“Good News Out of a Storm” – Job 38:1-11
Introduction: The story of Job
The Book of Job is a 42-chapter long story of one man – Job. In the various types of literature in the Bible, it is unique in that way… focused on one man rather than on the entire community and/or history of the Israelites. If you’re familiar with the story of Job, you may assume that a sermon on Job will be about patience. Perhaps we all need such a sermon, but we will have to wait… patiently… for that on some other Sunday in the future.
If you’re not so familiar with Job, if you haven’t read it recently, let me give you a one-minute summary. Job was a wealthy and faithful man. One day, Satan said to God that Job was faithful only because God had blessed and protected him. God gave Satan permission to afflict Job – “only spare his life.” So, in the course of a few days, Job lost his seven sons and three daughters to a wind storm, and he lost his herds and flocks to raids of foreigners, and he lost his health – with sores from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head. Three friends came to comfort him. They assumed that Job was being punished by God for some unknown and unrepented sin, and argued that if Job would confess his guilt, God would restore him. Job insisted on his innocence and that he had committed no gross sins. We know from the introduction to the story that even God called him blameless and upright. The debate with the three friends goes on for almost 30 chapters. Then Elihu, a fourth friend comes. He disagreed with the other three, but also disagreed with Job for defending himself. He said, “You say ‘I am pure… and free from guilt,’ but in this you are not right.” As Elihu concludes his speech, a storm approaches, and what we heard today was the beginning of God speaking from the storm.
1. Storms = out of control
a. Job in control
As the story of Job begins in chapter 1, we see that Job had a happy life. While some of us may consider seven sons and three daughters more blessing than we would choose, for Job it was a true blessing that any Israelite of his time would be extremely grateful for. The fact that he had 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, and 500 female donkeys indicated that the “stock” market was very good to him. He had plenty of servants to care for all those animals. He gave help and advice to others from his life experience and wisdom. He feared God and turned away from evil, living by faith in God’s grace, and living a holy life that was the fruit of His salvation. He seemed to be in control of his life in many ways.
b. Job lost control
But in the course of a few days, Job lost all control of his life. Those raiding foreigners came and took all his animals, killing Job’s servants in the process. While he was hearing the report about his animals and servants, another report came about a wind-storm that destroyed a house where all of his children were eating and celebrating. They all died. Job’s blameless but unimaginable response to all that personal catastrophe was: “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”
Sometime later, Satan received permission from God to afflict Job’s health, but to spare his life. That’s when he got the head to toe sores. Sitting in ashes and scraping his sores with pottery, Job’s response was again faultless: “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” And he did not sin with his lips by cursing God.
But there’s no question that Job had lost control of his life – a storm of raiders, a storm of wind, and a storm of sores. Nothing was going right. In the chapters that follow, we see that Job interpreted his misfortunes as meaning that God no longer forgave him, and was, for some reason, angry with him. He had no idea why God was allowing him to suffer. He had no idea that God was letting Satan test him precisely because God was pleased that Job was a man of great faith. Instead of offering other people help and advice, Job lost his authority and reputation in the community to the point that his three friends believed that they needed to give him help and advice.
c. Disciples lost control
In the Gospel reading from Mark 6, the disciples were somewhat in control. They had just finished following Jesus’ orders as they fed the 5,000 with the 5 loaves and 2 fish miraculously multiplied by Jesus. They were in control of the crowd and of the disbursement of the food. They had gotten into a boat to cross the sea, while Jesus stayed behind to pray. They were in control of the boat, rowing as they headed to the other side of the sea. But then, suddenly, they lost control. The wind was against them in the deepest, darkest part of the night. They had trouble rowing. The waves were likely splashing into the boat. In the darkness, they couldn’t see very well, and then what they did see was a phantom, a ghost, walking on the water toward them, and they were filled with fear. They could imagine their lives coming to an unexpected and unwelcome end – either at the hands of the phantom, or as they and their boat sank to the bottom of the sea never to be found again. No, it’s not a good feeling to lose control of what’s happening. And that’s generally what happens when storms suddenly blow in.
d. We lose control
It happens to us, too, doesn’t it? We somehow sense a need to be in control of our lives – in control at work, in control of our finances, in control of our travel (that’s why this last year or so has been extremely difficult), in control of our family, in control of our activities. We like to know what’s happening, we like to call the shots, and that makes us feel secure. We think that success at any of those things – work, finances, family – is proof of our being right, and righteous, like Job.
But then the storm or storms of life roll in and we find that we aren’t truly in control of everything. Calamities happen to us, too. Maybe not as devastating as Job losing all his children, and Job losing on the “stock” market, but just as difficult for us when the winds of life blow in. The computer crashes and we lose our data. The car crashes and we lose our good driving status. Our diet crashes and those 25 pounds we lost come right back on. Our blood pressure crashes and we have to take pills for the rest of our earthly days. The stock market crashes and we lose ⅓ of our net worth. The economy crashes and we lose our Job… no our job!! The stormy winds can come from any direction – physical problems, emotional problems, economic problems, relationship problems, and sometimes, like Job, all of the above, all at once. And we struggle in vain to understand it all, and we struggle in vain to regain control of our lives.
Is God angry with us? Have we lost our blameless status? Our “friends” may even come around with their suggestions for advice and help, trying to prove that they are right and that we are guilty. In all of this, we have an intense desire to defend ourselves, to insist that we are right, that we are better than others, that we are still in control of our lives. When we do that, we risk missing something.
2. Who is really in control? (God is!!)
Let’s go back to Job…
God’s questions of Job indicate that God is really in control. Out of the whirlwind, God begins, “Job, do you dare to darken my door with your complete ignorance of my ways? You’ve been asking a lot of questions lately… let me ask you some questions… get ready to answer.”
Then God asks questions about the creation of the earth, and He describes it in terms of architecture, drafting, surveying, and construction.
“Were you there when I laid the foundation of the earth? Speak up, I can’t hear you. Did you determine its measurements? Did you set its pilings or lay its cornerstone? No??”
That’s how human beings would have to build something, but God merely spoke “Let there be,” and things came into being just according to His powerful word.
God continues with a set of questions about the sea, and you can picture the metaphor of childbirth with God as the midwife.
“When the sea came out of creation’s womb, did you cradle it and establish its limits? Did you make clouds and mist its receiving blanket? Did you make a playpen for it so it couldn’t run loose?”
God would go on to ask Job similar questions about the cosmic elements – like where are the storehouses of snow, or who sends thunderbolts – and another set of questions about the mysteries of animals. Of course, Job can answer none of these questions – because he is not truly in control… God is!
Through all of those unanswerable questions, Job comes to understand that… well, that he understands very little, and that God is the one who has a master plan for the world. If God could create such a vast and complex universe, including the human race, He can surely care for one individual member of that human race, named Job.
It’s informative to consider what God doesn’t say in this 4 chapter long speech to Job. 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 and storms to the marvelous order that undergirds the world. He patiently instructs a man who needs to see the larger picture.
3. Storms lead us to depend on God
What is that larger picture? It is that God allows the storms of misfortune to enter our lives because when we lose control we have to depend on Him who has everything in His control. At the end of the story, in the last chapter, Job acknowledges that he didn’t know what he was talking about. His last words were: “I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”
Job had to learn that He did not need to defend himself. Job is brought to contentment without knowing all the facts behind what had happened – that Satan had brought up the matter and that God allowed the suffering. He, like all of us, was called to “walk by faith, not by sight” as we heard last Sunday. He was called to love God for the sake of God alone, not because God had blessed him materially. God invites Job to love Him for no reason other than that God is worthy of love. God says it’s more important to know Him than to have all the answers. That was the good news that God spoke to Job out of the windstorm that day.
We don’t have to have all the answers… because God does! Even when everything seemed out of control as it did that dark day two thousand years ago when it appeared that Satan had really won, when the disciples had no clue why their Master was abandoned by the heavenly Father to die on a cross, even when the disciples didn’t have the answer and felt everything was out of control, God was in control. Just like Job didn’t understand the reason for his suffering, the disciples didn’t understand the reason for their suffering, and Jesus’ suffering. But God had a higher purpose in mind. Jesus Christ bore our sins on the cross so that we do not have to die for our own sins. Jesus rose from the dead to complete our redemption and salvation. It is only through Jesus Christ that we are set right with God, forgiven, and declared righteous.
Even when things seem their worst for us – physical storms, economic storms, emotional storms, relationship storms – God is in control, and His purpose is that “all things – even the worst things – work together for the good of those who love Him and are called by His purpose.” The storm that puts us out of control puts God in control of our lives. That’s the good news that we hear out of the windstorm of God’s voice in Job 38.
At the end of the story, Job says, in essence, “Now, I’m satisfied; I’ve seen you with my own eyes.” Today, you and I have seen God, we have met God. He is present in His Word to instruct, comfort, rebuke, correct and train us in righteousness. He is present in the gathering of believers – wherever two or three gather together in Jesus’ name. He is present in bread and wine when we celebrate the Sacrament of Holy Communion. He invites us, with Job, to examine our trust in God when the windstorms of daily living blow fiercely. He invites us to learn with Job that we do not need to have all the answers as long as we have God, who has all the answers to the world and to life. We do not need to know why certain things happen as long as we know that He loves us in His Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.