>The following was preached at Veedersburg and Hillsboro UMC on Sunday, October 18, 2009. The text for this week’s message is Job 38:1-7, 34-41.

We are now in our third week in the book of Job this month, and rapidly closing in on the end. Before we get into today’s passage, let’s take a couple minutes to review the story of Job to where we are right now.
Job is said to be the greatest man of all the people in the east. He is a very wealthy man, who has a lot of children. Job was also a very pious man. He sought after God and did his best to be a righteous man. Twice God lifts up Job as an example of a man who is blameless and upright. However, Job loses everything. In one day, he gets four messengers and suddenly, he has lost all his children and wealth. Shortly afterwards, Job himself is afflicted with sores from head to toe, and we see this once wealthy, powerful and respected man sitting in a pile of ashes, scratching his sores with the broken pottery from the garbage pile.
We talked about how important it is for us to realize that our relationship with God is not dependent on the things we own, the people we know, or how we feel on a given day. Our relationship with God is not based on our circumstances, but on whether or not we have put our faith in Jesus Christ.
Last week, we looked at Job’s friends who did the right thing by sitting with job while he was grieving, but then messed it all up by opening their mouths and trying to convince him to repent of some sin that, they thought, was clearly ruining his life. Job insisted on his innocence in the midst of everything that was going on. In his speech in Job 23, we see three key things that we often do when we are facing difficult times: we wear ourselves out looking for answers that are beyond where we are at the time; we begin to wish that we could talk with God face to face, which is a rare occurrence in history in the first place; and we often fail to see what God is doing all around us.
Job continues going around and around with his friends until we come to today’s passage, Job 38. In Job 38, God answers Job for the first time, and God’s response to Job is nothing like what Job expected, and it’s nothing like what we would expect as the reader. Job was probably expecting an opportunity to stand before God, plead his case, and then have everything restored. Job knew that he hadn’t sinned, and if he only had the opportunity to explain to God that God must have made some kind of mistake, then things would be back to the way they were. However, that is not what Job gets when God does respond. We’ll look at that in a minute, but first, let’s set the stage.
Job 29 begins what will be Job’s final defense. He begins by reflecting on his younger days. He remembers that there was a time when people actually listened to him and sought his counsel. He was a respected man among the people, and he stood up for the weak. We get the picture of Job as a person who really was blameless and upright, just as God said in the first two chapters. We have this picture of Job in mind when we get into chapter 30.
But, when we get to Job 30, the tone changes. It’s amazing the power of words sometimes. Job’s description of what his life was like draws you in, and his description of what is going on in chapter 30 just tears you apart. People no longer listen to his counsel. He is no longer a respected member of society. It is absolutely gut-wrenching to read what he is going through. He even accuses God of being cruel to him, tossing him about in the midst of these storms. It’s probably one of the more raw, emotional chapters in all of Scripture. And then God speaks. Finally, God responds to Job.
What is disappointing for us as we come to the text is the fact that when God finally does speak, we expect Him to answer Job. As the reader, that’s where we think the narrative is going. We almost are primed and ready to hear what it is that God would say in response to the problem of evil in this world. Why do bad things happen? However, we don’t get it. In fact, if you read through all of God’s speech found in Job 38, you won’t find a single reason for the suffering that Job has been going through. We start to see that maybe the book of Job isn’t about an answer to the problem of suffering in this world in the first place. What ends up getting addressed is just how small our understanding of God is in the first place.
You see, as much as we would like an answer to the problem of evil in the world, we don’t find it in Job. The book of Job approaches the question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” However, it never gives a final answer to the question. Because, as we start to see, 38 chapters into the book, Job is really more about who God is, and how can we relate to Him than it is about finding answers to the difficult things in life.
I came across a quote from a professor at Candler Theological Seminary, one of thirteen United Methodist seminaries, down in the Atlanta area. He says,
The Book of Job is, ultimately, not about what it means that humans suffer. It is about what it means to be human at all when God is seen truly to be God… This great text stands over against the prevalent religious impulse to fabricate a wishful picture of the world, to imagine the sort of God who would rule benignly over such a world, and then to bow down in worship before this projection of our own sense of moral order.
In other words, this world is incredibly messy, and our understanding of how things should be and what God should be like in light of this understanding are vastly different than the reality. If we truly believe that Jesus Christ is the representation of who God is in this world, and I think that is what Scripture tells us, then we do know a few things about God. We know that God loves us, and we know that God desires to be in relationship with us; however, I think we have developed this idea in contemporary culture that God should be almost like a fairy godmother. God should grant our wishes and take away the pain that we experience in this life. That’s not what we read in Scripture.
We read in Scripture about a God who balances love with judgment, justice with mercy, sin with holiness. We read about a God who brings judgment on nations for their sins, and a God who takes on the sin of the world in Himself. We want to fully understand who God is in this world, but the truth is we have all sorts of problems trying to wrap our mind around it. Just take a look at some of today’s most popular Christian songs.
Some of the most popular worship songs right now explore the idea of God’s vastness, and you never get the sense that they fully encapsulate who God is. Listen to some of the titles: How Great is Our God, yes, God is great, but what in the world does that mean? Everlasting God, do we know what we are saying when we say that God is everlasting? Can we wrap our minds around eternity? God of Wonders, we know that God is incredible, but all of our comparisons, all of our metaphors still bring us up short of understanding who God really is. We try to come to terms with who God is, but we cannot fully grasp it.
Think about it for a minute. What images come to your mind when you think about God? When you have a conversation about God, or think about the things that God is doing in your life, what pops into your head? Scripture gives us several different portraits of God, but what does that mean?
I went to the fount of all knowledge, the internet, to find out what the definition of a portrait is. And one site says, “A portrait is a painting, photograph, sculpture, or other artistic representation of a person, in which the face and its expression is predominant. The intent is to display the likeness, personality, and even the mood of the person.” A portrait is not an exact representation, but it gives us an idea of what the original is supposed to look like.
Throughout Scripture, we get different portraits of God that take various shapes. God is portrayed as a creator, a king, a priest, a judge, a loving Father, a redeemer, a shepherd, and there are many other roles that we can see throughout Scripture. Which one of these portraits is right? In some sense, all of them; in another, none of them. They all give us a glimpse of the nature of God, but none of them give a complete picture. The problem comes in the finite (us) trying to understand the infinite (God). It reminds me of the end of the movie Men in Black 2.
Early in the movie, Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) gets a watch out of a locker, and inside that locker is an entire world of tiny aliens. At the end of the movie, Agent J (Will Smith) opens his locker to find that K had moved the aliens there, and here’s the conversation that follows.
Agent J: Why did you put them rats in my locker, man?
Kevin Brown/K: I thought it would put things in perspective for you.
Agent J: No, K, it’s actually kind of sad, really. We need to let them out of there, I mean, they need to know that the world is bigger than that.
Kevin Brown/K: Still a rookie.
[Kicks open a door to a room filled with gigantic aliens]
That is how we sometimes imagine God though. We imagine that we can understand who God is, and that He will be able to fit into that perception. When we do that, we have severely overestimated our place in the universe. God doesn’t fit into the boxes that we have created for Him in our lives. We live in a society that is so big on compartmentalization, and so we try to separate everything in our lives. Truth is, we cannot compartmentalize God. God will not fit into the boxes that we create for Him. Because what you can contain, you can control. We cannot control God. And that is what Job learns through this conversation with God. God asks Job three important questions, and really, the first one is the key.
God essentially starts off by saying, “Who do you think you are?” How’s that for us to consider when we want to challenge God on the things in our lives. Who do we think we are? Job is said to darken the Lord’s counsel by “words without knowledge.” In other words, not only is Job not in a position to assume whether God’s reasons are just or unjust, but he doesn’t even know what he is talking about in the first place. Job’s words may sound good, but they are not words of wisdom. They are words without knowledge.
Have you ever had this happen to you before? You are having a conversation with somebody who clearly has no idea what they are talking about, but they sure think they do. You know that they are just saying stuff off the top of their head, and finally, you get tired of rolling your eyes and just look at them and say, “What in the world are you talking about?” Have you been there? That’s what God is doing right now. I can just imagine Him rolling His eyes every time Job or one of his friends starts talking, and finally, He steps in and says, “Wait just a minute. Do you even know what you’re saying?”
And here’s the thing: Job thought he was right. But he had a fundamental misunderstanding about who God is. Job fell into the same trap of thinking that God blesses those who are good and brings trouble to those who aren’t. That’s why he keeps saying that he wanted to talk to God face to face; that’s why he wanted to present his case before God. He thought that there was some misunderstanding, and that was why he was getting punished. But if he could just show God that he was an upright man, then all of this would go away. He didn’t really understand God. God knew Job was an upright man. Again, two times, he presents Job as an example of one who was blameless and upright. That wasn’t the issue.
Job assumed he knew all he needed to know about God, and Job was the kind of guy that we would probably assume knew everything he needed to know about God. But the only way we can even begin to know even a sliver of what God is like is by spending time with Him. Reading Scripture, spending quiet time in prayer, being in relationship with Him through Jesus Christ; these are all good ways to start getting to know God, but they are not all encompassing by any stretch of the imagination. Perhaps we need to start with the question that God asks Job. Who do we think we are? God doesn’t owe us anything, and yet, He has given us the opportunity to have everything by being in relationship with Him.
I love what God says next. He says, “Dress for action like a man.” Another translation reads, “Gird your loins.” I think He’s saying, “Buckle up, buddy. You think you know so much? Well, let’s see.” And God starts this barrage of questions that essentially come down to: 1) where were you? And 2) What can you do? The emphasis here is on the vastness of who God really is. It is about getting a proper perspective; realizing that we don’t know everything about God.
God is not limited to our understanding of who He is, but we are certainly limited when it comes to understanding God. And maybe that is one of the hardest lessons we can learn from Job. It really is a matter of gaining a proper perspective. Who is God? God is the one who laid the foundation of the earth. God is the one who measured it and laid the cornerstone. God is the one who speaks and the rains come down; who instills us with understanding; who provides for the animals of the earth. Not us. We don’t do any of that, and the sooner we learn that simple truth, the further we will be on our journey to understand just a little bit about God.