Who is This?
Who is This?
How do we describe God?
Should we encounter God, what might we expect?
In Jesus, we encounter God in human form. God is relatable, until God is not. Our two encounters of God in scripture today do not go the way anyone else involved would anticipate. Not for Job and not for the disciples. Today we meet God who is wild, unpredictable and unimaginably powerful and we read that it terrifies people.
Who is this that we confess to follow?
Thank you to all of our vocalist and musicians who contribute to the services of worship each week.
Join Kristin Schmidt from Ministry to Children for a lesson about Jesus calming the storm. Video is below and parents can visit the Ministry-to-Children website for more ideas and activities to run with kids.
Who is This?
Job is a difficult book to read in the bible. It deals with hard questions and provides no easy answers. It deals with issues of theodicy, that is if God is good then why does God allow evil in the world. It leads us to ask the question why do bad things happen to good people?
After much discourse between Job and his friends God finally arrives and grants an audience to Job. On first brush the encounter is wholly unsatisfying. God’s responses do not answer Job’s questions, but they do reveal one of the deep mysteries of creation.
Job’s friends ask simple, honest, and direct questions. They assume that the tragedy that has befallen Job is deserved. He must have done something wrong, or perhaps his children have done something wrong. We know this is not the case.
At its outset, the Book of Job asks a difficult question: Does Job only love God because Job has been blessed abundantly.
Job eventually gets his audience with God, but it does not go the way he imagined. How could it? God appears as a whirlwind and while I have never encountered one, I know that whirlwinds are dangerous. This is how the divine has chosen to be revealed and throughout scripture we find the image of whirlwinds represent divine judgement.
We could interpret God in this encounter as a bully, come to put Job in his place. However, Kathleen O’Connor indicates that God does engage with Job about the beauty of creation. The suggestion is that God is not the bully but rather a deity who is wild, beautiful, free, and deeply upsetting. (Kathleen O’Connor, “Wild Raging Creativity: The Scene in the Whirlwind,” in A God So Near: Essays on Old Testament Theology in Honor of Patrick Miller, edited by Nancy Bowens and Brent Strawn (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2009), 171-179; 173.)
In God’s response we find a beautiful telling of the ordering of creation.
- Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
- Who determined the earth’s measurements?
- We hear of the morning stars singing together.
- All the heavens shouting for joy.
Then it shifts and God is pictured as a mother giving birth, with the sea bursting forth from the womb. And that image is so powerful, for the sea is often viewed as a primal force of chaos, dangerous and unpredictable. No sooner as the sea been birthed when God, tenderly and carefully swaddles it in cloths made of the clouds. The image moves from primal chaos to the gentle, tender image of a mother caring for her child. God births the chaos and cares for it.
Think of ancient maps of the world, sea monsters used to be drawn on the edges of maps where there was water. It was believed that terrible creatures inhabited the sea. Ancient myths describe the gods battling these creatures for dominance and control, but here in Job God births the sea and cares for it.
The description of creation may seem unsettling and unsatisfying. Unsettling because it speaks of cosmic power beyond our control. Unsatisfying because it does not answer Job’s question. What we learn is that within creation there is chaos and that this chaos is necessary. Out of this chaos comes life. We grow, evolve and expand, but in order to do that something else must shrink, recede and die. Just think of a garden and cycle of life it goes through from season to season. Within that mystery is chaos and that chaos brings about new life.
Now imagine yourself on a boat, with a tempest of storm raging all around you. At that back of the boat is your friend and mentor and they are sleeping! Can you even imagine it, sleeping while the storm rages about? Sleeping as waves crash over you and the boat takes on water threatening to drown you all. What would you do? You would wake your friend up so that they don’t drown! You would wake them up and ask them to help sail the boat or bail the water out.
The disciples were fishermen, they were used to being out on the sea, they would have experienced their fair share of rough water and storms. They want Jesus to wake up so that he can help. They are probably a little amazed he could sleep through the storm. But don’t for a minute think they wanted Jesus to wake up so that he could intervene. The disciples are more concerned about Jesus, and themselves, not drowning. That is the reason to wake him up. Up until this point the disciples are not afraid, they are concerned but most likely competent enough to deal with the situation. It is when Jesus wakes up, rebukes the wind, and calms the waves that they become terrified. Only then do they feel fear.
The question they then ask is with terror in their voices, “Who is this?”
Who is this that he can command the wind and the sea? My friend the Rev. Dr. Tim Reddish has a background in physics, which is what his doctorate is in. And I can remember him saying do you know how much energy it takes to stop water? What Jesus does here is jaw dropping, this is the first real taste that the disciples have as to the raw power that Jesus commands and it terrifies them.
But let’s be clear. The point of the story is not to highlight the fear and lack of faith displayed by the disciples? Would we really be so different? The point is to highlight the faithful one, Jesus Christ, who travels with them.
It is a question that takes us back to our reading from Job. Job also wants to question God, to know how God could allow such tragedies to befall him. The painful reality that sets in on Job, the disciples and on us is that God and Jesus are truly so beyond our understanding and yet…
And yet, God is with us. We are told, “Do not fear, for I am with you.” (Isaiah 41:10)
And yet, Christ is with us. Christ tells us that he is “the way and the truth and the life.” (John 14:6)
Who is this? This is Jesus Christ, the Son of God the Most High, who walks with us and takes on our pains and burdens.
Who is this? This is the one who shows grace, love and mercy. This is the one who demonstrates a better way.
Returning to Job, Ellen Davis writes, “The note at the end of the book that Job had seven sons and three daughters is often considered to be a cheap parting shot—as though God could make it all up by giving Job another set of children to replace the ones who were lost. But that is to judge the last scene of the book from the wrong side. This book is not about justifying God’s actions; it is about Job’s transformation. It is useless to ask how much (or how little) it costs God to give more children. The real question is how much it costs Job to become a father again. How can he open himself again to the terrible vulnerability of loving those whom he cannot protect against suffering and untimely death?” (Working Preacher)
We are nearing the end of an over year long pandemic. It has forced us to alter so much about who we are and what we love. We have all sacrificed so much. Some of us have become ill and some have died due to this pandemic. Within it all we might ask, no shout, to God ‘How could you allow this?’ But that’s the wrong question, that’s the question that Job asks, and no satisfying answer will ever come from that question. I have asked that question myself countless times over the past three decades and not once has it been answered nor have I ever been satisfied, because it is the wrong question.
The question is can we trust again?
Can we place our faith in God?
Can we risk again, can we be vulnerable again?
Job choses to trust in God. Job choses vulnerability over loss and despair. His new family does not erase the pain of loss that he experienced. Job choses to trust.
The disciples do not flee Jesus when they reach the shore. The do not all disappear into the wilderness, they stick around despite their terror, fear and inability to truly grasp what is happening and who is in their midst. The story that comes next is the feeding of the 5000. Despite any misgivings they were having they trust in Jesus, put their faith in him.
Can we do the same?
Despite not understanding the vastness of God’s creation, can we instead trust in God’s desire for goodness for creation and us? Can we add our voices to those of the morning stars and all the heavenly beings?
Can we do as Job and those disciples did?
As we emerge from this pandemic, we will need to walk with each other, supporting each other. We will also walk in partnership with a God who is wild and frightening, yet who is also good and who promises love and mercy. Amen.
St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church
St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Cobourg is part of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. The congregation was established in 1833 and continues to serve the community.
St. Andrew’s supports the gathering of community agencies, providing space for the Affordable Housing Committee. Rev. Ellis’ voice is key in advocating for improvements in awareness, empathy and action on key determinants such as housing, income and food security.
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