Are you God?

August 15th, 2021

Job 38:1-7, 34-41

Not many of us would be bold enough to affirmatively answer that question. For religious people, the very thought of claiming to be God is blasphemous. This very claim is what directly led to the crucifixion of Christ. No, most of us would readily admit that we are definitely not God. Yet, it is not unusual to encounter individuals who believe that although they are not God, they do understand God’s ways, actions, and plan. They freely interpret the world through the lens of God’s will and way. Both ministers and laypersons fall into this spiritual trap. Probably every one of us has been guilty of claiming to understand God’s ways. Whereas it is possible and preferable for believers to seek understanding through God, it is a careful balancing act to not overstep our bounds and possibility for understanding God. In today’s text, Job struggled with this very balancing act.

Although there are few specific details surrounding the person and life of Job, Job’s story is a familiar one. Job 1 describes Job’s favored life as a successful businessperson with a loving family who feared God and lived a righteous life. Job is then tested as God allows Satan to attack Job and his family in order to see if Job will remain faithful. Job loses his livestock. His servants die, and his children also die. Job remains faithful. Job is then smitten with a painful physical condition that causes sores all over his body. Job remains faithful. Throughout the rest of this narrative, Job is counseled by his friends, who seek to give him theological advice. They all seek to give him answers for his plight. Their counsel does little to comfort or answer the concerns of Job as he endures his suffering.

After more than thirty chapters of conversation between Job and his friends, the Lord responds in chapter 38. Although Job has remained, as he is characteristically described, patient, he has seemed to struggle mightily with understanding God’s design in this tragedy that befell his family. In chapter 12, Job summarized God’s design and purpose for the world as chaotic and destructive (Samuel E. Balentine, “Job,” in Mercer Commentary on the Bible [Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 1995], 426.) In chapter 38, the Lord confronts Job’s pretense that he would have knowledge comparable to God’s. The Lord answers Job’s assertion from chapter 12 with a series of rhetorical questions regarding God’s creation and majestic involvement in nature. Through these questions, the Lord confronts Job. Although Job remained faithful through his suffering, the Lord seems to clarify that Job still does not understand God’s plan and will for the world. On the contrary, Job understands very little about God’s design and purpose. Chapter 38 is a reminder for Job that he does not have all the answers, and his faithfulness does not qualify him as one who has equal knowledge to God.

There are few of us who will ever experience suffering to the degree that Job suffered. Yet suffering is part of the human condition that we all will experience in some form or another. This text reminds us that even for the faithful, God is bigger than our understanding. Not one of us corners the market on understanding God. On the one hand, the idea that humans do not have the capacity to understand God’s will and ways is scary. If our understanding of God is limited, then we are vulnerable and out of control. We must truly trust God’s design and care for us. On the other hand, as scary as this seems, it is liberating. We are not in control. We do not have to understand it all and answer every question. There is mystery for which we are not responsible. God is the one in control. Our responsibility is to follow God and not to lay the plans.

This text challenges us on two fronts. First of all, we are challenged to accept the truth with which the Lord confronted Job. We do not fully understand God. God is bigger and more complicated than our human minds can comprehend. We no sooner could determine God’s reasoning for suffering or pain than we could understand the methods of God’s creation. Being a person of faith means that we accept our limited understanding and trust the Lord.

Second, because we cannot fully understand God’s will and design, we should not try to answer for God. This is a wonderful reminder for Christians. So often as Christians we feel the need to defend God by explaining God’s actions in every situation. In the parish setting, it is not unusual for pastors to walk in on a conversation in which one Christian is explaining another’s tragedy or suffering. For some reason we are so uncomfortable with God’s mystery that we feel the need to constantly explain God’s ways. Yet, in my own life, I know that in times of suffering I have been most comforted when a fellow Christian has admitted not understanding God’s actions, but has offered the inherent comfort promised and offered by God. This would have been just as powerful a reminder to Job and his friends as it is to us. On this day, let us embrace the wonderful news that we are not expected to have or give the answers. Glory to God for being a God of mystery and grace.

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