ON THE ONE HAND . . . ON THE OTHER HAND Job 38:1-11; Mark 4: 35-41
On the one hand…on the other hand. That balance is helpful, if not needed…which brings us to the thrust of God’s word for us today that says, in essence, human wisdom is thrown out the window when we are threatened & the situation is out of control. Such was the case with our man Job & our models of faith, the cowardly disciples, bobbing about, scared out of their wits. Our reading from Job comes at the end of the book. The reading says that God answered Job.
In reality, God’s answer is really to Job’s so-called friends. Job was the richest man around – a good, honest, religious man, in the eyes of God & of all. In a single day he was wiped out of wealth, health & family. And, of course, Job’s question was “Why?”
And, of course, Job’s friends were quick with answers – simplistic answers at that. “Why, Job? Well, on the one hand, you’ve sinned, done something wrong to deserve this.” “But, on the other hand,” says Job, “I am blameless; even God knows that; God’s said as much.”
“Well, Job, on the one hand, no one is perfect; we’re all sinners & we humans bring trouble on ourselves.” “But, on the other hand,” says Job, “Why me & not some other slob? You say you are talking about all people, but it’s me who’s in this mess….not you or somebody else…me!
Well, Job, on the one hand, look at it as a learning experience; this’ll make a better person out of you.” “But on the other hand,” says Job, “I’ll never make it out of school! I may not be able to bear the load!”
And so it went for 38 chapters. On the one hand, finding reasons, finding fault, finding benefits, finding reasons, finding growth & faith. On the other hand, being plunged farther into the realm of perhaps having to live without the answers. On the one hand, there is a time to ask questions. On the other hand, there is a time to leave it all up to god & admit our inadequacy. Translated into my life & terms I can grasp: on the one hand, I seek to understand God. On the other hand, you dummy, Maynard, you will never know!
And then, God answers Job, his friends, you & me. Just the way God cleared that almighty throat almost blasts Job & us off our feet is only for starters. It is the most gorgeous speech that god makes in the entire Hebrew Bible & it is composed almost entirely of the most ironic & preposterous questions that have been asked by God or anybody else – 4 chapters, 129 verses of questions, of which 11 paltry verses in our reading is but a taste.
Now, you can think of God as a great cosmic bully, if you want, or you can think of God as a great cosmic artist, a singer, say, of such power & magnificence & so caught up in the intense brilliance & heat of God’s own art that God never notices that the eardrums of the listeners have long-since ruptured & the listeners are reduced to quivering pulp. All his life Job heard about God’s glory, holiness, terrible wrath & great mercy; about the way God created the earth & all its creatures & set the sun, moon & stars in the sky so there would always be light to see by & beauty to gladden the heart.
Job had sometimes thrilled & sometimes trembled at the sound of these descriptions & they had made such an impression on him over the years that not even the terrible things that had happened to him, or the terrible question as to why they happened, or the miserable answers his friends had proposed could quite make him curse God, even though he came close. It is a misnomer to say Job was patient!
Now it was no longer a matter of hearing descriptions of God because Job had finally heard & seen for himself. Job had seen the great glory so shot through with sheer, fierce light & life & goodness; had heard the great voice raised in song so full of terror & wildness & beauty, that from that moment on, nothing else mattered. All possible questions melted like mist & all possible explanations withered like rhododendron blossoms in the hot sun, & all the bad times of his life together with the good times were so caught up into the fathomless life of this God who had bent down to speak with him. Job and his friends were completely wrong about God.
God is simply not in the business of rewarding and punishing human beings for what they have done, or should not have done. That’s the real good news message of Job. Job’s message and place in the Bible rightly serves as a pastoral antidote to the notion that if you’re suffering you must have done something bad, wrong, & sinful.
Remember Jesus meeting the blind man when his disciples asked if he or his parents sinned, which was the cause of his blindness? That notion still lurks around and within many to this day. “What have I done to deserve this?!?”
God’s revelation to Job and to us is that the universe is far bigger, far stranger, and far more mysterious than we can imagine. Job, his friends and we would also learn that they & we are not in creation’s center either. The world is not our oyster, but it is God’s oyster, the God who “brings rain on a land where no one lives, on a desert, empty of human life”.
Why would God do this? Because God is God, and we humans do not determine how God will act, nor are we always the reason for God’s actions. The world is God’s, not ours. Job needed that revelation, and so do we. For you see, Job’s faith & trust found that a relationship is more important than answers to intellectual questions. Job had come seeking God in the hopes of hearing reasonable explanations for his suffering. He never received that. Rather, he once again knew about the God he used to know before his suffering began. He knew that God still cared about him, as God cared for all the world, & that God would watch over him through all encounters with evil.
It’s not all the answers – theological, philosophical, practical, or otherwise – that alters Job’s profound suffering. It is a relationship with God. Job meets God & sees that the roundabout track of his life has led him through the paths of joy & suffering. Best of all, Job realizes that in all things his path was held in the hand of a God who was waiting to take him into God’s arms & wipe away his tears. Job’s relationship with god had been renewed. On the one hand, he cried out, “Don’t just stand there; do (say) something!” On the other hand, he wound up saying, “Don’t just do (say) something; stand there!”
And that’s what you’re going to do, little sister & brother, for there’s no way out of this tragic circle of on the one hand…on the other hand, until God takes it on alone to break it. God takes it on by creating a weight that even God could not lift in becoming born, like you & me in Jesus & suffering & dying on that lonely wood, & then being raised to life again on the third day.
God has come into the midst of us in Jesus Christ, not only to let us know who God is but to give us peace. Christ has assumed our chaos, and especially the recent chaos created by our current Administration separating toddlers & children from their parents at our borders simply because they are fleeing from tyranny & murder, and now blithely taking credit for fixing the problem with a stroke of the pen, a chaos created by this Administration, in the first place. Christ has assumed all chaos by being raised from the dead & has indeed become lord over it in order to redeem it.
Our question, like Job’s & the seasick cowardly disciples is, “Where are you, God?” Or, “God are you asleep?” God’s eternal answer in the crucified Christ is, “Here I am in the midst of you.” God is in the midst of whatever chaos we are experiencing, & in the midst of our congregation, at this moment, guiding us on to complete this transition process with the calling of our new Pastor, as well as continuing on the possible path to co-location and move on to our future.
Now, on the one hand, this may not be the answer you’ve been looking for. But, on the other hand, it just may be your faith statement that says Christ is Lord of all & especially Lord of what I do not understand, so that whether our storms be of wind & wave or deep within our spirits, we find courage to cry out, “Save, Lord!” Seeking not explanations, but peace. Amen.
Here’s the audio recording of the sermon. TO LISTEN, in the SoundCloud window below, CLICK (or double-Click) the red button with the white arrow pointing to the right. If that does not work, then click on the “ULC Sermon 6-24-18” name of the sermon