Job 38:1-41 * Psalm 104:1-9, 24, 35c • Hebrews 5:1-10 • Mark 10:35-45
Did you ever read to children the Dr Seuss story called Wacky Wednesday? My kids loved it because on each page there were more and more wacky things to count, like shoes on the ceiling, and trees floating above ground and cars without wheels and so on. If there was a biblical book to correspond with Wacky Wednesday it might well be the Book of Job, and yet it’s sometimes counted as a masterpiece of world literature. There we see the shocking image of a God who gives Satan permission to ‘test’ Job by doing horrible things to him and his family. At first, there’s some kind of ‘wacky’ meeting of heavenly beings including Satan; and God seems to be a ‘wacky’ show-off who brags to Satan about how perfectly wonderful Job is. Satan replies that Job is only a good person because God protects him and gives him everything. Right there it already sounds like a human soap opera – do people love us for who we are, or for what we do for them? Other big themes of the Book of Job are unmerited suffering, and why God allows evil in the world. Why do the righteous suffer, and why do bad things happen to good people?
As you may recall, Job loses all his children and much of his wealth and gets a terrible skin disease. His wife is angry at God and thinks that Job should be too, but he’s not. And three friends come and spend a long time trying to convince Job that since God is just or fair, Job must have sinned terribly for all these bad things to happen to him. It seems to be ingrained in the human psyche, or perhaps it’s such a deeply rooted human desire to believe that if we are good, then God will protect and reward us; and if others suffer greatly, they must have done something to deserve that punishment from God. On one level it’s victim-blaming which still flourishes to this day. On another level it’s people wanting to feel safe by believing that those who suffer must have done something to deserve such a ‘fate’. Next week we’ll hear what some consider to be an unrealistic happy ending in which Job gets everything back and more. As one of those Jewish Buddhist sayings goes: “Accept misfortune as a blessing. Do not wish for … a life without problems. What would you talk about?”
For today’s Job reading we have this intriguing scene of God bragging about all the great things he’s done in Creation. Job has been wanting an explanation from God as to why all these bad things happened to him. Job asks – why me – and God responds with ecology. It sounds cruel on one level, almost like God is gaslighting Job – dismissing or ignoring his concerns. However, like so much of the Bible, we must remember that the writers of these biblical books often portray God with their own human limitations. As Voltaire supposedly said: “In the beginning God made man in his own image, and man has been trying to repay the favor ever since.” Job has questions for God, but God turns it around and questions him.
“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? … when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?” God asks, reminding Job that God’s Creation is so much bigger than ‘paltry’ human affairs. “Can you lift your voice to the clouds … Can you send forth lightnings?” Last week there seemed to be gorgeous bright green Northern Lights all across western Canada, judging by the photos people posted. These views of splendiferous aspects of Creation do not solve our problems, but they remind us to keep looking up and seeking beauty, despite the pains and struggles of our lives. “Who has put wisdom in the inward parts or given understanding to the mind?” God asks Job. Sometimes Holy Spirit Wisdom surprises us with the opposite of what we were hoping for … but it turns out for the best. God’s wisdom is wiser than human foolishness. Creator God also asks Job if he can feed hungry lions or ravens when their young ones cry out for food. Job has understandably focused on his own horrible problems, but God replies with ecology – with showing Job the bigger picture of what Creation is all about. Is that cruel, or is it kind?
This question is still relevant today when many humans keep thinking that we are the center of God’s focus – anthropocentrism – when in fact God is the Creator of all living things and of earth itself. God cares about all the harm being done to all of creation in these dark days when human selfishness, greed and apathy are destroying the earth and all its vulnerable creatures. The COP 26 Climate Change conference in Glasgow is coming up soon on Oct 31 to Nov 12 so let’s keep that in our prayers, knowing that God’s creation is so much vaster than our human problems and concerns.
Our psalm today has a similar message. God is wrapped in light as with a garment and stretches out the heavens like a tent. The winds are God’s messengers and fire & flame his ministers. Mountains and valleys and earth’s great waters/oceans speak to us of God’s love and greatness. We are so small compared to these things, and yet we keep putting ourselves at the center. I’ve seen Shinto and Buddhist art that properly places humans and their houses etc. somewhere in the lower corner of the canvas, with most of the canvas taken up by mountains & seas and other aspects of nature – the opposite of anthropocentric Western art.
It’s not just that we’re disrespecting God by focusing too much on our own concerns, but we’re also increasing our anxiety & suffering. As Jesus says – come to me you who are weary & I will give you rest. Many of us know how much a lovely walk in nature can uplift our minds and hearts – that broader horizon that Carl Jung spoke of – where our own problems can diminish in size if we can look at the proverbial Bigger Picture. So, let’s not make the mistake that James and John make in today’s gospel – wanting seats of honour or high places in God’s kingdom. At this time of autumn splendour, may we keep looking up to see how God’s awesome Creation invites us to cherish & sustain ALL of the Created Order, Amen.