Saturday, June 23, 2018

God's Answer to "Why?"

Job 38:1-11 A tsunami in the Indian Ocean.  A tornado in Texas.  And the question that everyone has—from the people who are affected, to the aid workers on the ground, to the millions of people like us who watch it unfold on TV is:  “why”?  Why did this happen?
            I think we all understand that what IS NOT being asked about are the geophysical causes of these disasters (earthquakes on the ocean floor and colliding currents of warm and cold air) is not the answer that people are looking for when they ask “why”.
            We understand that because we have asked our own questions of “why”.  Why did my grandchild die in that car wreck?  Why was my wife stricken with cancer?  Why was my child born with a birth defect?  Why was my home destroyed by fire?  And the answers that we are looking for have nothing to do with car safety or cancer cells.
            When that question of “why” is asked, what we want to know is the cosmic meaning of what had just happened—especially the “why’s” of why me—why my family—why here—and why now? // 
            This question of “why” is a believer’s question--not that all of those affected by tsunamis and tornadoes believe in and know the one true God as he has revealed himself in the Bible.  But they do understand that there is a Creator who brought this world into being and sustains it day by day. 
And recognizing that there is a powerful Creator, those affected by tragedies wonder what God is doing when the earth’s foundations were shaken-- and why the limits of the sea ceased to exist--and why it happened to them and theirs-- just like we wonder why tragedy and trials befall us and those we love.
            Atheists do not ask this question of “why”.  They are satisfied with the material and physical answer because they believe that is all there is. 
            But the vast, vast majority of the world’s people have always known that there is a God of power and wisdom who rules this world-- and because of that knowledge-- have asked the question of “why” when trouble and trial and tribulation happens to them.//   
            The story of Job deals with that human question of “why”.              Job was a believer in the one true God and knew him to be much more than an anonymous. He knew God as we know him—as he is revealed in the Bible--as the LORD:  the covenant God of love and goodness who from the beginning promised to rescue the world from evil.
            Job was richly blessed by God—he had great possessions, a wonderful family, and good health.  And yet over a very short time all these blessings were taken away.  His possessions were destroyed, his family was killed, and his health was ruined.
            And yet, he did not curse God.  In one of the greatest confessions of faith found in the Bible—a confession of faith that captures the great theme of his story (that God is God and we are not) Job says, “The LORD gives and the LORD takes away, blessed be the name of the LORD.   And he was right-- and that should have been enough. 
But as Job was visited by three friends who came to console him, doubts and the questions took over his life as he and his friends try to make sense out of “why”.
            They said:  Maybe God is punishing you Job.  What have you done wrong?  Maybe you haven’t done anything wrong and God has dealt with you unjustly.  Maybe God is using this whole experience to make you stronger. 
And on and on—question after question—treating God as if he were an object for their examination—questioning his ways in the world as if they were an intellectual or philosophical exercise that exists for human speculation.
            That is where we find ourselves in our lesson for the day as God speaks to Job out of the midst of a storm and reminds him in the strongest possible way that his ways in the world are not objects for our human examination or subjects for our speculation and he will not be treated in that way. 
The Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said:  "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.  Who determined its measurements—surely you know!  Or who stretched the line upon it?  On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?  "Or who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb, when I made clouds its garment and thick darkness its swaddling band, and prescribed limits for it and set bars and doors, and said, 'Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed'?
            After all their questions and musings and ponderings, it is not an idea or a force or an object or a theory that answers Job and his friends-- but it is the one true and living God of the universe—the Creator and Sustainer of all that exists—the LORD who has shown himself time and time to be good and just and merciful.
            And who is it that has presumed to question the LORD?  A mere man!  In this divine dialogue between God and man, there is one who will be called to give an account!  There is one who will answer questions!  There is one who will be put to the test!  But it is not the Creator—it is his creature.  It is not the LORD—it is man. //
            Where was Job when the LORD called the world into existence—when he created all that is?  Job didn’t exist and what’s more, you and I didn’t either.
            Where was Job when God was bringing order out of that which was formless and void—setting the cornerstone that holds the world together—and fixing the boundary for the land and the sea? Job was lifeless dust and so were we.
            What right did Job have to question God about anything that happened to him when he couldn’t even begin to understand the simplest things about the creation of the world?  Job didn’t have a right to question why and neither do we.
            How could Job doubt God’s purposes and plans for him when the entire universe revealed a Creator who knew and upheld and ordered the smallest detail of his creation?  How could there be any doubt in Job’s mind that this same LORD had also perfectly planned each detail of every human life? 
There couldn’t be any doubt as to the wisdom of God for Job and there shouldn’t for us either. //
            These questions that God asks were not meant to mock Job or belittle him or crush him under their weight.  They were meant to remind Job, and his friends, and all of us --who we are and what our place is in the world—that God is God and we are not. 
            But this heavenly reminder given to Job that “God is God and we are not” doesn’t really answer the questions of “why” that Job has, does it?  It doesn’t answer the question of why those terrible things happened to him.  And God does not promise to answer our questions of “why” either when it comes to the tragedies that befall us.
            Still, the answer that God does give is enough:  there is a personal God who is present in the world—a loving LORD who is powerfully working to bring his good purposes to bear in his creation-- including in the lives of his people.
            In that knowledge Job was content and secure and even joyful in his creaturely-ness because he knew the truth about God and the truth about himself.  At the end of God’s questioning Job says,
“Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.  Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes."      
            So it is for us.  We rest in the fact that God is God and we are not—that the LORD who has perfectly ordered creation will perfectly order our life and the lives of those we love as well—even in the midst of trials and tragedies and tribulations.  But there is even more comfort for us than there was for Job.  //
            Many years after these events in the book of Job, a teacher and his disciples were out sailing on the Sea of Galilee when a furious storm came up threatening to overturn their boat and drown them all.  The disciples had questions too.
“Don’t you care if we drown?”  (And he did!)  He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet!  Be still!”  Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.  They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this that even the wind and the waves obey him?”  //
            The questions posed to Job as to the identity of the One who laid the foundation of the earth and set the boundary of the sea-- and the questions of the disciples as to who it is that can even command the wind and waves-- are not questions that invite our speculation.  They are questions with an answer—and that answer is:  it is God alone who rules all things-- including every detail of our life.
            He is the creator of the world—he is the teacher in the boat who stills the storm—and most importantly of all-- he is the man of the cross who suffers and dies because he cares for each of us.
            The God who called Job to account for his questions and invited him to trust in him simply because he was God-- showed himself, in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, to be worthy of Job’s trust, and the disciples’ trust, and our trust as well—even in, and especially in, those situations that cause us to question “why”.
            The LORD did not keep us or our suffering at arm’s length—our trials and tragedies are not a matter of his uncaring, disinterested observation from far above.  Instead, he took them upon himself—he was as Isaiah says, a man of sorrows because there is nothing in our broken human existence that was unknown to him. 
Jesus also took upon himself our doubting questions and our sinful worries and our faithless fears and all of the broken-ness and heartache that weighs us down-- and he carried them to the cross and left them behind forever in the empty tomb never to burden us again. //
            All of us will face those tragedies and trials that tempt us to ask “why”.  Our comfort and peace and solace does not come from a heavenly answer to our specific questions but instead comes from the cross and empty tomb and the simple, glorious promise of Holy Scripture that the One who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all will along with him give us all things-- and that nothing, no trial or trouble or tribulation can separate us from his love.  Amen.

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