“Who Are You to Ask?”
I like Job. Job is a decent guy who has had every bad thing that could happen to him, happen to him over the last few months. He loses his money, his land, his kids are killed and he ends up covered with boils and lesions. Life is awful. His supposed friends show up, asking what he has done wrong to deserve this, since he surely must have done something to cause all this misfortune. His wife even tells him to just “curse God and die.” All he does though is cry out to God asking why, insisting that if he could just talk to God, he could work this all out. He wishes he had never been born
In the first lesson for today, God answers Job. He doesn’t give any nice neat sort of answer about why things went wrong or what Job could have done differently. No, instead, God basically asks Job who he thinks he is to insist on this knowledge. Who is he to think it would have been better never to be born? Then God spends the next chapter explaining how Job is not God. God is. And God knows more about the way things work than Job ever could.
The thing is, so often, we approach God as if God owes us something instead of the other way around. God owes us explanations of why things have happened in our lives. God owes us a way to fix the problems. God owes us a way out of this mess. If we just offer up the right bargain to God, then God has to make the deal with us.
But God is simply not in the business of rewarding and punishing human beings. God’s revelation to Job and to us is that the universe is far bigger, far stranger, and far more mysterious than we can imagine. A longer look at the ostrich and the sea and the eagle would help us to begin to see that.
God isn’t small. God isn’t so easily contained by the likes of us and our rules. One of my favorite books as a child was The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. This is C.S Lewis’ famous children series, where the central figure, Aslan the lion, is the Christ figure for a group of children in a land where animals talk. The part I’m going to read to you is when the Beavers are explaining Aslan to the children.
“Is—is he a man?” asked Lucy.
“Aslan a man!” Mr. Beaver said sternly. “Certainly not. I tell you he is the King of the wood and the son of the great Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea. Don’t you know who is the King of Beasts? Aslan is a lion—the Lion, the great Lion.”
“Ooh!” said Susan, “I’d thought he was a man. Is he—quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”
“That you will, dearie, and no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver; “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”
“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
God isn’t tame. God isn’t safe and yet, so often we act like God is. We act like we have control of God instead of the other way around. Perhaps we need to recognize human limits more often, that we are not the source of all wisdom and knowledge. We are not as smart as we think we are. There are ultimate things that must be left to God.
Because we cannot fully understand God’s will and design, we should not try to answer for God. This is an importnat reminder for some Christians. So often, we can feel the need to defend God by explaining God’s actions in every situation. For some reason we are so uncomfortable with God’s mystery that we feel the need to constantly explain God’s ways, but we are really just guessing. In my own life, I know that in times of suffering I have been most comforted when a fellow Christian has admitted not understanding God’s actions, but has offered the inherent comfort promised and offered by God. This would have been just as powerful a reminder to Job and his friends as it is to us.
I can be okay with that. At least this answer isn’t telling us life is fair when we know it is not, or that we are sinners and deserve everything that happens to us, like Job’s friends try to claim. When I am suffering, I would rather hear “There are some things you cannot know in this life,” rather than “you are a sinner and this is a punishment to teach you a lesson.”
Now, I’m not saying Job did the wrong thing by coming to God with questions. Further on down the chapter God basically says “I’m angry with those three guys who kept mounting pious arguments to Job when he was suffering. Job is the one who has spoken right of me.” (42:7-10) Asking questions of God is not only alright, but encouraged. Laments are used over and over again throughout the Bible. It is never wrong to cry out to God when we are suffering. The problem comes when when we assume we deserve an explanation. The problem comes when we assume we know better than what God is doing.
Have you ever been in a car where the child in the back seat thinks he knows how to drive better than you do? I have. The voice pipes up, “Why didn’t you go through that yellow light?” or “You didn’t stop for long enough at that stop sign.” or “That car cut you off.” Now, the child has never driven in his life. I’m willing to bet that most of his driving knowledge comes from TV shows. But he thinks he knows enough to tell me, someone who has been driving for years and covered many hundreds of miles how to do it best. That’s what Job is like here. He’s trying to tell God how to handle things better than God has already done.
And that, of course, brings us down to the gospel lesson in which James and John act like two spoiled kids in the back of the car. I can’t help but wonder if they had to work up to this. The text makes it seem that they just jump right in with the question. And, this is immediately following Jesus trying to be as clear as possible about his coming death, not to mention all the stories leading up to this one where he seems to be practically beating them over the head to change the preconceived ideas they had of what the Messiah is. James and John basically attempt to call permanent shotgun in the child metaphor. They take one look at the minivan the disciples are headed for and yell out “We get front seat for life!” ignoring all that Jesus is trying to explain.
ss=”kix-line-break”>James and John are so very human here. They want the positions of glory and have no trouble asking for them, right in front of the rest of the disciples. Unsurprisingly, this upsets the other disciples and they start grumbling about what makes James and John so great. I wonder about Jesus sometimes when I read passages like this. I wonder about the tone of his voice when they come asking these questions. Is he exasperated that they are still not getting it after all this time? Is he amused at their childishness?
Jesus says to them, “whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.” Haven’t you been listening to what I’ve been saying? It isn’t about what you get. It isn’t about being the best. It isn’t about asking for glory. It’s about serving others.
Here’s the thing. God loves us. God loves us absolutely and unconditionally and nothing on heaven and earth can ever or will ever separate us from that love.
But just because God loves us, that does not mean God needs to give us everything we ask or answer all of our questions. A relationship of love where one partner simply said yes and gave the other partner every little thing they asked for is not a healthy one. Love doesn’t mean always saying yes. Love doesn’t mean always giving into demands.
Love does mean that when the pain is real and we cry out, God listens. It means that God is with us just as much as God is with the rest of creation. God hears our cries along with those of the lions and the ravens. Love means that God wants our happiness, but doesn’t always give us what we think we need to get it. God can love us completely and still say no.
We turn to God with demands and bargains, acting like that is only what we are due, when instead we should be asking what can we give back. We demand honor and glory when we should be seeking how best to serve. Instead of trying to tell the God who made the universe how our lives should be run, maybe we should try to follow where that God is leading us. Instead of focusing on what we don’t have, let us look towards all that God in his infinite love has already given us.
We do not fully understand God. We just can’t. God is bigger and more complicated than our human minds can comprehend. We no sooner could determine God’s reasoning for suffering or pain than we could understand the methods of God’s creation. Sometimes being a person of faith means that we accept our limited understanding of the world. It means we trust in God. We trust that God is good. We trust that God loves us, no matter what.
Cara Milne Gee
October 21st, 2012