights, the words wouldn’t come. And so I’d pray. At least I’d try. Generally, the only words I could form were “please, please.” Why did God seem so silent in those times? Maybe the better question is Why did God silence me so much in those times? So most of the nights, I would just sit there, staring into the darkness, contemplating God. No words. Just silence. Where was God? Job 38.1-7, 34-41 As we move into our third week of this sermon series on Job, today, we’re trying to understand what it means to simply be still and know that God is God. And that this is never really on our own human terms, but on God’s divine terms. In the past two weeks, we’ve sought how to find God when we’re disoriented and where God is when it seems as if we’re all alone. We’ve discovered that it is in the very seeking of God that we find strength through God to endure suffering, and that in strengthening our faith, we begin to see God’s presence all around us. We’re not all alone, as we may have believed. Next week, we will put all of this together to understand how we come to witness restoration in our lives, even in times of suffering. ### In our reading today in Job 38, we see Job finally gets God’s attention. Job has demanded a trial to prove to God that Job is indeed righteous, and that it was an injustice for God to put Job through all of this. Job doesn’t deserve it. However, when Job finally gets his court appearance, he is overpowered by God. Again, it’s important to note that the Book of Job is a story written by many hands over many centuries and borrowed from different cultures in order to try to understand the question of Divine Justice: That is Why do bad things happen to good people? And then try to discern the answer — what we call Theodicy — Where is God through all of the suffering? Now, the authors of the story make God into some reckless and sophomoric bully who wages with the Adversary over whether the righteous Job will cave to suffering and denounce God or stand strong. And so the bet begins, and Job has everything — his family, his financial stability and his health — stripped from him, leaving him to contemplate “Why me, Lord?” This is how the authors portray God. Yet, despite the authors’ quite human characterization of God, we do see something very important, and it’s this: God has faith in Job. God knows Job will come through. And God is rooting for Job. After all, God created Job. Here, we can see Job being a metaphor for — or representing — all of humanity. We are Job. We suffer, we endure, and we try to remain righteous. And God roots for us. The response Well, again, the authors here make God into a sort of passive-aggressive and abusive parent. And it’s something we all have to wrestle with in this text. In a way, I think it’s important to wrestle with that statement. It brings into question whether God changes God’s mind. We see many examples of this in other Old Testament books as well. Probably the most well-known is the story of Noah. God destroys everything except Noah, whom God has faith in to start over. And God makes that rainbow covenant with Noah: “Never again will I let floodwaters destroy all life. When I see the rainbow in the sky, I will always remember the promise that I have made to every living creature. The rainbow will be the sign of that solemn promise.” (Gen 9. 15-17) For our friend Job, though, Job calls God into question. And God does show up, and God doesn’t admit the mistake. Instead, God launches into an argument that puts Job on the defense. God doesn’t really ever answer Job, but instead talks about how great and powerful the Creator God is. “Can you issue an order to the clouds so their abundant waters cover you? “Can you send lightning so that it goes and then says to you, ‘I’m here’? “Who put wisdom in remote places, or who gave understanding to a rooster? “Who is wise enough to count the clouds, and who can tilt heaven’s water containers so that dust becomes mud and clods of dirt adhere?” (38.34-38) How we feel about God’s answer doesn’t really matter. It can’t matter to Job either. Job is completely silenced. He prayed, he screamed, he complained, he argued, and he even asked God to stand trial. God’s response is the same as it always has been: I AM WHO I AM. Yahweh. Again, it’s a story. And, personally, the story to me seems to make God more human than divine. It makes God into humans’ image rather than making humans into God’s, as God created us to be. But that doesn’t make this book a throw-away, because it is a very human idea to wrestle with these questions and answer them only in human terms. After all, this is what we know. But we can take away much from this argument and this book. From our reading today, we can take away this: Sometimes we have to stop and just be in God’s presence without telling God what to do. We need to stop and just be in God’s presence without imaging God to act like humans do. We can pray, ask, beg, scream and plead… But sometimes, we have to just be silent and listen. Means of Grace We can’t have a trial with God, like Job wants. Why? Because that’s the human way, not the way of God. But that doesn’t mean we are inactive. And it doesn’t mean that our silence isn’t a way to take action. When I was suffering alone, night after night with barely a prayer on my lips, that which nourished and strengthened me wasn’t a trial with God; it was God’s very presence in my seeking. That ability to seek, to experience and to witness God even in those times of suffering. You simply cannot hear if you’re the one doing the talking. Yet, sitting alone in silence is incredibly active. It is one way that we can experience God’s grace; it’s what John Wesley called the Means of Grace. The unearned ability to seek and witness God through everything. They are strengthened by our individual practices of reading and meditating and studying Scripture, but also by prayer, fasting, worship and sharing our faith with others. All of these are means — ways of seeking — God’s grace. And there is great comfort in this. Again I ask, when is the last time you were silenced by God? Because even after Job has dreamed of his day in court squaring off against God, God appears, and Job understands. Despite all Job has endured, and all of his fantasies of taking down God, when he finally experiences God’s presence, he’s not too proud to be silenced. What silences him? Images of morning stars and heavenly beings rejoicing in God’s glory. It’s grace that silences Job. He understands it in the context of creation, and Job certainly is part of that creation. God created us; we don’t get to create God. It’s God’s wisdom, knowledge and love that Job witnesses in the silence. God is present in all of creation. God is present in us, God’s children. And — and — God is present in all things. In joy. And in suffering. And God holds it and us eternally. The more we strive, the more we understand God’s grace in our lives and in this world. The more we work, the more we understand God’s love in our lives and in this world.. The more we stop and simply listen, the more we understand God’s presence in our lives and in this world.