Sermon: "The Mystery Speaks Back," October 18, 2015 Rev. Ryan Slifka

Job 38:1-11, 16-18

This service was centered on Job 38:1-7 and 34-41, and is the third part of our sermon series “In to the Mystery” on the Book of Job. In this chapter we are taken into the heart of the mystery of God. After being silent throughout the dialogues between Job and his friends, God finally speaks to Job out of the whirlwind. God does not answer questions about Job's guilt or innocence, but speaks about the created order and questions the limits of human knowledge.

The book of Job is Wisdom Literature found in the Old Testament.  Job is a good and pious man who suffers unbearable tragedies, and he and his friends try to figure out why such disasters should happen to him. Job is often considered in relation to human suffering, and is considered a theodicy—a reflection on the problem of evil.

 William Blake, "The Lord Answers Job Out of the Whirlwind," 1805.

William Blake, "The Lord Answers Job Out of the Whirlwind," 1805.

For those of you who were not here the last few weeks. Or those who were, but are in need of a refresher, here’s what’s gone on for our main guy Job so far. Job is a good man, maybe the best, most upright honest, most righteous man on the face of the earth. And Job has everything anyone could ever ask for. Great guy. Awesome life. Dream family. But then tragedy blows through Job’s life like a hurricane. It blows apart the family business. Carries away his wealth. And takes his beautiful family away from him. And if that’s not bad enough, it robs him of his health. Job is inflicted with leprosy, a terrible contagious skin disease that drives everyone away from him. This good man, this righteous man. This successful man. Loses it all in one fell swoop.

Job is a good man. The story says he’s the most righteous man in the whole near east. So the space between the beginning of the story and where we’ve come to this morning—chapter thirty eight—is pretty much Job’s search for an answer to “why?” Why did all of this happen to me?

Job gathers his friends at the Tim Horton’s to hear their perspectives. But the answers don’t satisfy. “You must have done something to deserve it, they say.” Or “the Lord never gives us more than we can handle.”  And then Job looks out on the world and sees evil prosper and get off scot free. While those who do good, like him, are made to suffer cruel fates. The answer the world gives is that there is no answer. No answer to his question at all.

There’s no one else to turn to.  No one else to turn. Nowhere else to turn but outward. So he turns to God for the truth.

Be careful what you wish for. Because after radio silence for thirty-eight chapters, God finally shows up. Not as we might expect. In a beautiful sunset. Or in a baby’s laugh. No, God tears into the stage. In a whirlwind. God bursts forth in a hurricane. And out of the hurricane comes God’s answer.

And the answer that God gives isn’t what any of us might expect, either. “Then the Lord,” it says, “the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind. Who is this,” God asks, “that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, Job, and you shall declare to me.” “Who the do you think you are, Job?” God essentially asks. “Now pull up your diaper because I’ve got some questions I wanna ask you.”

Where were you, Job, at the big bang? When the whole universe was set in to motion?

Can you seed the clouds? Can you send rain on the parched dry ground with a word? 

How about this whole cycle of life? Do you have the means to sustain the creatures of the earth who call out for food?

God just keeps going on and on. We didn’t read it, but there’s two whole chapters of this. “Where were you…?” “Can you do this…?” “What do you know?” God pounds Job with one question after the other, proving that Job really doesn’t know much at all. Job isn’t much at all.

It’s not quite the way I’d approach a grieving person looking for answers. I’ll admit, if God were studying at the same place I did to become a pastor, he’d probably fail in terms of empathy and bedside manner.

Because in the face of Job’s loss, his suffering, and his pain. The injustice of it all. Job comes looking for an answer, and God responds with an inquisition. In comparison to the creation of stars and far-flung galaxies, the raw forces of nature, the complexity and the diversity of the earth’s natural systems. In the light of them all, Job problems, Job’s losses, and his suffering seem unimportant. It makes him and his life pretty insignificant. Irrelevant in light of the vastness of it all. Job thought the world revolved around him, but God shows Job the big picture of things. And Job doesn’t even show up as a speck of dust in the corner of the frame.

And this is how our own lives can feel. Like Job’s. Insignificant in the big picture of the universe.

When the book of Job was written, Job’s universe seemed a lot smaller than our own. It was just pretty much the earth framed by the dome of the sky. And Job felt small then. Now, things are even bigger. And we seem even smaller. The Hubble Space telescope has shown us images of multiple galaxies containing billions of stars. If there’s an end to the universe, we can’t see it. I remember going for a guided tour at the Vancouver Aquarium with my antsy children, and the tour guide said that we’ve only explored less than five percent of the world’s oceans. We don’t even fully comprehend the mysteries of our own world, let alone the rest of our solar system, galaxy, universe. Our best estimates peg the earth and our universe at more than thirteen billion years old. But we’ve only been around for about two-hundred-thousand. We’re a blip on the cosmic radar.

In the big picture of things, what do our lives really matter? What does my lost job, my lost friend, my struggle to make ends meet, my striving to do the right thing at home and at work matter? What does my pain and suffering matter in the vastness of the universe? What do refugees feeling their homes, or children who go without food or medicine half way around the world matter? In the grand scheme of things? Where’s the justice? Where’s the compassion? Where is the truth, where is the beautiful, where is the good?

In the face of it all we can be made to feel so small. What’s it matter what we do with our lives in the end?

Small, insignificant specks in a much larger universe. If we look at our lives in comparison, it’s hard to see importance. Or meaning. Or whether or not the pain and suffering in our own lives, and in the life of the world mean anything. Or matter at all. In the grand scheme of things.

But the amazing thing about this story is that Job got an answer at all. The mystery spoke back. Job might not have been able to figure out what it was trying to say. But there was a voice to answer. One that asked him questions about himself. And his place in the world.

And that’s really what God’s questions to Job are about: his place, where he fits in to the world. Because you see, when Job lost everything, he’d thought that his story was the only story out there. When his children died. When he lost his money. When he lost his health. He knew he’d done everything right. But it all came crashing down any way. Who he was, the story of his life didn’t make sense any more. His story just didn’t fit.

But when God speaks out of the whirlwind, maybe Job doesn’t get the answer he was looking for. Or hoping for. But in all of these questions that God asks of him, God is inviting him to see his life differently. The only story Job can see is the story of loss and pain, injustice and futility. But God invites him into a much larger story. One that begins with the creation of the world, and one that encompasses every inch of the universe. And every living thing. One that stretches from the darkest recesses of the universe to the deepest anguish inside of our souls.

And this is what I think we’re trying to do as a community of faith. Together, we’re trying to find our place in this much larger story. We're invited to see our lives, small as they may be, as part of a larger story. A story that not only encompasses the good in our lives, but one that is so big that it can hold—and even heal—the tragedies in our world and the pain in our lives for which we, like Job, have no answer. Like Jesus’ arms stretched out on the cross, open to embrace and love the world even in its worst brokenness and its pain.

The point of God’s questions aren’t supposed to put Job in place. No, they tell Job he has a place. That we have a place. And it’s in the unlimited, gracious, mysterious embrace of a loving God. Our lives are not insignificant. No, they are eternally significant. Because our stories are no longer our own. The same whirlwind who calls Job into a bigger story calls us into a story as big as creation itself. One as old as time. One as contemporary as here and now.

Yes, guests and friends alike. The love that that hung the stars in the sky, is the same love that hold will hold you in your moments of darkness. The love that sends the rains to water the earth and winds to sweep away the sands, is the same love that can bring you mysterious new beginnings. The love that sustains the smallest beetle to the biggest whale is the same love that heals human hearts, and has the power to heal the brokenness in our lives. And our world.

Our stories are part of a much bigger story. Our lives belong to God. They belong to God. And thank God for that. AMEN.