Job 31:35-37; 38:1-11, 25-27, Job 42:5
A salesman, driving on a lonely country road one dark and rainy night, had a flat. He opened the trunk – no lug wrench. The light from a farmhouse could be seen dimly up the road. He set out on foot through the driving rain. Surely the farmer would have a lug wrench he could borrow, he thought. Of course, it was late at night – the farmer would be asleep in his warm, dry bed. Maybe he wouldn’t answer the door. And even if he did, he’d be angry at being awakened in the middle of the night. The salesman, picking his way blindly in the dark, stumbled on. By now his shoes and clothing were soaked. Even if the farmer did answer his knock, he would probably shout something like, “What’s the big idea waking me up at this hour?” This thought made the salesman angry. What right did that farmer have to refuse him the loan of a lug wrench? After all he was stranded in the middle of nowhere, soaked to the skin. The farmer was so selfish – no doubt about that! The salesman finally reached the house and banged loudly on the door. A light went on inside, and a window opened above. A voice called out, “Who is it?” His face white with anger, the salesman called out, “you know darn well who it is. It’s me! And you can keep your blasted lug wrench. I wouldn’t borrow it now if you had the last one on earth!”
Job has asked for vindication, Job has declared to God that his treatment is unfair. Job knows he is a righteous man – we are told, in fact that he was “blameless and upright”, and so he is angry at what he sees as unfair treatment and he’s been hollering at God. Today we hear part of God’s answer to Job and at first glance it appears that God is answering with anger, that Job’s yelling at God is somehow displeasing to God. He certainly doesn’t appear to answer Job’s questions. As the God character in Joan of Arcadia said, “you notice I’m not answering the questions.” And while some might say this is because it is like a human trying to explain to his/her pet the theory of relativity, for Job, as for any of us asking the “why!” questions and not receiving the answers we are hoping for, this must have been extremely frustrating. Especially when God responds to Job with questions such as “Who is this darkening counsel with words lacking knowledge?” and “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundations?” it would seem that God’s goal is simply to push Job back into his place and straighten him out.
Those comments are in many ways echoed by Jesus in today’s passage from Mark as Jesus responds to James and John’s request to sit next to Jesus when he comes in his glory. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?!” And while we know that the answer is really “no”, that James and John really can’t or at least, not to the same degree, share in the cup that Jesus drank or be baptized in the same way as Jesus, still James and John have the nerve, the gall to say that they can follow Jesus in this way, without really understanding what that means. One might wonder if, after Jesus then turns around and says, “Okay, you will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with,” if they don’t then think to themselves “Holy Cow. What have we just signed up for??!!” It might appear that Jesus is responding to their gall, to their nerve with punishment – and the promise of the persecution and death that Jesus himself experienced.
But while both of these passages might be heard as God responding to audacity and nerve with anger or even punishment, I think that they both call us to a deeper look, first at those who approach God and then at God’s response to that approach.
Job was yelling at God. And while, like with James and John we might at first find ourselves asking, what nerve, and what gall it must take for a person to say such things to God, I think we have to look at what this says about Job. There are only two situations in which someone could have that much nerve, to declare themselves innocent and upright and demand that God vindicate them. The first is that they are beyond caring. Some might say this is the case with Job, but I don’t hear it this way. If Job were beyond caring I don’t think he would engage God at all because engaging the other, even in anger, is still an act of caring, it is still being in the relationship, it is still connecting. If Job was beyond caring, he would have written God off. But he didn’t do that. He yelled, he expressed anger, and to me that is a sign that he is still in full relationship with God. So what is the only other explanation for that kind of nerve or gall? As we discussed last week, it is faith. Job had an amazing faith that God would hear him, would respond to him, and will vindicate him! He is saying to God, “I see all that you have done! I have faith in all that you have done in the world – amazing, wonderful things. So where are you now when I need you? Where are you now because I need you!” That is faith. That is trust. That is a relationship with God.
James and John, too, express an extraordinary amount of faith simply in making their request. This story of James and John follows immediately after Jesus announces his coming death for the third time. He has just said, “They will condemn me to death and will hand me over to the Gentiles, who will mock me and spit on me, flog me and kill me. Three days later I will rise.” Jesus has just declared a horrible, awful death. And yet, even after Jesus has declared this, so in other words, no matter how bad things may look or sound, James and John are so sure of Jesus’ final victory that they sign up to go with him. This is faith. This is a depth of faith that says that they are even willing to give their lives because they are so sure of the outcome, so sure that Jesus will overcome.
So, Job, James and John have just expressed strong faith in their God. And God’s response? Well, when we get yelled at, I think we react in one of two ways most often. We either walk away – showing that we don’t care enough about the relationship to engage the discussion – or we engage it back in some way. Which does God choose? God chooses to respond! To stay engaged. To stay in the relationship and even engage us further.
Barbara Brown Taylor says that we can get angry and even impolite with God because “God prefers Job’s courage to the piety of Job’s friends…Devout defiance pleases God. It may even bring God out of hiding, with a roar that lays our ears back against our heads and makes the angels shout for joy”.
I love those statements: “Devout Defiance pleases God.” And “It may even bring God out of hiding with a roar that lays our ears back against our heads and makes the angels shout for joy.” And I think that in today’s passages, this is exactly what God expresses. God responds to Job out of the whirlwind, which to me does not say that God responded to Job in anger, but that God stepped out of the chaos that was Job’s life, God stepped out of what must have felt to Job like God hiding, to SHOW UP!! Job yelled at God and was rewarded by God’s very presence. Yes, God challenged Job, but the story tells us that Job found comfort and life in God’s words, too – a reminder that God is still there, that God is still present, God is still in charge and that God has Job’s best interests at heart. That’s what God does when God shows up – both comforts and challenges us to look at our lives in a different way, to see in a different way, to engage life, no matter what we have been handed, with a vision of gratitude and grace – which is exactly what Job is given. What an amazing, awesome gift. Job yells at God and God SHOWS UP!
We ended today’s Job passages with these words from Job: “My ears had heard of you, but now my eyes behold you.” And in this case, “behold” is intimate, close, is about seeing and understanding. No where else, NO WHERE else in our scriptures does someone say they behold God. That gift of being given sight, being given that kind of close interaction/vision with God is given ONLY to this person who took the risk of speaking his truth to God, fully, completely, with pain and anger, yes; but more with faith, trust and commitment to the relationship with God. Job’s lament, Job’s words made room for his vision of the beauty of the world to return. They made space within him for awe and a sense of wonder and appreciation to return to him. He laid the ground work of having a genuine experience of God by being genuine himself, by being transparent, and completely real.
For James and John, too, when they demand that Jesus give them whatever they ask for, Jesus doesn’t scorn them or walk away, or even act repelled. He asks them what they want him to do for them. And then when they tell Jesus that they want to be seated next to Jesus when Jesus comes into his glory, Jesus does not dismiss them then either. He, too, instead, engages their devout defiance. He, too, enters into conversation with them, is present with them. But then, he, too, brings both comfort and challenge – okay, if you want to follow me, you will do exactly that – which both promises death and promises the resurrection to follow.
The deepest gift in both of these texts is that God stays with them even in the face of their audacity and gall. God shows up, is present, continues to engage them in an ever deepening relationship with God-self. It comes back to relationships: Job wants to talk to God and God wants to talk to Job. And that, THAT is beyond amazing. It is the dialogue and conversation that is so crucial: that’s the relationship right there. And I would say that is the case between people as well. Our choice to stay in relationship is what is most important.
Barbara Brown Taylor explains the gifts of God’s responses in these texts this way… “the worst thing that can happen (to us) is not to suffer without reason, but to suffer without God – without any hope of consolation or rebirth.”
Rabbi Albert Lewis described the alternative, the experience of those without an experience of God’s presence, with these words, “I had a doctor once who was an atheist….This doctor liked to jab me and my beliefs. He used to schedule my appointments deliberately on Saturdays, so I would have to call the receptionist and explain why, because of my religion, that wouldn’t work… One day, I read in the paper that his brother had died. So I made a condolence call…(in this job you don’t retaliate). So I go to his house and he sees me. I can tell he is upset. I tell him I am sorry for his loss. And he says, with an angry face, ‘I envy you.’ ‘Why do you envy me?’ I said. ‘Because when you lose someone you love, you can curse God. You can yell. You can blame (God). You can demand to know why. But I don’t believe in God. I’m a doctor! And I couldn’t help my brother.’ He was near tears. ‘Who do I blame?’ he kept asking me. ‘There is no God. I can only blame myself.’ That, is a terrible self-indictment. Worse than an unanswered prayer. (For) it is far more comforting to think God listened and said no than to think that nobody’s out there.” (HALF, p 81, 82)
We have the most precious gift of knowing that someone is out there. We know that God is with us, and even more that God does answer our prayers, usually not in the ways we expect, but always in faithful, present ways. We can be brave with God, we can speak out truth to God – God knows what we really think and feel anyway, so we may as well tell God. When we choose that kind of real honesty, real openness with God, God shows up. For God wants relationship with us as much as we want relationship with God. Call out to God, speak to God. In return we find God’s very being.
But also take this to the next step. Just as God’s response to those who argue with God is for God to show up, our relationships to those who take the time to talk to us is a call also to show up. To listen, to be present. Thanks be to God!