“When We Don’t Understand God” Job 38:1-7,31-40
Delivered to Church for the Highlands
Sunday, October 21, 2012
This is that time of year when Rudy makes for one of those great movies football players of all ages can watch to get them fired up about overcoming their underdog status and overcome the odds to achieve victory. You can’t help but want to run out of the house with a football under your arm and score a touchdown somewhere. The movie–and the real life story behind it–are just that inspiring. It is that rags-to-riches, David vs. Goliath story everyone loves to hear. Maybe it is because we have been in Rudy’s shoes before. Or maybe we like these stories because it reminds that the little guy does make it sometimes. One scene of the movie I think is especially inspiring is the one where the priest–Father Cavanaugh–responds to Rudy’s self-doubts as well as his God-doubts. Rudy is looking for God in all of this, wanting to understand what God is doing while he is giving his best to get into Notre Dame and to be on the football team. “Maybe I haven’t prayed enough,” Rudy says, almost frantic. Father Cavanaugh answers with kind, narrow eyes, “I’m sure that’s not the problem. Praying is something we do in our time. The answers come in God’s time.” Rudy isn’t satisfied. There has to be something else he can do. “Have I done everything I possibly can? Can you help me?” Father Cavanaugh’s answer is measured but sure. “Son, in 35 years of religious studies, I’ve come up with only two hard, incontrovertible facts: There is a God, and I’m not Him.” Perhaps he had a different answer when he started out, only to have his understanding of God shaken by his and other people’s circumstances. We may be the same way, getting to a time when we don’t understand God.
In our Scripture for today, we hear of another guy who was wondering the same thing; trying to find God in the midst of his circumstances, wondering why God hasn’t made it all better. Job, who has actually been top dog, has become the underdog after losing his wealth, his reputation, his health and even his family. He has hit rock bottom and, from there as well as all the way down, is wondering what God is doing while he is suffering on the ash heap of all he once had. The first two verses in this chapter indicate that Job had questioned God already; that he had expressed inquiry of God from within his soul and without aloud as he shook his fist at the heavens. We get the idea that Job didn’t have any questions for God when everything was going his way; when he had what he needed and more in life. It only happens as he experiences loss of what he had. It is from his anguish, grief, intense physical suffering that he reveals that he really doesn’t understand God anymore. The God of abundance and health he once new has now become a God of loss and sickness. Who can blame old Job? Which one of us wouldn’t question God in the same way?
I can’t remember learning when it was permissible and even healthy to question God. I think it was in high school as I heard about a popular, Christian student who was killed in a car crash on the way home from an event. It was also when I learned that my mother had cancer and as I watched her walk through that valley of death for 8 years. “God, why won’t you heal her?!” I would ask. Pastoral ministry also provided me with some great questions for God as well. I was already aware that God was big enough to handle my anger, impatience, and doubts about Him. It was, of course, the three weeks with Maggie Lee in ICU, praying for a miracle, that provided the most intense time of trying to understand God. Her death and the daily reminder of her absence can still lead to Q and A sessions with God. I once heard an interview on the radio of a Jewish woman who was asked if it was ok to be angry with God. I think the context was something having to do with the Holocaust. She replied that of course it is ok to be angry at God, that it is the most Jewish thing she could do. We see that it in the psalms, don’t we? They teach us that it is ok to question God when we are hurting. Even Jesus did this on the cross, saying to God, “Why have you forsaken me?”
Have you been where Job has been? Maybe not on that level. But, have you wondered what God is doing at times, where He is, or why He is or isn’t doing something about the painful circumstances of your life? I think the honest answer is yes. Suffering is inevitable if you are a human. It comes to the poor, the rich, the healthy, the kind, the cruel, the young, and to the old. How do you respond when you don’t understand God? Some people are stuffers, heaving it down deep inside, not wanting to deal with it and certainly not to confront God. Some are lashers, lashing themselves with guilt and lashing other people with their bitterness and rage. Other people are accepters, figuring they deserve what is happening to them because of some sin they or one of their ancestors committed that really ticked off God. But there are also the inquirers, who lift up the big questions at God with the belief that He is there, somewhere, still hearing them. Out of these, which one are you?
The other thing that happens when we don’t understand God is that God answers. A look at the rest of what we heard read this morning in Job provides us with God’s words to Job about Himself. “Gird up your loins,” God told Job. In other words, get a grip. “Wake up to what you can see about me in the world around and beyond you,” is God’s challenge to Job. We hear God answer in v.4, Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding, and, Who has the wisdom to number the clouds? Or who can tilt the waterskins of the heavens, when the dust runs into a mass and the clods cling together? (v.v.37-38) God wanted Job to know that He was in control, even if he didn’t think so at the time. Like we heard from Father Cavanaugh earlier, there is a God, and you are not Him.
So, what good does it do to ask God the big questions only to have him challenge us with reminders that He is beyond us? It does a lot of good, for God continues to speak. In fact, it is out of His sovereignty that He provided the clearest answer of all–in Jesus. Our reading from Mark (10:35-45) this morning ends with these words of Jesus, For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many. Jesus provided the answer to why God sent him into the world–to serve humankind; to be the greatest answer to humankind about Himself that God could ever provide. As Jesus walked this earth in selfless service, He showed what the same God who made the heavens was really like–love in action.
Even though Albert Einstein did not profess to be a Christian, his words speak of our ability to understand, The most incomprehensible thing about the world is that it is comprehensible. What Jesus provides us with is a comprehensible answer.. The complexity of the universe had been simplified into human flesh, an answer that was understandable.
God answered Job. God answered Jesus’ listeners. And God answers us today. Do you believe that? Have you listened for God’s answers in the midst of the circumstances of your life? We, like Job, need to hear from God about how He is still in charge of things. We need to learn more of His sovereign power. We need to see the pattern of His provision, even when we don’t understand it’s timing. Like Job, we, even from the top of the pile of the destruction of all we hold dear, can find a God who is willing to entertain our questions and converse with us.
And like the power-hungry and overly-ambitious disciples that day who pitched their best question at Jesus, we can hear eternal clarification the answer that we have longed to hear. God has heard us, has stepped out of the control booth of all creation and stepped down into our destruction to provide reconstruction. This is for you and me to know as we feel the intensity of suffering, pain, separation, loneliness, abandonment, and despair. It is for those who have thought or acted at one time like they were in control; that what they had came from their own hands. It is for those of us here who are thinking they might as well curse God and die, that life has become a cruel, cosmic joke. It comes as good news to us today just as it did to the ears of those who stood around Jesus as he spoke. It is no doubt still good news for those who remember the boils and sickness of their circumstances, but see God’s presence that created a way through them more brilliant than the stars God makes shine so brightly in the night.
You may remember the tragedy in the family of Christian music artist, Steven Curtis Chapman, a few years ago. Their youngest daughter, adopted from China, was playing outside as one of their other children accidentally backed over her while pulling out of the driveway. It is hard to have any understanding with such a tragic loss. I read a statement later made by Stephen, whose life was turned upside down and changed forever by his loss. He said, I have learned that we can control where we allow things that we can’t understand to fall. They either fall between us and God, and we become angry. Or we allow these things to fall outside of us and press us in closer to God.
Today, may the difficulties of your life lead not to more understanding, but to the God who stands with us in them.
 Lindy Warren, “Steven Curtis Chapman’s Silent Nights,” Christian Reader (March/April 2002), p. 59