I Guess I was Wrong

Job 41:1-8 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

41 “Can you draw out Leviathan with a fishhook, or press down its tongue with a cord?

2  Can you put a rope in its nose, or pierce its jaw with a hook?

3  Will it make many supplications to you? Will it speak soft words to you?

4  Will it make a covenant with you to be taken as your servant forever?

5  Will you play with it as with a bird, or will you put it on leash for your girls?

6  Will traders bargain over it? Will they divide it up among the merchants?

7  Can you fill its skin with harpoons, or its head with fishing spears?

8  Lay hands on it; think of the battle; you will not do it again!

Job Is Humbled and Satisfied

42 Then Job answered the Lord: 

2  “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.

3  ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.

4  ‘Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you declare to me.’

5  I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you;

6  therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”

Job’s Friends Are Humiliated

7 After the Lord had spoken these words to Job, the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite: “My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends; for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. 8 Now therefore take seven bulls and seven rams, and go to my servant Job, and offer up for yourselves a burnt offering; and my servant Job shall pray for you, for I will accept his prayer not to deal with you according to your folly; for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has done.” 9 So Eliphaz the Temanite and Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite went and did what the Lord had told them; and the Lord accepted Job’s prayer.

Job’s Fortunes Are Restored Twofold

10 And the Lord restored the fortunes of Job when he had prayed for his friends; and the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before. 11 Then there came to him all his brothers and sisters and all who had known him before, and they ate bread with him in his house; they showed him sympathy and comforted him for all the evil that the Lord had brought upon him; and each of them gave him a piece of money and a gold ring. 12 The Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning; and he had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand yoke of oxen, and a thousand donkeys. 13 He also had seven sons and three daughters. 14 He named the first Jemimah, the second Keziah, and the third Keren-happuch. 15 In all the land there were no women so beautiful as Job’s daughters; and their father gave them an inheritance along with their brothers. 16 After this Job lived one hundred and forty years, and saw his children, and his children’s children, four generations. 17 And Job died, old and full of days.

+++

There is meme going around these days (ten years ago, it would have been on a poster) about ways to respond to new information.  

Important phrases we should all be willing to say as we learn and grow:

In light of that new information, I have changed my mind.

Oh, I didn’t know that before. I guess I was wrong.

From the evidence provided, it appears that I need to rethink things.

You make a strong argument; I”ll consider what you said.

I can’t support my opinion.  I don’t know why I think that.

I never thought of it that way. Thank you. Now I will.

Job finally says something similar to God: “Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.”

Job and his friends spend day after day trying to understand why Job is suffering.  His friends blame Job. Job vents his anger at God. 

One difference between Job and his friends is that Job has a relationship with God; he speaks directly to God. 

7:11“Therefore I will not restrain my mouth; I will speak in the anguish of my spirit; I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.

12  Am I the Sea, or the Dragon, that you set a guard over me?

13  When I say, ‘My bed will comfort me, my couch will ease my complaint,’ 14  then you scare me with dreams and terrify me with visions, 15  so that I would choose strangling and death rather than this body.

16  I loathe my life; I would not live forever.

Let me alone, for my days are a breath. 17  What are human beings, that you make so much of them, that you set your mind on them, 18 visit them every morning, test them every moment? visit them every morning, test them every moment?

Job speaks to God, and God speaks to Job. 

 In Chapters 3-37, the friends argue about God. Job, on the other hand, argues with God. But none of them finds a satisfactory answer. In Chapter 38, God steps in. 

In beautiful poetry, God reframes not only Job’s suffering, but the whole picture of creation.  

God begins: 

38:2  “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?

3  Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me. 

4  “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?

God describes example after example of God’s wisdom, knowledge and power and finishes with the Leviathan, the whale.

41 “Can you draw out Leviathan with a fishhook, or press down its tongue with a cord?

2  Can you put a rope in its nose, or pierce its jaw with a hook?

3  Will it make many supplications to you? Will it speak soft words to you?

4  Will it make a covenant with you to be taken as your servant forever?

5  Will you play with it as with a bird, or will you put it on leash for your girls?

6  Will traders bargain over it? Will they divide it up among the merchants?

7  Can you fill its skin with harpoons, or its head with fishing spears?

8  Lay hands on it; think of the battle; you will not do it again!

God makes it clear that God created more than humans.  God cares for more than humans. God created the entire universe.  God cares for the entire universe.

This is a hard lesson for us, hard to understand that we are not the only thing God loves.  Especially as Americans, we each see ourselves as the center of the universe. Everything revolves around us. Again, it is that famous American individualism, that frames our view of ourselves, of others, of God.  Job’s friends had much the same view. 

That is especially ironic in that we celebrate “liberty and justice for all.”

More and more, that phrase has manifested itself as “liberty and justice for me.”  The most obvious example has been presented to us via media interviews.  Typically, the scene is a crowd of some kind.  The reporter asks a person why they are not wearing a mask. The person responds, almost always emotionally, that it is their right to not wear a mask.  

This is a classic example of where politics contradicts Christianity.

Masks, as we know, are not worn to protect the wearer. They are worn to protect the people around the person.  Christianity is not about doing good works so that we find favor with God. Christianity is about doing good works because Jesus’ death on the cross freed us, not to give us a pass, but instead freed us to minister to all of our neighbors, even if we don’t know their names, even if without background checks. 

In a way, Job prefigures Jesus.  He was known for his kindness and caring toward the orphan, the widow, the disenfranchised.  He did not reach out to others to impress God or the community.  His largess was purely the way he lived his life, automatically, we might say. His only motive was to help, not to impress, not to get credit for being a good person.  He simply operated that way.

Still, Job, and especially his friends, are shocked that God would let Job suffer so deeply.  The friends think God is punishing Job. Job doesn’t believe that.  There is also the underlying assumption that God rewards us for our good deeds.  Does Job praise God, follow God, in hopes of a reward? When the Accuser, Satan, sets up the whole game with God, he claims that Job only loves God because God has been so good to him.  This assumes that God operates on a human level. How many of us hope to be rewarded or recognized for our good deeds.  Every time I give blood, I am rewarded with  a t-shirt or a gift card.  Every time a student turns in a worksheet, he is rewarded with a grade.  One of the reasons that online learning was a flop this spring was that there was no reward for doing the lessons.  No credit, not grade, no accountability.

God doesn’t reward us with food or shelter or good luck or good health because of our actions.  If that were true, many of us would have a lot less than we do. God provides for us because God loves us.  That is why God is often compared to a parent. Do you give your children birthday presents because they have performed a task for you or because you love them? 

After hearing directly from God, Job understands that he is not the center of God’s universe.  He acknowledges that he doesn’t know everything about God:

42 Then Job answered the Lord: 

2  “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.

3  ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. 4  ‘Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you declare to me.’ 5  I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; 6 therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”

Job repents without ever knowing why he has suffered.  That is a hard lesson. We know, because we’ve read the entire book from beginning to end, why Job suffers: it was a gamble, a bet, between God and Satan.  We do not know why we suffer.  We do know now, that God can suffer, too. God experienced the painful, humiliating suffering of being nailed to a cross, of being mocked, of being scorned.  We know that Jesus not only shares in our suffering, but beat it. Jesus beat death, Jesus was taken from that cross, embalmed, the whole works, and he came out as alive as you and I are right now. Furthermore, he returned to eternal life and has made it possible for us to join him in eternal life. 

There is no justice, no reward for suffering.  What we have instead is love. Through our lowest, ugliest times, we are loved.  As Christians, we are freed from sin and freed to express God’s love in our own words, and thoughts and actions.  Sometimes that means reframing the way we see things.  

In light of that new information, I have changed my mind.

Oh, I didn’t know that before. I guess I was wrong.

From the evidence provided, it appears that I need to rethink things.

You make a strong argument; I”ll consider what you said.

I can’t support my opinion.  I don’t know why I think that.

I never thought of it that way. Thank you. Now I will.

  “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.

3  ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.”

Amen.

Look Around You Job 38, 39

JOB MAINTAINS HIS INNOCENCE

31:35  O that I had one to hear me! (Here is my signature! Let the Almighty answer me!) O that I had the indictment written by my adversary! 36  Surely I would carry it on my shoulder; I would bind it on me like a crown; 37  I would give him an account of all my steps; like a prince I would approach him.

GOD ANSWERS JOB

38 Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind:

2  “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?

3  Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me.

4  “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?     Tell me, if you have understanding. 5  Who determined its measurements—surely you know!     Or who stretched the line upon it? 6  On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone 7  when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?

8  “Or who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb?— 9 when I made the clouds its garment, and thick darkness its swaddling band, 10  and prescribed bounds for it, and set bars and doors, 11  and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stopped’?

12  “Have you commanded the morning since your days began, and caused the dawn to know its place,  13  so that it might take hold of the skirts of the earth, and the wicked be shaken out of it? 14  It is changed like clay under the seal, and it is dyed like a garment. 15  Light is withheld from the wicked, and their uplifted arm is broken.

16  “Have you entered into the springs of the sea, or walked in the recesses of the deep?

 17  Have the gates of death been revealed to you, or have you seen the gates of deep darkness?

18  Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth? Declare, if you know all this.

19  “Where is the way to the dwelling of light, and where is the place of darkness, 20  that you may take it to its territory and that you may discern the paths to its home? 21  Surely you know, for you were born then, and the number of your days is great!

22  “Have you entered the storehouses of the snow, or have you seen the storehouses of the hail, 23  which I have reserved for the time of trouble, for the day of battle and war?

24  What is the way to the place where the light is distributed, or where the east wind is scattered upon the earth? 

25  “Who has cut a channel for the torrents of rain, and a way for the thunderbolt, 26  to bring rain on a land where no one lives, on the desert, which is empty of human life, 27  to satisfy the waste and desolate land, and to make the ground put forth grass? 28  “Has the rain a father, or who has begotten the drops of dew? 29  From whose womb did the ice come forth, and who has given birth to the hoarfrost of heaven? 30  The waters become hard like stone, and the face of the deep is frozen.

31  “Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades, or loose the cords of Orion? 32  Can you lead forth the Mazzaroth in their season, or can you guide the Bear with its children? 33  Do you know the ordinances of the heavens? Can you establish their rule on the earth?

34  “Can you lift up your voice to the clouds, so that a flood of waters may cover you? 35  Can you send forth lightnings, so that they may go and say to you, ‘Here we are’?

36  Who has put wisdom in the inward parts, or given understanding to the mind?

37  Who has the wisdom to number the clouds? Or who can tilt the waterskins of the heavens, 38  when the dust runs into a mass and the clods cling together?

39  “Can you hunt the prey for the lion, or satisfy the appetite of the young lions, 40  when they crouch in their dens, or lie in wait in their covert?

41  Who provides for the raven its prey, when its young ones cry to God, and wander about for lack of food?

+++

Job continues to declare his innocence: he has done nothing to deserve the incredibly miserable state of his life.  He has lost everything except his wife. He has lost all his livestock and, worse, his children.  Never does he blame God.  His friends spend hours trying to come up with an answer, a reason, an argument that shows Job deserves this misery.  They do not succeed in convincing Job.

God has not forgotten Job.  But he neither does he condone Job’s complaints. Instead, he helps Job to see the bigger picture.

Is that what we need right now?  To see the bigger picture? 

These past weeks have given us plenty of reason to complain. We’ve had plenty of causes to be afraid or angry. I can now put names to faces of people who have contracted the corona virus.  The niece of a friend has died. Her name is Abbie. Another friend had a terrible experience at the hospital.  Her name is Becca. Another friend is artificially paralyzed so his body doesn’t fight the treatment. His name is Zach and he is the father of five small children. Yes, plenty to be afraid of, plenty to worry about. 

Can we lift our heads and hearts enough to see the bigger picture?  Can we look up and see the whole Creation? Can we regain our perspective of our place in the universe, not as the center of the universe but as a part of the universe?

The world may seem like a place of chaos, but never forget that God is still in charge. God gives Creation the freedom to be the way it was created, wild and wonderful.  God created a universe that is more than a bed and breakfast, more than a shopping mall for humans.  Not everything was created to benefit the human species.  Much of Creation is pure amazement, pure delight.  These descriptions of Creation are some of the most beautiful words in the Bible. In Chapter 38, the physical earth is described.  In Chapter 39,  some of the wild creatures are held up:

MOUNTAIN GOATS AND DEER

39  “Do you know when the mountain goats give birth?     Do you observe the calving of the deer? 2  Can you number the months that they fulfill, and do you know the time when they give birth, 3  when they crouch to give birth to their offspring, and are delivered of their young? 4  Their young ones become strong, they grow up in the open; they go forth, and do not return to them.

THE WILD ASS

5 “Who has let the wild ass go free? Who has loosed the bonds of the swift ass, 6  to which I have given the steppe for its home, the salt land for its dwelling place? 7  It scorns the tumult of the city; it does not hear the shouts of the driver. 8  It ranges the mountains as its pasture, and it searches after every green thing.

THE WILD OX

9  “Is the wild ox willing to serve you? Will it spend the night at your crib? 10  Can you tie it in the furrow with ropes, or will it harrow the valleys after you? 11  Will you depend on it because its strength is great, and will you hand over your labor to it? 12  Do you have faith in it that it will return, and bring your grain to your threshing floor?

THE OSTRICH

13  “The ostrich’s wings flap wildly, though its pinions lack plumage. 14  For it leaves its eggs to the earth, and lets them be warmed on the ground, 15  forgetting that a foot may crush them, and that a wild animal may trample them. 16  It deals cruelly with its young, as if they were not its own; though its labor should be in vain, yet it has no fear; 17  because God has made it forget wisdom, and given it no share in understanding. 18  When it spreads its plumes aloft, it laughs at the horse and its rider.

THE HORSE

19  “Do you give the horse its might? Do you clothe its neck with mane? 20  Do you make it leap like the locust? Its majestic snorting is terrible. 21  It paws violently, exults mightily; it goes out to meet the weapons. 22  It laughs at fear, and is not dismayed; it does not turn back from the sword. 23  Upon it rattle the quiver, the flashing spear, and the javelin. 24  With fierceness and rage it swallows the ground; it cannot stand still at the sound of the trumpet. 25  When the trumpet sounds, it says ‘Aha!’      From a distance it smells the battle, the thunder of the captains, and the shouting.

THE EAGLE

26  “Is it by your wisdom that the hawk soars, and spreads its wings toward the south?

27  Is it at your command that the eagle mounts up and makes its nest on high? 28  It lives on the rock and makes its home in the fastness of the rocky crag. 29  From there it spies the prey; its eyes see it from far away. 30  Its young ones suck up blood; and where the slain are, there it is.” 

Even though people have domesticated camels and donkeys and oxen to work for them, there remain many animals who are not domesticated. Moving from the telescope to the microscope, there are many minute beings that have been tamed: the spores of mold have given us penicillin; the cells of plants have given us relief from pain. Yet there are many spores and cells that have not been domesticated.  COVID-19 is one of them.  Unlike the wild animals, which do us no harm, the virus is extremely dangerous. It cannot be seen like dust, nor heard like a siren, nor felt like a mosquito bite. Just as humans have always tried to tame the earth and the animals, we hear of scientists and doctors who are trying to tame this virus. Even though the weather cannot be tamed, we know meteorologists try to understand it and predict it. Likewise, we hear of scientist and doctors who are trying to understand the workings of the virus.

Like Job, we ask, “Why?” “Why this suffering?” “Why me?” “Why now?” God says, “Take your eyes off yourself for a minute. You are not the only piece of my Creation.” 

How does this apply in our suffering?  There are many people who have focused not on themselves, but on others. Doctors, nurses, scientists. Even ordinary citizens are looking beyond themselves to protect others by wearing masks, by washing their hands, by keeping their distance to avoid spreading these invisible pieces of illness, by changing their routines, by giving up on some of the pleasures of life. 

COVID-19 has dominated our thoughts, turned our heads and hearts toward fear.  Let us turn our thoughts to God, to what God has created for us. Let us turn our thoughts to God, who tells us not to fear. Let us turn our thoughts to God who defied God’s own Creation by conquering death through the Son, Jesus Christ. Let us remember that we are freed from sin to proclaim the Gospel, to live the Gospel in the name of Jesus Christ. Let us remember whose we are and what we are: the people of God, the bearers of the Good News of Jesus Christ.  Let us cling not to fear, but to the hope, nurtured in us through the power of the Holy Spirit. Let us be the ones to banish fear through our love for our neighbor.  Amen.