God’s on The Hook: A Sermon on God’s Speeches in the Book of Job

We’ve spent two weeks now in the Book of Job.  We’ve spent some time with Job’s friends in the first week and took apart their accusations and why they would jump to such extravagant conclusions about Job’s life.  Then last week we spent some time with Job and asked questions like what does it mean to suffer and why we can’t accept suffering as real life and move on.  We always try and explain away our suffering as to feel like we are in some type of control.  This week we are jumping into God’s speeches.

God speaking is a pretty big deal.  Some scholars are so amazed that God actually pipes up and speaks at all, so much so that they barely pay attention to what he says.  They say that just the very fact of him speaking satisfies the deepest desires of Job.  We won’t stop there.  We will assume that because it is in there that his actual words have something for us to understand.  God’s speeches are split up into two different ones with a small part by Job in the middle of the two.  The first speech emphasizes God’s plan and as it evolves it gives meaning to all of God’s creative work and then second speech shows of God’s justice in how he runs the world.  The author of Job saves his best writing for God’s speeches.  This is considered beautiful poetry in the Hebrew language.  In his two speeches, God doesn’t even respond to Job’s questions.  He doesn’t bring up his problems, or pity him, or acknowledge any of the brutal things that has happened to him.  God opens up his speech with:

Who is this that darkens my counsel
with words without knowledge?
Brace yourself like a man;
I will question you,
and you shall answer me.

God instantly accuses Job of having no knowledge and starts right in on the offensive.  God doesn’t respond to anything that Job asks.  Not a single thing.  So much for the idea of prayer or speaking to God, right?  We think that praying or begging God for an answer works, but we might not get anything in terms of what we are actually asking.  We might just get God showing up.  Are we happy with that?  Is Job happy with that?  When we pray, when we are suffering and we beg of God for answers, we beg that God tells us what is going on and especially why things are happening, are we ok when he changes the subject?  In this case, God gives no answer of sort.  The only thing remotes helpful is he actually shows up.  Sometimes this just isn’t good enough for us.  We don’t want God to just show up.  We want answers.  As if God knew what we were thinking.  He dives right into his assault:

Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
Tell me, if you understand.

Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
Who stretched a measuring line across it?

On what were its footings set,
or who laid its cornerstone-

while the morning stars sang together
and all the angels shouted for joy?

Who shut up the sea behind doors
when it burst forth from the womb,

when I made the clouds its garment
and wrapped it in thick darkness,

when I fixed limits for it
and set its doors and bars in place,

when I said, ‘This far you may come and no farther;
here is where your proud waves halt’?

God, or Yahweh, starts going through the initial stages of creation giving us different pictures of what that would look like.  He starts to show Job through his questions that his troubles mean nothing in terms of the brilliant governance and creation of the world that he is in.  See Job doubted God.  He doubted that God was consistent in managing the world in righteousness.  So God asks him if he really knows what he is talking about.    He asks him as if Job was there at the beginning.  He reminds Job that his plan has its origin in the gratuitousness of creative love.  However, from the Hebrew Bible perspective, wisdom was God’s sole companion at the creation of the world.  So Job lacks useful knowledge of anything that God is talking about.  So he can’t really answer God at all.  God is full of beautiful imagery of how the world was created and how he keeps sustaining it.

Not only did God plan everything, the world, the skies, the water. He also made sure that everything was created and held into place according to that plan.  It certainly wasn’t Job that did all that.  Did Job even help with laying the cornerstone?  Did he cut the opening ceremonies ribbon?  Since no human was there, humankind as a whole is left in the dark about how the universe really works and was created.  Job is in no place to answer any of these questions by God.  So we have Job who has just suffered the most extraordinary of bad circumstances and then God finally shows up on scene, tells Job to give it his best shot, and using hyperbole launches into a full out show-off attack.  Here is God, who didn’t seem to have any problems with volunteering Job for the worst of circumstances and now he just wants to make a point about how great he is?

How do you feel about God’s response so far?  Is it cold and callous or does it speak to God’s bigness and supreme reign over humanity?

David Bazan thinks it is cold and callous, in his song “In Stitches” his final verse is:

When Job asked you the question
You responded who are you
To challenge your creator
Well if that one part is true
It makes you sound defensive
Like you had not thought it through
Enough to have an answer
Or you might have bit off more than you could chew.

I think that what was going on here isn’t so much God showing off without any care for Job or what he’s going for.  I also don’t think it’s simply God changing the subject completely ignoring what’s happening telling him to suck it up.  I don’t think Bazan is right in calling God defensive either.  What I think is going on here is God is setting people in their place.  He comes onto the scene after over 30 chapters of whining, accusations, complaining, questioning God’s wisdom and character and depression.  He just wants to set the record straight that none of them really have any clue what they are talking about.  The very fact that God comes in and speaks tells me that no one is really doing a good job in speaking on behalf of him at all. Job hadn’t sinned, and God was confirming that by not even once bringing anything up.  At the very least, Job hadn’t sinned nearly enough to elicit a response from God about it directly.  Job’s friends obviously didn’t get it either, because God doesn’t even acknowledge their existence at all yet.  The text says that God answered Job, no one else.

God is responding to this deep sense of selfishness and self-entitlement that Job and his friends all seem to have.  Job and his friends had this idea that the world was created for them and no one else.  If you have this belief, then you believe that everything around you is for your immediate use.  They thought that they knew the reason it was created and if they knew the reason then they assume they know the specific path it is supposed to take.  The problem lies with the fact that they did not understand how it all started, like they thought they did.  If they don’t know how and why it is all there, then they certainly have no idea what the path it is going to take will be.

Like we talked about in the first week.  They thought creation existed for them.  Since they thought they knew how it started they assumed that they way it worked was according to retribution theology, good things happen to good people, bad things happen to bad people.  God steps up and criticizes that entire way of thinking.  He says look, you have no idea how this all started, so you certainly don’t know how it’s going to end and you absolutely don’t know all the steps in between.

“What God is criticizing here is every theology that presumes to pigeonhole the divine action in history and gives the illusory impression of knowing it in advance.”
– Gustavo Gutierrez

This book, we can pressume from how God answers, is not a lesson in how to suffer and come out on top.  This isn’t facing into the problem of evil in the world.  For all the messages we’ve heard how Job is a book about the problem of evil, the problem of suffering, or why do bad things happen to good people I don’t know if they have done us much good in helping us understand what God is saying.  Here we are at the end of the book, God has spoken and he hasn’t dealt with any of these issues at all.  Instead he faces right into the idea that we can know anything at all about the ways that God works.  We don’t, so stop pretending.  We cannot lay hands on God and try to fit him into our narrow way of thinking.  We cannot imprison him into our ignorant theological concepts.  He asks, do we really want to make ourselves the judge of his actions?  In that kind of universe, where the creation can limit and constrain God’s action, God would not be God.  This is how they saw absolutely everything, everything had an answer, everything was reduced to cause and effect.

“The revelation of God’s plan, when received with good judgment, will show Job that the doctrine of retribution is not the key to understanding the universe; this doctrine can give rise only to a commonplace relationship of self interest with God and others.  The reason for believing “for nothing” — the theme set at the beginning of the book–is the free and gratuitous initiative taken by divine love.”
– Gustavo Gutierrez

For nothing.  This is the part of this quote we need to take apart for a little bit.  This is what God seems to be saying in his speeches.  So no matter what questions Job and his friends asked.  They didn’t get answers.  They were told instead that the world does not turn and move on their questions and it does not behave the way that they expected.  Instead, the world was created because God loves it, and God loves us.  That is the purpose of the entire creation.  God created it because he loves it and finds pleasure in it.  He doesn’t create it to enact retribution laws throughout it.  The world is not about laws and having to work and move in a certain way.  Can you even fathom a world where things happen in it and you aren’t there?  God can.

Who cuts a channel for the torrents of rain,
and a path for the thunderstorm,

to water a land where no man lives,
a desert with no one in it,

to satisfy a desolate wasteland
and make it sprout with grass?

In ancient culture, rain was directly related to being cursed or being blessed.  If you got rain you were being blessed.  If you didn’t you were getting cursed.  However, God is stomping all over this way of thinking.  The world doesn’t work that way.  To prove it he says why in the world would it rain where there is no one?  Why?  Cause God loves it.  God wants it to.  It has nothing to do with you.  You aren’t even in the picture.  How selfish you are to think that it only rains just to bless you.  It’s raining everywhere, all the time, and for no reason at that.  The world doesn’t revolve around humanity and what it’s needs are.  The world revolves around God’s never-ending, forever gracious love.

“Not everything that exists was made to be directly useful to human beings; therefore, they may not judge everything from their point of view.  The world of nature expresses the freedom and delight of God in creating.  It refuses to be limited to the narrow confines of the cause-effect relationship.”
– Gustavo Gutierrez

God starts listing example after example of things that have nothing to do with humans.  He gives examples of things that make no sense at all.

The wings of the ostrich flap joyfully,
but they cannot compare with the pinions and feathers of the stork.

She lays her eggs on the ground
and lets them warm in the sand,

unmindful that a foot may crush them,
that some wild animal may trample them.

She treats her young harshly, as if they were not hers;
she cares not that her labor was in vain,

for God did not endow her with wisdom
or give her a share of good sense.

Yet when she spreads her feathers to run,
she laughs at horse and rider.

He spends a bunch of verses here expounding on the stupidity of an ostrich.  The ostrich makes no sense.  God says it doesn’t have to.  He made it and he loves it and the ostrich loves it.  What else could you ask for.  Stop needing to make sense of everything.  God expresses full delight in the world because he made it.  It rains on no one and it rains on nothing; it doesn’t need necessity because it just pleases God.  Utility is not the primary reason for God’s action.  It doesn’t need to make any practical sense.  Yet we seem to try to fit all God’s actions into our theological constructs and refuse to seek him outside of them.  We want answers to our questions.  Why is their evil?  Why am I suffering?  Why did she turn into this?  Why did this happen?  We don’t think outside of that.  We think that because evil exists, there must be a reason for it, and that we must know what it is.  Our theology tells us that God is good, and if that is true, our theology also tells us that there are good reasons for all these things that have happened.  They don’t exist so we make them up.  We say that God must be teaching us a lesson.  Or God is trying to strengthen us for the next hardship.  Or God is building up our character to be a better person.  We have so many reasons as to why everything happens.  One thing we are unwilling to do, at any time though for some reason is to make the obvious observation that God just straight up caused all this grief for no reason.

Think about it.  Let’s just read this part of the story together.

Then the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.”

“Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied.  “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land.  But stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.”

The LORD said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your hands, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.”

Then Satan went out from the presence of the LORD.

God totally sets up on Job, and it doesn’t even look like he has a reason.  Then to top it all off, after Satan goes out and kills everyone the story happens all over again and this time Satan gets to attach his body.  Thanks God.  After all this, you don’t even have the decency to give some explanation why you did these things.

Why did God allow this?  Is God directly responsible for the evil in Job’s life?

If he is responsible, we want to give him a reason.  If he’s not responsible we have to explain why he is not.  It seems to me that God doesn’t want off the hook for the evil.

“The point is this: if God seems to be in no hurry to make the problem of evil go away, maybe we shouldn’t be, either.  Maybe our compulsion to wash God’s hands for him is a service he doesn’t appreciate.  Maybe–all theodicies and nearly all theologians to the contrary–evil is where we meet God.  Maybe he isn’t bothered by showing up dirty for his dates with creation.  Maybe–just maybe –if we ever solved the problem, we’d have talked ourselves out of a lover….God neither apologizes nor explains, and he certainly makes no effort to solve the problem of evil for them.  He just goes on arranging rendezvous after disreputable rendezvous, no matter how little anyone thing of his choice of trysting places.”
– Robert Capon

Are we ok with allowing God to be the source and the reason for evil like in this story without trying to make it something else? Should Job have been OK with everything that has happened?  I don’t think he had to be OK with it, but eventually, to be part of this world, we need to learn what it means to give up ourselves to something else.  To be in a relationship with a creator that we can’t understand, sometimes we have to give up on what we think we know, or what we want to know.

“And what is love if it is not the indulgence of the ultimate risk of giving one’s self to another over whom we have no control?”
– Robert Capon

God is really not interested in cleaning up our stories.  He seems ok with it all being put back on his plate.  He seems like he wants to take the blame.  This isn’t really something that we should avoid.  We need to give it to him and let it rest on his plate.  The problem of every evil thing that happens in the world isn’t our fault.  So back to God’s response.  What he does want us to know, is that he is interested in being in love with his creation.  He created it.  He holds it all together.  He wants Job to know that he is in absolute love and is completely pleased with everything he is done including creating Job.  He is not regretting his decisions.  This makes it difficult for us.  This means that we are kind of stuck in this weird paradox of wanting and crying out for justice and wanting what is right and knowing that God also wants justice and wants what is right and in the same breath realizing that God is seemingly doing nothing about it.

Eventually we will see.  If God tells enough stories, maybe then we will realize that he doesn’t work even remotely like we imagined or thought.  The entire story of the Bible is completely opposite to where we would like to land.  Capon tries to explain it a bit using 1 and 2 Kings.

If you look at the author of 1 and 2 Kings, we an see that there was a theologian at work here trying to make a statement.  He didn’t just want to tell you what happened, but he had a theological understanding that the reason the history of God’s people went so badly was because their kings constantly broke and transgressed the law.  The theory of the author worked for quite a while.  You start with Eli the priest and his disobedient sons, which then the Philistines defeated the people of Israel.  Next, God sent Samuel to clean things up but the people pushed their way into needing a King.  Neither God or Samuel wanted that to happen but let it happen anyway.  They get a King, and Saul disobeyed.  David on the other hand did pretty good, but then gave it to Solomon who royally screwed it up which eventually lead to the kingdom falling apart.

So the kingdom is split and both the northern and southern kingdoms are failing to listen to the law whatsoever.  Every king that he lists did exactly what they were not supposed to do, none of them were good.  So the author thinks, that if there was only one King that would come along and really keep the law, and do it well, then everything bad would stop happening and everything would be honky dory.  So finally, King Josiah, King of Judah steps into the mix.  He keeps every law that was ever made.  He purifies the temple and keeps the passover and kids out all the idols, laws that weren’t kept since before any king existed.

“Before him there was no king like him, who turned to the Lord with all his heart, with all his soul, and with all his might….nor did any like him arise after him.”
2 Kings 23:25

Then guess how the story ends?  Josiah dies in battle, slain by Pharaoh Neco of Egypt, who also takes over Jerusalem.  Then he gets taken over by Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon who then leads Israel into their time of exile.  Even the authors of the bible can’t wrap their heads around what is happening.  They are convinced God works one way.  Even when he doesn’t.  The author of Kings is at a lost, he hits a block in his writing for a little bit and then chooses to ignore it and goes right on writing again as if all it would take is a king to obey the law.  He’s desperately trying to make sense as to why in the world Israel would constantly find themselves getting destroyed, so he makes up a reason.

“Christian theologians who address themselves to the problem of evil should treat it as a mystery to be entered, not as a puzzle to be solved.”
-Robert Capon

We come to the same conclusion as a few weeks ago.  Instead of trying to answer and explain away everything that happens we need to be humbled.  This means that instead of trying to seek all the things that God does, why don’t we just seek God.  Job’s friends are determined to lay hands on God, instead of abandoning themselves to God’s embrace and God’s inconceivable way of doing things.

Jesus has a similar situation in Mark, where he seems to respond the same way as God does here.

Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”

“What do you want me to do for you?” he asked.

They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”

“You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?”

“We can,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.”

Mark 10

James and John are even a little more forthright than Job’s friends are.  They just say straight up: do whatever we want.  Jesus takes the same response as God.  Who do you think you are?  Do you even know what your asking?  Can you do what I’m doing?  Can you handle what I’m going to handle?  Then he goes off into a rant about being great and becoming a servant.

James and John are making the same mistake.  They think they are the center of the universe.  They think that nothing else matters but them.  In Job, God speaks of all the wonders of creation and nature and makes the gap larger than Job could comprehend.  They are different.  Job has no idea what is going on whatsoever.  In Mark, Jesus makes the gap just as large and I don’t really think James and John know what they are talking about.  They can’t do what he is doing or going to do.

What I love about both these passages is that neither Jesus nor God punishes or gets angry at Job, James or John for their questions.  The questions are allowed.  The lamenting is allowed.  They are allowed to be in their ignorance.  Job finds some type of freedom in his complaints and rebellion.  God doesn’t correct him, he simply puts him in his place.

You and I are indeed free to cry out, to lament, to scream-if need be. The God to whom we call does not ignore his dearly beloved creature. It is just that God refuses to be confined within to a system of predictable rewards and punishments. Jesus reminds us that “he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.” (Mt 5: 45)
– Gustavo Gutierrez

It is difficult, but we must resist simply becoming like Job’s friends and creating reasons that don’t exist and trying to put God into our box of explanations.  Remember that Job never finds out why he is suffering.  God never gives him an answer.  God is completely uninterested in why and it seems to be that he has no interest on whether or not we care about why either.  He doesn’t answer why but he does reassure that Job is not simply a prisoner of retribution theology or karma.  He reassures him, and puts Job’s friends into place, by reminding them that God doesn’t work in the ways we want him to.

God wants to move us to a place of admiration.  The best people that can teach theology are not those that try to argue for the faith or explain away every single detail of some systemic rant.  The best theologians just display what they know.  Remember the blind guy in John 9?  I don’t know any of the answers to the questions you are asking me.  But I do know this.  I once was blind, but now I see.  Look at God’s answers.  I am not going to give you any answers to the questions you are asking me but look at the waterfalls, and the animals and the seas and the beautiful creation which I keep in tact every day all day long.

(ht naked pastor)

We need to move from explanation to appreciation.  Admiration will truly set us free.  God knew this.  So he sets up the stage and performs and reminds Job of all the wonders of nature, which God created.  I can only show you this paradox that leaves you upset and wanting more.  I cannot give you anymore thing more than that.  This is what God leaves us with when we are presented with the problem of evil.  His wonderful and awe-inspiring image of creation and everything his hand can do, that ours can’t.  This isn’t to stop us from asking questions, this is to remind us that all the questions and answers we are dying for might not be as necessary to right now as we think.  We don’t stop asking questions, we just need to remember that we are no longer prisoner to the answers.

So when people are dying to know where you stand on the subject of secular music, or birth control, or abortion, or homosexuality.  You can exit that situation with having to worry about what the right answer or Christian answer is.  Your truths don’t rest in systemic theology of right and wrong answers.  Instead your truths are proclamations that once you were blind but now you see.

“We arrive in our several pulpits not as the bearers of proof but as the latest runners in a long relay race; not as savants with arguments to take away the doubts of the faithful but as breathless messengers.”
– Robert Capon

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