10th Sunday after Pentecost (Prop 14 – A)
August 9, 2020
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The text that I have chosen for this morning’s sermon is the Old Testament reading, which was read a few minutes ago.
Have you ever been in an argument and been told, “If you’re so smart, then you do it” or “If you’re so smart, why did you do that?” It’s one of those sarcastic responses that gets thrown out when we want to show that we’re superior to the other person. “If you’re so smart…” is one of those phases that gets our cackles up and makes us defensive. Of course, I’m smart! But what if God were to say that phrase to you, what would you say? Could you say anything in response? Probably not, or at least you shouldn’t. Job learned this lesson today because he forgot, like we often do, that God is so smart that you can trust Him even if your life seems to be spinning out of control.
The Old Testament Reading is God’s response to Job at the end of the lengthy discussion and debate between Job and four friends. Up until chapter 38, God has been mostly silent. Job loses his family, his property, his health and yet God won’t answer his prayers. We can relate to this. Don’t we often get discouraged when God is silent during some of our tough times? But just because God is silent doesn’t mean that He’s not listening and working in ways we don’t understand, He is.
He says to Job, “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding.” God is putting Job on the spot, and really us as well. Don’t we think we know better than God does? Oh, we may not say it explicitly, but our attitude and our behavior reflect our thoughts. Could it be that most of us have at times thought we knew better than God when we wanted an illness healed, a problem eliminated, or even an important decision to go our way? We really reveal these thoughts when we say “why God”. Asking why is telling God to explain Himself. “If He’s so smart…” Job is going to wish he hadn’t asked, and we can look to him as the reason we don’t ask either.
I don’t know how much you know about Job, and we don’t have time to dive deep into the theology of the book, it’s not an easy book to understand. What we learn early on is that Satan challenged God about Job. “He only serves you because you’re making life easy for him. You let me afflict him, and he’ll curse you to your face.” And so Job suffers, greatly. Fortunately, Job still has his wife and friends to support him in his suffering, except they weren’t any help at all. Their greatest help to Job was when they sat with him for an entire week before speaking. When they began to speak, though, they accused Job of great and secret sins that were, in their minds, the cause of his suffering. In reply, Job protested his innocence, ignoring the fact that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”
Several times in his suffering Job requests that God speak to him: “Oh, that I had someone to hear me! I sign now my defense—let the Almighty answer me; let my accuser put his indictment in writing.” In other words, “I know my situation better than you do, God. I know I’m innocent. I know I don’t deserve this raw deal.” Then in our text, God answers. “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation…while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy…who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb, when I made the clouds its garment and wrapped it in thick darkness.” In other words, “If you’re so smart…”
Those are some pretty good questions, aren’t they? Despite our incredible scientific advancements, we can’t answer them. Just listen to the atheists and proponents of the Big Bang – they have their theories, some pretty wild ones, but they’re just theories. We can also listen to Christians and non-Christians. “Where was God when that happened to me?” “Why does God let bad things happen to good people?” “Why does God do whatever He does?” God replies to us the same way He did Job, “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?” “If you’re so smart, if you know better than I do, then tell me.”
The two sections of these words from God are about the creation of the land and the creation of the sea. God first uses the image of the construction of a major building. He talks about laying the foundations. He says, “Who stretched a measuring line across it?” In other words, the building site was surveyed before the creation began. “Believe it or not, Job, I knew what I was doing when I created the earth.”
Then God uses the image of a midwife. “Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb?” God the builder, the midwife: both images tell us that God knows what he’s doing. He understands the master plan. He knows how things operate—whether He’s building a home, delivering a baby, or allowing Job to suffer. Each of those images is designed to create confidence in the God who is speaking. God’s words testify to a sense of order in the world. Job is to conclude that if God cares for the His creation, He’ll care for human beings far more wisely and compassionately. If God is in control of the clouds, the storm, and the rain, as our Gospel reminds when Jesus stills the wind, then God is in control of what happens in our lives as well.
Does it strike you as odd that God doesn’t answer Job’s questions? He doesn’t debate with Job or with Job’s friends. He doesn’t even refer to Job’s suffering. Instead, God raises Job’s sight from his own troubles to the marvelous order that undergirds the world. He patiently instructs a man who needs to see the larger picture. Job is brought to contentment without ever knowing all the facts of his case—that Satan had brought up the matter and that God had allowed the suffering. Job has to operate “by faith, not by sight.” He has to love God for God alone. God invites Job to love Him for no reason other than that God is worthy of love. God invites a humble perspective that’s willing to learn. He says, in short, that it’s more important to know God than to have all the answers.
We don’t have to have all the answers because God does—even when things seem their worst, even when everything seems out of control as it did that dark day two thousand years ago when it appeared Satan really had won, when the disciples had no clue why their Master was abandoned by the heavenly Father to die on a cross. Jesus’ disciples didn’t have the answer, but God did. Christ bore our sins on the cross that we might not have to die for our own sins. We know that now through the preaching of the Gospel. And unlike Job, with Christ’s resurrection, we did come to understand God’s reasons—our salvation and the disciples’ and Job’s.
So what’s the result of Job’s meeting with God? In the final chapter Job says, “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted…I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know… I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” Job gets it! He repents of his sins of questioning God and God forgives him and restores all that he lost.
Today you and I have met with God. We’re meeting with Him right now. He’s present in his Word to instruct, comfort, rebuke, correct, train us in righteousness, and most importantly, to forgive us. He’s present in the gathering of believers, wherever two or three gather together in Jesus’ name. He’s present in the Sacrament. He invites us to learn with Job that we need not have all the answers as long as we have God. We need not know why certain things happen as long as we know that He loves us in His Son, Jesus Christ. God is our creator and redeemer. He knows how to use the events in our lives better than we ever will. He may not do what we want or expect, but we live by faith and not by sight. It might be hard to do, but we trust that He is smarter than us, and for us, that’s a very good thing.
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen