First Presbyterian Church of Hallock, Minn.
Oct 31, 2010
Job 38:1-11, 16-18
Ok, I’ll admit Job is not the most common text for a Harvest Festival Sunday, but hear me out. Job, one of the most troublesome books of the Old Testament, is usually discussed when the question, “Why do bad things happen to good people” comes up. The thing is, many don’t find the answer all that comforting. G. K. Chesterton tries to salvage it saying, “The riddles of God are more satisfying than the solutions of man.” But I still think, any way you slice it, Job is a difficult and challenging book. Job’s not, at first glance, Harvest Festival-ly.
Today’s lesson comes from Job chapter 38, so let’s catch up quickly on what happened in the previous 37 chapters. One day, God is speaking with Satan (as God does, apparently) and boasts glowingly about how good Job is–sort of like a parent or grandparent saying their family is the best, you know the type. The text says Job has all this stuff–7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 donkeys, and an F-250 extended cab Ford pickup with alloy wheels. And God is so enamored with Job who “is blameless and upright who fears God and turns from evil” that God agrees to let Satan curse him and see what happens. God is certain Job will stay faithful; Satan’s convinced otherwise.
So the next chapters include all these horrible things that happen to Job–he loses all his property, his friends desert him, he suffers horribly and approaches the limit that any human could handle. It’s all very tragic. And then, in chapter 38 God pops back in and we’re hoping God is going to set everything straight, to finally clear things up and explain, forever and ever, why innocent people suffer and guilty people prosper. And God answers, out of a whirlwind no less, with end-arounds and non-specifics (sound familiar in this political season?). God doesn’t answer the question on our minds; God just asks other unanswerable questions until the reader is more confused and frustrated and overwhelmed.
“Where were you from the foundations of the earth?” God asks.
As Eugene Peterson translates:
“Who decided on [the earth’s] size? Certainly you’ll know that!
Who came up with the blueprints and measurements?
How was its foundation poured,
and who set the cornerstone,
while the morning stars sang in chorus
and all the angels shouted praise?
And who took charge of the ocean
when it gushed forth like a baby from the womb?
God keeps ribbing Job for many more verses than we read this morning:
- Is the wild animal willing to serve you, Job?
- Did you give the horse is strength, Job?
- Is it by your wisdom that the bald eagles soar, or the deer roam?
God keeps asking questions, and Job doesn’t know quite what to do, quite what to think, quite how to praise…
There’s at least two ways to read God’s answer to Job in chapter 38. Here’s one: God is “out there,” unconcerned, unattached to the details of Job’s life and welfare. You can sort of think about this as the old Deist perspective held by some of the founding fathers–that God made creation, set the planets in their courses, and then stepped back. Think of it as the most simple and hands-off way of farming ever: God plants the seeds in the spring…and then doesn’t do anything else. Doesn’t fertilize or cultivate or even check on the fields. God doesn’t watch the price of grain or buy seeds for next year. This way of thinking about God unattached, could be a traditional way of reading Job. God, backed-off and disinterested. God who doesn’t ever vote in elections because one vote doesn’t count anyway. God “out there” and not concerned with the every day.
I suppose you could get this perspective from reading Job. You could figure God doesn’t really care about the details of our life since God lets Job endure all those horrible things. You could say that, but I read the Bible a different way.
That the message of Job is the very opposite of this unattached God-out-there way of thinking; it’s overwhelming in the other way.
Instead of God being “out there,” God is “in here.” In the lives of people, and animals, and plants. In the hubbub of our daily lives. God getting down and dirty. God doing the dishes.
That’s the other way to read Job 38, it reads God’s answer to Job as saying, “whoa, back off buddy, I’ve got my hands full here.” I started the world and I’m not letting it go to pot now. I was there in the beginning, and I’ll be there at the end.
I was there when its bases were sunk and its cornerstone laid
I was there when I had to send the flood to destroy wickedness.
I was there when I sent my only son to show you the way, to live the truth, to be love incarnate, crucified and raised.
This way of reading Job 38 still doesn’t answer all the problems brought up by the earlier chapters, but it’s less problematic. And it’s faithful to the story of the Bible as a whole.
So what does this have to do with Harvest Festival? Three things. First, God is isn’t detached from nature, rather as Job 38 shows, God’s handiwork is in and through creation from the first cornerstone of creation to the wheat and beans and beets harvested this fall. God doesn’t explain exactly how God’s up in the business of nature, but there’s no doubt God is involved. We shouldn’t go so far as to say that each grain of wheat is God, but rather that God is linked inextricably with what brought that wheat about. Or another way to put it: every harvest, no matter what it is, is from God’s garden.
Last wednesday was pretty icky weather, so the confirmation students didn’t do one of the planned activities which was to go outside and find a peace of creation that, for them, points to the fact that God exists and God is beautiful. But, in the nice warm Family Room we figured the point was clear enough without going outside: God’s goodness is seen in creation.
Second, God’s provision is seen not only in the “out there” of setting the world on its course to begin with, but in the “in here” of humanity, even in each of us. God made creation and that includes us God’s children. God claims us in our baptism, and God calls us God’s own. We are sons and daughters of our parents, but also of our creator God. So though we are broken and and don’t always give God glory in all our lives, God is still in us, with us, amongst us, and working through us.
Have you ever noticed that a lot of mission organizations have the name “Matthew 25” or quote Matthew 25 in their mission statements? Those verses, when Jesus says whenever you feed the hungry, or heal the sick, visit those in prison, you do it to me, those verses sort of take God’s presence “in here” in humanity, to the ultimate conclusion.
Third and finally, God is maybe out there, but also for certain, in here, in the church. The church and our congregation is the body of Christ. It’s one place where God shows God’s love–in the welcome at the communion table and in the proclamation of God’s Word.
In the words of Fred Pratt Green’s hymn:
God is here! As we Your people meet to offer praise and prayer,
May we find in fuller measure what it is in Christ we share.
Here, as in the world around us, all our varied skills and arts
wait the coming of the spirit into open minds and hearts.
I’m still not sure Job 38 is the perfect Harvest Festival text, but this I know: God isn’t just some unattached out-there-entity which started the world and gave up. No, as Job promises, as we see in the world if we look hard enough, God is at work in our world and our lives in the places of goodness and truth and justice and peace.
There’s no easy answer as to why bad things happen to good people; that’s just one of life’s unanswerable questions. But, as we search for an answer, or as we live in the tension of not knowing, look around.
Look in the beautiful of creation and the bountiful harvest and see God.
Look in the faces and goodness of the people around you and see God.
Look in the story and witness of the church, in this place and around the world, and see God.
And if you see God–when you see God–don’t keep the good news to yourself. Share the harvest, spread the word, God’s bounty is in this place. Amen.