October 17th 2021 homily on Job 38 by Pastor Galen
The 2003 comedy film Bruce Almighty featured Jim Carey as Bruce Nolan, a television reporter who was fired for unleashing an angry tirade on live T.V. after he was passed over for a promotion to news anchor. Following a series of misfortunes, Bruce takes his anger out on God (played by Morgan Freeman), complaining that “He’s the one that should be fired” because of all the bad things that God was allowing to happen in Bruce’s life.
God then offers Bruce the opportunity to try being God himself for one week, which Bruce jubilantly accepts. At first he is excited when he realizes that he can use his newly acquired powers for personal gain, but it’s not too long before things get out of hand and Bruce learns just how difficult it is to run the world. For example, Bruce sets up an automated system to respond “yes” to every prayer that people pray because he is overwhelmed with all of the requests coming in (even though he’s only receiving the prayers from people in his section of the city – not all around the world!) But this backfires when everyone who prayed that they would win the lottery become winners – thus making everyone’s winnings worthless – and they start rioting in the streets.
In the end Bruce is all too happy to turn his powers back over to God and let God run the world, even if it’s not exactly the way Bruce would have it be run.
This week as I’ve been reflecting on the story of Job, I realized that Job and his friends learned a similar lesson, albeit in a very different way. In our Scripture lesson this morning from Job 38, God says (in essence) to Job: there’s so much about the world, so much about the universe, and what I do, that you could never understand. Job and his friends are humbled through this, and learn an important lesson.
Recap of Job
If you remember from the past couple of weeks, when we first met Job in chapter 1 he was a very wealthy and prosperous family man, who lost everything he had in one fell swoop. His wealth, his children, his servants, even his health were taken from him. Job went from being the “greatest man in the east” (Job 1:17) to being a topic of scorn and derision in the town (see Job 19:13-18). Although distraught, Job’s initial response was to say that everything he had came from God in the first place, so God had the right to take away whatever God wanted.
But then several of Job’s colleagues came to try to comfort him in his suffering. They sat with him in silence for 7 days and 7 nights, after which Job started to open up to them about how he really felt. He said that things were so bad, he wished he had never been born, and he wondered why he was experiencing all of this terrible suffering.
One of Job’s friends spoke up and said the answer was obvious. Obviously, Job, you must have done something wrong, and God is punishing you. But Job is certain that he is innocent – he’s done nothing wrong to deserve the terrible suffering he is enduring, and he believes that God is treating him unfairly. Another one of Job’s friends says, well perhaps your kids did something wrong. Just cry out to God, and surely God will forgive you. Job’s 3rd friend says that surely Job must have messed up really badly, and he should just be glad God isn’t giving him the punishment he really deserves!
And Job and his friends argue back and forth like this for 36 chapters. Things get rather heated at times. There’s sarcasm, exaggeration. They tell each other to be quiet and just to stop talking, but they keep talking anyway. And throughout all of this, they don’t make Job feel any better. The spiritual and religious condemnation that Job receives from his friends only exacerbates his physical pain and emotional suffering.
No doubt blaming Job for his troubles made his friends feel better about themselves. If Job was to blame for what he was going through, then they must be pretty righteous, because their health and finances were doing just fine.
When Life is Good
It’s easy for us to think this way when life is good. We look around and see the suffering in the world, and we’re sad, and maybe even moved. But secretly we’re just glad it’s not happening to us. And internally we think “I must be doing something right! Go me! I’ve worked hard for what I’ve attained. I have made some pretty good decisions in my life. Those people who are suffering over there – they must have made some bad decisions. They must have taken some risks, or maybe they weren’t following the guidelines, and that’s why they ended up sick, or imprisoned, or out on the streets.”
It’s so easy for us to fall into this line of thinking when things are going well for us. It’s so easy for us to fall into judgemental thinking, and feelings of superiority. For Job’s friends, believing that he was to blame allowed them to distance themselves from the suffering that he was enduring. By convincing themselves that Job must have done something wrong to deserve what he was going through, they were able to carry on with their belief that the world is basically fair, that people generally get what they deserve.
Life Isn’t Fair
But Job was convinced that he was innocent. And plus, he says, all you have to do is look around and you can see that sometimes people do horrendous things and get away with them.
In The Message paraphrase of Job 21, Job says it this way,
Naively you claim that the castles of tyrants fall to pieces, that the achievements of the wicked collapse. Have you ever asked world travelers how they see it? Have you not listened to their stories Of evil men and women who got off scot-free, who never had to pay for their wickedness? Did anyone ever confront them with their crimes? Did they ever have to face the music? Not likely—they’re given fancy funerals with all the trimmings, Gently lowered into expensive graves, with everyone telling lies about how wonderful they were (Job 21:27-33).
Most likely, before Job had experienced tragedy and loss in his life, he probably felt the same way his friends did – that people who experienced suffering must have done something wrong to deserve it. But after going through his own experience of tragedy and loss, the world seemed so much more erratic and unpredictable to Job. He wasn’t willing to settle for pat answers and simplistic responses.
Job now saw that everything was not so cut-and-dried. Sometimes bad things happen to good people, and sometimes good things happen to bad people. Job was learning a lesson that many of us probably tell our children and grandchildren all the time when they complain to us – that life isn’t fair.
But Job, believing that everything he had experienced in life came directly from God, could only conclude then that God wasn’t fair. God must not be the just judge that Job had always believed God to be.
Is God to Blame?
Many of us can probably relate. If and when we experience tragedy and loss in our lives, we’re forced to grapple with some hard questions. It’s easy to believe that life is fair when things are going well. But then we end up enduring hardship ourselves, and the answer doesn’t seem so easy. For my wife and I, this happened for us 14 years ago, when we experienced the loss of our second child. For us, losing our child, who only lived for 30 minutes, caused us to question everything we thought we knew about God, and the world. We experienced an incredible season of doubt, and grief and mourning. And in many ways, our lives have never been the same ever since.
Maybe that happened for you when you lost a parent or child or close family member, or when you were experiencing chronic physical pain, or financial difficulty, or a broken relationship, or any number of other tragedies or losses that caused you to question everything you thought you ever knew about God, or the world.
In situations like that, well-meaning friends or loved ones try to console us, like Job’s friends did, by telling us things like, “well, everything happens for a reason!” or “God has a plan – just trust God!” But those sorts of responses, while they may cause momentary solace, can often create distance between us and God. We begin to view God as detached, cold, and uncaring, separated from our pain and suffering. Orchestrating events in our lives only for God’s will and pleasure, without any concern as to how we feel.
Let God Be God
At one point in the arguments between Job and his friends, Job wishes aloud that he could just talk directly to God and plead his case before the Lord. Then surely it would be revealed that God has been unfair to him.
And God does indeed eventually show up. In chapter 38, God speaks to Job out of a whirlwind:
“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? “Can you lift up your voice to the clouds, so that a flood of waters may cover you? Can you send forth lightnings, so that they may go and say to you, ‘Here we are’? Who has put wisdom in the inward parts, or given understanding to the mind? Who has the wisdom to number the clouds? Or who can tilt the waterskins of the heavens, when the dust runs into a mass and the clods cling together? “Can you hunt the prey for the lion, or satisfy the appetite of the young lions, when they crouch in their dens, or lie in wait in their covert? Who provides for the raven its prey, when its young ones cry to God, and wander about for lack of food? (Job 38:4-7, 34-41).
And this goes on for several more chapters, with God recounting all of the ways in which God is keeping the universe intact. The point being that there is so much that we don’t know, so much that we could never comprehend as humans about the way the world works, and why God does what God does.
What if God answered every single prayer that we ever prayed “yes,” as Bruce Almighty tried to do? What if every football team that everyone prayed for won? What if God gave you every car or house or possession you’ve ever asked for, or if God gave you every single thing you ever thought you wanted or needed? We could never know the ramifications of these requests, and what would have happened if God always gave us what we asked for.
We can’t always know why God does or does not answer our prayers in the way we always want. But as we gaze around at the complexity of the world around us, the appropriate response is to be glad that we are not the ones in charge. Our lives are complex enough as it is, imagine if we had to try to fix everyone else’s problems! Imagine if all of the problems of the world were resting upon our shoulders. There’s no way we could ever begin to handle it.
So this morning, I encourage us to let God be God. The world is so much more complex that we could ever think or imagine. Let us do our part to pursue peace and justice and righteousness in the world. But let’s let God be God, and let us trust that God is working for our good, even when it’s difficult for us to see.