God and the Geber
Job 38:1-7, (34-41)
by Rev. Thomas N. Hall
What an interesting passage before us this morning! Have you ever
been in such a one-sided conversation as the one in which Job finds himself at the end of
the book? Finally, after slogging through nearly thirty-seven chapters of heated debate
over suffering-with mud-slinging, angry denials and rebuttals-finally we come to what
weve been waiting for all along: Gods response to the problem of suffering.
What does God have to say about all of these conversations? Inquiring minds want
to know whos been right and whos been wrong. You may want to spend an
afternoon and read through the book of Job to see how each character thinks about
suffering. To sum up, Jobs three friends-Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar-live in a black
and white world. They are convinced in what we might call retributive justice. That is,
they believe that God has established boundaries in this world. Boundaries established by
the long-held and revered wisdom of the ages. Such conventional wisdom describes how God
acts toward those who worship God and how God acts toward those who choose to go it alone.
One thing for sure: to step outside of Gods boundaries is to stumble into
disfavor with God. As the ancient wisdom goes, no one is never left to guess whos
out and whos inside the boundaries of Gods favor. Such step-outers are clearly
marked by a plethora of bad things that happen to them-bolts of lightening like smart
bombs that strike them in a crowd of people. Judgment will come to them sooner than later.
And to their children, and even to their grandchildren. So according to this conventional
wisdom those who suffer severe reversals in life are step-outers. They are people who
through their own actions have brought Gods retributive judgment upon themselves.
I can imagine this conversation happening today in a Barnes and Noble bookstore sitting
around a table between sips from lattes. Soon the conversation takes a serious turn.
Heres the gist of what was said that will help us to appreciate what God will say in
response. So listen to some guys talking from somewhere in a Barnes and Noble in the Land
of Buz . . .
"Hey, Job," says Eliphaz, "accept this suffering as Gods
discipline and then God will restore you."
"But dont you get it? I dont need correcting; Ive done
Eliphaz throws off his polite Im-okay-youre-not approach and cuts to the
chase. "You dont know nothing, Job! Our wisdom comes from gray-haired
people. You know as well as I do, that the wicked will not prosper-weve always
believed that way and youre definitely not prospering."
"But Ive done nothing wrong!" Job remonstrates. "I am innocent so
why is God is using me for target practice?"
"Whatever," Bildad retorts. "But God never twists justice. Its a
simple syllogism, Job. Wisdom says that A. only bad guys suffer; B. You are suffering.
Therefore, C. You have done something heinous and so God is punishing you." But Job
can only grimace as hes turned over on his other side. "In fact, Job,"
Bildad continues, "it is written that, quote, a deadly disease spreads over
their bodies and causes their arms and legs to rot. Unquote. That is so you,
Job-just look at yourself!
"Stop insulting me already," Job cries. "You dare to point to my
suffering and take that as proof that Im a God-hater, that Ive stepped over
the line? How stupid. But get this in your thick head, that God has condemned me-though
innocent-to wither and die in suffering."
If this were a tag-team event, Zophar would now jump into the ring. "You really
make me sick, Job. Even you know that though the wicked start out wealthy, healthy and
successful, yet at the height of their Fortune 500 lives they will be crushed; God will
punish them. Period. No exceptions."
Job grows exasperated with their air tight theology, so he sort of plays dirty. He
breaks the silence of what theyve deliberately and conveniently left out of their
theology-Job cites notable exceptions.
"Oh yeah?" he says. "You guys say that God puts people into
hermetically sealed categories-"The Wicked" over there and the "In God we
Trust" crowd over here? Well, what about . . .
Old Pennysniff-the guys 100 years old and cusses God everyday
Rashana, LeRoy, and George-grandkids-theyre A students in school
The executives who cheat their employees out of bonus checks and use the money to buy
yachts and backyard golf courses?
My neighbor who sics her dog on the poor whenever they come to her door?
"Its just not as simple as that," Job concludes. "Your theology
doesnt always work."
Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar still live in our world. They sometimes sit in the pews of
our churches; they lead committee meetings; they usually live quiet, well-structured
lives. Conventional wisdom has generally worked for them. And on those occasions when it
hasnt worked, they have placed the deficiency elsewhere. Eliphaz and friends live on
easy answers and within rigid boundaries. There may be such a thing as innocent suffering
that happens through violence and wars and such. But personalized suffering?
Thats different. We can control that, they reason.
When applied to marriage conventional wisdom makes divorce the unpardonable sin and
punishes the offender in a hundred different ways. When we leave no discussion and no
other way to listen to Scripture, Eliphaz and Bildad and Zophar have just walked into our
lives with easy Bible answers and a lot of judgment.
This kind of wisdom works well as long as bad things are happening to some body else.
If a kid grows up in a Christian home but makes choices that lead her far from her faith
and community, the parents have apparently not followed the biblical instructions well.
"Raise up a child in the way he/she should go and when they are old, they will not
depart from it." Thats conventional wisdom-wisdom that normally guides our
direction. But when such wisdom ossifies into doctrine, then Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar
Jobs friends once joined Jesus disciples as they walked by another
suffering Job. "Pssst! Hey Teacher, who sinned? This man or was it his parents? Which
was it that caused this man to be born blind?" Thats how Eliphaz and Bildad and
Zophar would have framed the scene. Thats what retributive justice would have
concluded. Thats what the norm of conventional wisdom would have taught. Thats
how the disciples viewed Jobs suffering. "Which? We know it has to be one or
the other that has caused this suffering." Eliphaz and Bildad and Zophar still offer
answers at the place of suffering.
Lets take a look at Job. He is us-the human family that experiences suffering. I
am struck by the depth of his agony and discomfort. This is primarily about relationships,
according to one theologian. Jobs relationships have been disrupted, disoriented, or
destroyed. His children are dead, his spouse has left, and his norms of relating to God
have been radically altered.
In his suffering Job gropes for meaning. He staggers like a wounded animal in a
bullfight; he curses his life, the day he was born, curses Gods absence, and prays
for death. He probably would have been helped by Nietzsches popular advice: if a
person has a why they can bear almost any how. If you know what the
conversation has been about, know why youre going through the pain, that knowledge
alone can help us to stay the course with faith. But sometimes we dont know all of
the answers, havent heard the heavenly council, and so we wonder why. Why this? Why
now? Why me?
Probably the greatest gift we can give Job-the woman who now sits alone in the same pew
that she had shared with her late husband for forty years; Job, the father who tries to
explain to his nine year old why he gets so tired after his chemo every third week; Job,
the stunned mother who has unexpectedly been abandoned by her boyfriend; Job, the friend
in hospital room 118-the greatest gift we can give Job is the gift of comfort and hope. We
dont need to be answer guys nor theologians. Job doesnt need air tight
theologies of why this has happened. What Job yearns for is a friend, a presence who will
sit with them and silently help suffer with them.
So God finally speaks to Job out of the whirlwind. But did you notice how God addresses
him? God comes to Job with the strange word, geber, or gibbor. Geber is a
Hebrew word connected with courage. English equivalents are "able man,"
"chief," "champion," "giant," "mighty one,"
"strongest," and "valiant one." Job? A mighty one? What is this,
divine sarcasm? A tongue in cheek way to show how presumptuous Job has acted? Some
commentators think so. But not all. Some see behind that word Gods great confidence
in Job who has been valiant and courageous through his suffering. And God knows that even
now Job can withstand Gods confrontation with him.
Job is disfigured and broken, but God sees something else deep within him. Calls him
courageous-a valiant man. Whatever is loaded into that title, it does take courage to
experience unbearable sadness and pain and yet to trust God. Takes a valiant person who
can place their brokenness in Gods hands even when they dont have all the
answers. Job hasnt a clue of the conversation between God and The Satan in the
heavenly court. Nor do we catch all the conversations going on about our lives.
Now that God has Jobs attention, what does God say? Well, the short answer is
that God gives him no answer. Now God turns tables and becomes the questioner. Yet,
strangely in the torrent of questions, God speaks to a powerful and mysterious vision of
creation and the role that humans play in Gods large and intricate universe. So God
puts Job in the theater seat of creation and fills it with surround sounds and powerful
images of earth, sky, and sea. Jobs head spins with questions about cosmology,
meteorology, control of the sea, death, the nature of light and darkness, the movements of
constellations and the intriguing qualities of lions and mountain goats and donkeys and
ostriches and vultures.
The questions that occupy us-Whats in it for me? How fast is it? How much does it
cost? How much ram? Are we there yet?-pall in the presence of Gods mind-stretching
questions. We start with the particular-God begins with the universal that moves out
toward the particular. The very radicalism of Gods questions says one theologian,
shatters our anthropocentric world that were so comfortable with. In the wall of
questions a pattern of truth about God emerges-God is the Creator and Artist of a
magnificent and expanding universe. The Wisdom that knows and cares for such a creation
often moves with its own rhythms, and may even defy our best theologies that try to
explain suffering. God will not be contained by our best thinking and reasoning, yet there
is something comforting in the questions that speak to the faithfulness of God to maintain
and nourish what God has created.
A clergy couple recently provided a home for three foster kids. The children had
witnessed the violent murder of their father by their mother, and then had watched as the
SWAT team handcuffed their mother and led her away. The first night in the clergy
couples home the family gathered to read together the creation account in Genesis 1.
These kids had experienced the sudden, violent loss of both parents and needed to know
that there was something upon which they could still rely. You can imagine the impact the
words of creation had on them-the measured and ordered way that God put the created order
together. Everything was good that God made and just hearing about it within the presence
of a loving family became the first of many steps the children would take toward restoring
their own world of trust.
Sometimes our world of trust will be shaken. Jobs was. The book of Job closes
without denying the chaos and suffering that human beings live with. But in that very
suffering God calls us Geber-valiant ones who will entrust their present and future lives
to the God who upholds the universe by the Word of his power. Amen.