Job 31:35-37; 38:1-11, 25-27
(watch here: https://youtu.be/_E6dKJAv_xY)
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!
Surely I would carry it on my shoulder;
I would bind it on me like a crown;
I would give him an account of all my steps;
like a prince I would approach him.
Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind:
‘Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
Gird up your loins like a man,
I will question you, and you shall declare to me.
‘Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone
when the morning stars sang together
and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?
‘Or who shut in the sea with doors
when it burst out from the womb?—
when I made the clouds its garment,
and thick darkness its swaddling band,
and prescribed bounds for it,
and set bars and doors,
and said, “Thus far shall you come, and no farther,
and here shall your proud waves be stopped”?
‘Who has cut a channel for the torrents of rain,
and a way for the thunderbolt,
to bring rain on a land where no one lives,
on the desert, which is empty of human life,
to satisfy the waste and desolate land,
and to make the ground put forth grass?’
Our reading for this morning reminds me of the one about a man who was walking along a California beach and was in deep prayer when all of a sudden he said aloud, “Lord grant me one wish.” The sky clouded and a booming voice said, “Because you have tried to be faithful I will grant you one wish.” The man said, “Build me a bridge to Hawaii so I can drive over any time I want to.” The Lord answered, “Your request is very materialistic. Think of the logistics of that kind of undertaking; the supports required to reach the bottom of the Pacific Ocean ;the concrete and steel it would take. I can do it, but it is hard for me to justify your desire for worldly things. Take a little more time to think of another wish, one that will honor and glorify me.” After thinking long and hard, he finally said, “Lord, I wish that I could understand women. I want to know what they feel inside, what they’re thinking, why they cry, what they mean when they say ‘nothing,’ and how I can make a woman truly happy.” After a few minutes the Lord said, “Ok, so how many lanes do you want on that bridge?”
AH-HA! So God does answer prayer after all! Well, I can’t blame him for answering that man’s prayer for an easier access to paradise in this world. Having been to Hawaii twice in my life–once to get married and have our honeymoon and another to celebrate our 10-year anniversary–I can attest to the sheer beauty of that island. But boy, that flight is a bear! I can empathize with that man’s desire for an easier, if not shorter, way to get there whenever he wants. I, too, would love a nice, long bridge to meander down whenever I felt the need for a tropical paradise. Come on, God…make it happen!
Well, God answering that man’s prayer is not unlike God finally answering Job’s prayer as we heard in our reading for this morning. For 37 chapters, we’ve had to endure walking with Job as his world turned upside down. Ever since his livestock and children were taken away from him in the opening chapter, Job’s suffering was relentless as he lost his health, the support of his wife and friends, his understanding of God’s justice and fairness, and almost his sanity. Job suffered a lot, more than a lot of people, and for what? Because of a simple bet God and Satan over whether Job would renounce his faith in God’s grace and mercy. But for Job, it never really was about his faith in God being tested. No, Job never really considered cursing God and renouncing his faith despite his wife’s suggestion. What Job ultimately wanted was merely an answer to why he was suffering. “Why, oh God, why must I suffer so much?! What have I done to deserve such suffering?!” Job clung to his faith in God’s justice and mercy, he just didn’t understand it. All he wanted was some clarity. Not justification, not vindication, not even an apology. No, all Job wanted was clarification–how does his suffering fit in God’s understanding of justice and mercy? Well, unfortunately, not all suffering fits within the concepts of justice and mercy. Or more accurately, not all suffering has to have a cause or a purpose. Some suffering exists beyond what’s right and wrong, fair and unfair. Some suffering is unjust and without mercy. Now does that mean God’s justice and mercy are limited? No, of course not, it simply means our understanding of their fullness is limited. We simply don’t know the mind of God and what He considers right and wrong, fair and unfair, and we’re fools to believe otherwise. Scripture reveals a lot about the mind of God but certainly not all. Revelations continue to be revealed and will continue being revealed until the end of time. But even time is a limited concept. God exists in and outside of time. Let’s just say the mind of God will be revealed to us for all of eternity…”to infinity and beyond” as our good friend, Buzz Lightyear, likes to say…
This is all to say that the suffering of the world is a great and profound mystery. Some of it can be explained or justified, a lot of it can’t, which makes it a great and profound mystery that only God can understand. That’s why we hear God questioning Job over and over again about mysteries that Job couldn’t possibly understand. The world is full of unexplainable, unjustifiable mysteries! God throws a number of them at Job, verse after verse through all of chapters 38 and 39 and 40 and 41…for FOUR chapters Job gets an earful from God about the mysteries of the world! Not as many as Job’s THIRTY-SEVEN chapters of giving God an earful but enough to get Job to stop his endless requests for understanding!
Now I know that for many, God’s 4-chapter response is somewhat dissatisfying, almost Socratic (answering a question with a question is like answering a mystery with several mysteries). But friends, that’s what a relationship with God is built on–faith. Mysteries help us in our faith. Mysteries are good for building faith. We will never fully know the mind of God and that’s okay. It is okay, friends, to not be God! Who gives God grace and mercy? When God makes mistakes, who forgives him? (I know, God never makes mistakes but go with me…) Who loves God the way He loves us? Even the most righteous among us can’t love him the way He loves us. Yes, friends, it’s quite alright not being God. Mysteries lead to faith which then lead to hope as we heard from Paul in his letter to the Romans. And hope, friends, is a great gift as we reflected on last week. Hope enables us to do so much, endure so much. What a great gift indeed!
Contrary to what some might believe, I think God’s 4-chapter response to Job is truly a perfect response in helping rebuild Job’s damaged faith. It has a very distinct purpose and is less Socratic than you might think. God answers Job’s prayer and request quite well…quite poetically…quite faithfully. Just as God answers ALL our prayers and requests well and faithfully. And we are affirmed in this belief from other equally powerful verses in Scripture. Jesus continually affirmed the faithfulness of the Father to both his disciples and us. In Mark, we hear him boldly proclaim, “So I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” (11:24) Believe, have faith, and your prayers will be answered one way or another. In John, we hear Jesus say, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” (15:7) If you welcome Jesus into your heart and into your life, he will go to work answering your prayers and requests. The Father works through both the Son and the Spirit to ensure his will is done. And we cling to Jesus’ most mighty words as heard in Matthew, “Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.” (7:7) Ask, seek, knock…prayers will be answered just as they were answered for Job. His damaged faith was rebuilt and he could finally get back to living.
We’ll end our walk with Job next week as we reflect on just how Job gets back to living. I struggle with the book’s conclusion and the false hope it can give some people. Is health and wealth always restored and can restored health and wealth fully replace what was lost? We’ll wrestle with these questions and more as we wrap up our journey next week. For now, we give thanks for God answering prayers well and faithfully. If only Job had lived in the time of the prophet Jeremiah, he would have heard the prophet wisely proclaim, “Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known” (33:3) Job could have anguished less over seeking understanding from God. He could have and would have sought comfort in the great words of David from his 37th psalm: “Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” (vs. 4) Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.