(Job 38:1-7, 34-41; Mark 10:35-45) – J G White
11 am, Sun, Oct 21, 2018 – UBC Digby
In Frederick Beuchner’s delightful book, Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC, he gives us a little religious dictionary, of sorts. The very first word he talks about, on page one, is AGNOSTIC.
An agnostic is somebody who doesn’t know for sure whether there really is a God. That is some people all of the time and all people some of the time.
There are some agnostics who don’t know simply because they’ve never taken pains to find out — like the bear who didn’t know what was on the other side of the mountain.
There are other agnostics who have taken many pains. They have climbed over the mountain, and what do you think they saw? Only the other side of the mountain.
We are together in one room here, this special room, because we have done some seeking and some finding of God. Along with all that we do know, from our experience, there is still plenty we do not know.
This month we are just peeking into the saga of Job, the good, suffering person of ancient Israel. After more than twenty pages of fine print Holy Bible, wherein Job and his four ‘friends’ debated why Job’s life had been destroyed, God the Holy One arrives and speaks. Out of a whirlwind. Joyce read just a bit of God’s speeches, that are in chapters 38, 39 and 40.
What is the divine message? No answers. No reasons why. No verdict on if Job did wrong or not, was deserving or not. No judgement on which humans got it right: Job, Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar or Elihu. God presents the magnificent creation, and presents Godself to Job. Asking, rhetorically, “Where you there? Do you know all this?”
16 “Have you entered into the springs of the sea,
or walked in the recesses of the deep?
17 Have the gates of death been revealed to you,
or have you seen the gates of deep darkness?
18 Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth?
Declare, if you know all this. (Job 38)
19 “Where is the way to the dwelling of light,
and where is the place of darkness,
20 that you may take it to its territory
and that you may discern the paths to its home?
21 Surely you know, for you were born then,
and the number of your days is great!
Holy God speaks of earth and seas, clouds and weather, stars and sun and moon, lions and mountain goats and wild donkeys and oxen, ostriches and horses and hawks and eagles, the fearless hippopotamus and the dreaded crocodile.
Job, of course, does not know, nor has any say over any of this. This vast, beautiful, terrifying, unknown creation on earth and in the heavens. Today, we might think that we people know so much about so much. Science has studied and explained life and astronomy and atomic physics and time.
But the more we have learned, the more we realize we do not know, and cannot yet explain. And the BIGGER is the awe and wonder at all there is in nature and the cosmos.
Our gasp at utter beauty, the smallness we feel in a giant landscape, the amazement we have at what is out there, are spiritual experiences. Like the spiritual experience of Job, meeting God in a whirlwind, and pondering all the creatures and all creation.
Other Bible words celebrate the creation that shows the Creator. Such as Psalm 19.
1 The heavens are telling the glory of God;
and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
2 Day to day pours forth speech,
and night to night declares knowledge.
The apostle Paul got at this in his short sermon written down in Acts 17.
26 From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, 27 so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us.
God says to Job, “you don’t know, do you.” He does not, & it’s OK for Job not to know everything. About creation, about his own predicament, about God.
All the deep questions Job and his friends asked, all the personal problems they wonder about, are not answered here. Not getting things right is OK. God comes and meets them, and that is what matters most.
Like Job and his companions, we learn from the embarrassing questions we ask of God, the not-so-sensible prayers we prayed, our actions that were not obedience to what God wanted.
Philip Yancey has been a popular and insightful Christian author, who had a very strict religious upbringing. He has written of his father, who suffered from polio. Not long after Philip was born, his father ended up in an iron lung so he could still breathe and live. Church leaders urged Mr. Yancey to take himself off the iron lung machine, assuring him he would be healed. This was their church’s fervent prayer; this is what was done. Mr. Yancey died, one week later, when son Philip was only one year old.
People of faith do not always know what they are asking. Think of today’s story from Mark, with James and John asking for prominent leadership in a kingdom they expected from Jesus. “You do not know what you are asking,” said Jesus to them.
They also said “we are able” to drink the cup Jesus was about to take. They still did not understand. They could no see that He was about to suffer completely, and die. In time, they too did understand, & sacrificed their lives for the gospel.
It might be quite often that we “do not know what we are asking.” We are looking for answers we will not get. Yet, even wanting the answers to the wrong questions can lead us closer to Christ.
It is OK not to know. Not to know everything. And to be mistaken. We learn from mistakes. We are humbled. We are limited. We do go astray. We are given the grace of God when we think we know what we don’t understand. Grace is to live beyond our foolishness, and be greater. Last week we heard Job crying out about God. And kept trusting the goodness of the Almighty, the good plan for him. (Job 23)
9 on the left he hides, and I cannot behold him;
I turn to the right, but I cannot see him.
10 But he knows the way that I take;
when he has tested me, I shall come out like gold.
The ways we goof up can make us greater, by the grace of God. We need to know this; and we should let other people know this too. By how we treat them, by how we explain our God.
What each person seeks is different.
This morning, Joyce sang a modern song that I have never heard before.
It Is the Cry of My Heart to follow You.
It is the cry of my heart to be close to You.
It’s a good song for me. It is the cry of my heart to follow Him. I am a natural born follower, actually. And I have sought to be a pilgrim on a Christian journey, a disciple of the Master, a follower of Jesus. But many people are not going after such things.
What are the heart cries of others around us? Not necessarily the same as ours. Nor what we think they should be crying out for or needing.
Some cry out, like Job, to ask why there is such suffering, such injustice. Why? And what can be done about it?
Others cry out: Are You there or are You not? The existence of God. The agnostic wanting to know.
Cry out: Who am I to be? Where do I belong?
Cry out: Are the things that seem good to me really wrong? (God and cannabis?)
Cry out: Why is religion so harmful? Why doesn’t it work? Where is authentic spirituality / humanity?
Hemorrhaging Faith is a 2011 Canadian study of young adults who left the Christian Church. In it, the voices of young people are heard. Sandi said, “I am at the age where you question everything and you start wondering why, and why me, and all that stuff.”
Lois said, “I like the style of preaching where they don’t just preach to you, they pose questions to you, don’t just tell you how you are supposed to live your life and these are the reasons: bang, bang, bang, because it says in the Bible.”
Gary said, “I fundamentally believe you can’t understand an infinite God if you are willing to accept answers and stop questioning … you need to be asking questions.” (p. 67)
There may be no simple answer – even from God – for such questions. That’s OK. I have often thought, that when we do get to heaven, some big questions we want answered here will not even matter to us anymore. Once we are united to Christ, the big problems we want solved will be so tiny compared with what we become and what God is.
1 John 3:2 says, Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.
Thanks be to God! Amen.