Job 1-2, 3-27, 28, 29-31, 32-27, 38-41, 42
Good pedagogy does not always
begin where one's audience is located, contrary to widespread
homiletical insistence otherwise. Sometimes the best way
to go is outside oneself, beyond one's regnant frames
of reference, outside the walls of one's familiar community.
Beginning "out there," beyond an audience's
location, we take them by surprise as we arrive together
at their unexpected "Aha!" moment of breakthrough
into new discovery.
Something like that is what
occurs in the great epic poem Job (italics indicating
the book, in distinction from the character "Job").
Emphatically impatient Job persists in his "countertestimony"
to the orthodoxies of his three "friends." [Cf.
Walter Brueggemann, Theology of the Old Testament
(Fortress, 1997), p. 386 for term "countertestimony."]
Job's question insists to find out: "Is God reliable?"
That is, does life make sense, does history teach us anything?
Is there any reliability in God's dealings with us? For
example: "Why do the wicked live on, reach old age,
and grow mighty in power?" (Job 21:7) That is the
question of theodicy, for though it speaks of the wicked
it aims protest at God.
That question is left hanging
in the air while a second question arises, this one coming
from God: "Is Job serious?" Does he serve God
"for nothing," as the Satan asks - that is,
disinterestedly (not for his own gain), purely for the
sake of glorifying God? Tension between Job and God is
raised to the nth degree as "both parties have become
suspicious of the other." [So Brueggemann, ibid.,
p. 387] We are far removed here from the usually boring
vacuous reassurances in the presence of real-life suffering,
far removed too from the legalistic judgments of the overly
self-righteous who proceed with unwarranted audacity to
speak for God in judgment against Job - as the alleged
Most of Job consists of
three cycles of dialogue between Job and his friends (chapters
3-27 and 32-37, the intervening chapters 29-31 being Job's
self-defense, and chapter 28 being a poetic interlude
on personified Wisdom). This interchange does not arrive
at definitive resolutions of the exceedingly painful conflicts
that arise therein. The destination of this theological
journey is not the point of this profound drama. The quest,
the journey is the point - until, that is, the denouement
comes in the materials that surround those cycles of discourse.
That is where the Creation comes in.
difficult questions have been raised within this circle
of companions as they sit (perhaps around a campfire)
out under the stars. No answer to the problem of suffering
and evil is given that triumphantly concludes the discussion.
Is God reliable? For Job the question echoes and reverberates
across his dark landscape, its vibrations torturing deeply
within him. Repeatedly in monumental episodes of suffering
the epic of Job comes to mind among those who have been
caught up in those capricious events. Survivors of the
Holocaust, for instance, have often identified with Job.
So, where does Creation
come in? The Creator arrives as if "He" had
not been paying attention to the tense interactions between
Job and, on the other hand, the orthodox but mistaken
"friends." That circumstance is clear at the
moment (38:1) when "the Lord answered Job out of
The "answer" is
curious, coming out of the blue, it seems. The Lord brings
to Job the perspective of the Ages in that "moment"
when the cornerstone of all Creation was laid, "when
the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings
shouted for joy." The Lord brings to Job "the
springs of the sea" and "the recesses of the
deep," "the gates of death" and "the
expanse of the earth." The Lord startles Job with
questions that do not seem to connect with Job's questions.
For instance: "Who has cut a channel for the torrents
to bring rain on a land where no one lives,
on the desert, which is empty of human life, to satisfy
the waste and desolate land, and to make the ground put
forth grass?" The Lord's answer shows no influence
of indirect pastoral counseling, a la Carl Rogers.
Or does it? The occasional
utility and relevance of irrelevance may be in evidence
here. During three cycles of dialogue no resolution had
been reached to the question of divine reliability, nor
to the question of Job's genuineness as a persistent righteous
one who had suffered huge losses through no fault of his
own. In that situation the only breakthrough possible
is the one God takes: "Where were you when I laid
the foundation of the earth?" How far removed from
preceding conversation can you get? What could appear
more irrelevant than this "foundation of the earth"
talk? Yet the questions are multiplied through four chapters
(38-41), all anchored in the Creation one way or another.
The effect of those rapid-fire
questions is to emphasize the reliability of the Creator
in contrast to the powerless and limited perspectives
of humanity. These questions are existential rather than
rhetorical, their function being not to put Job down,
but instead to enlist Job in the quest for God "out
there" where new beginnings can be made. By putting
these questions to Job, God is the wise and caring teacher
who leads Job beyond suffering into the greater mystery
that there is something and not nothing. [The contrast
between rhetorical and existential questions is clearly
discussed by J. Gerald Janzen's commentary on Job in the
series of Interpretation Bible Commentaries for Teaching
and Preaching (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1985).] Job was
indeed serious and persistent enough to hang in there
until the denouement (in chapters 38-41 and 42) of this
psychological/theological drama wraps him round with God's
encompassing grace. In that sense Job spoke of the Lord
"what is right," in contrast to the three friends.
We need not only a lamp
on the path we tread, but also a lightning illumination
of the landscape around us. Creation is the larger context
of our lives. Its inherent value for our mental stability
and spiritual health needs affirmation in the policies
of governance. Mark Twain knew that a riverboat captain
had to take readings from the far shore if he would avoid
the shoals of catastrophe. Sailors navigate by readings
from the stars. Boy Scouts still use compasses that rely
on magnetic North and declinations from that to locate
true North. Global Positioning Systems guide travel, military
movements, and surveys.
We do not know who and where
we are until we take readings from far away and long ago
that help us know who we are and where we are. The vast
scope of the creation, past-present-future, in an analogous
way helps us. Especially is that the case when we perceive
that the creation is an expression of God's grace, profligate
in its inventive genius. The epic character Job again
and again was brought out of his quandary and reoriented
toward the Creator God who was partially evident in the
world around Job, evident as a reflection or echo of the
God known in Israelite history. Already in the Prologue
(1-2) we see that the entire Job story alternates between
heaven and earth.
Other Job Texts (12:7-10,
15, 22-25; 20:27; 23:8-12; 26; 28; 38-42)
On all four Sundays of this
Creation Season we do well to focus on the Job story.
(Preaching always only on the four gospels is a theological
and pastoral mistake. Further, Mark 10 does not address
the creation directly.) There is more to preach in the
Job texts than these Sundays can contain, though at the
moment of filling in on short notice I cannot explore
them with you. Notice these: 20:27, both heaven and earth
disclose the kind of wealth that is wicked. 23:8-12, all
points of the compass see God's sovereignty. 26:10, God's
majesty is everywhere apparent, as at "the boundary
between light and darkness." 28:24, God "looks
to the ends of the earth, and sees everything under the
heavens." 36:26ff., "Surely God is great, and
we do not know him."