October 17, 2021———-Rev. Patrick Mecham
Job 38: 1-7, 34-41———-Psalm 104: 1-9, 24, 35c———-21st Sunday after Pentecost
Do you know any “know-it-alls”? You know, people who either think they know everything or at least like to give the impression that they have a firm grasp of everything worth knowing.
Years ago, I was telling a friend that we were looking at moving to Elko, Nevada. He asked me, “What’s the base of the economy there?” and I told him, “Gold mining” is the big thing, then ranching and tourism. He responded, “Oh, they don’t do any gold mining there anymore.” I just raised my eyebrows and quoted a fact I had just recently learned, “If Nevada were a separate country, it would be the third largest gold-producing country in the world!” He didn’t argue. Now, this is the same fellow who later complained that such-and-such a person was a “know-it-all.” And I said, “It sure isn’t much fun to be with someone who thinks they know everything!” And even though my voice was dripping with sarcasm, he simply agreed with my statement!
Today, our texts are about the limits of our knowledge, the limits of our ability to understand, and the vastness of the reality of God.
Our problem comes, as it did for Job, when we think we know something and we base our beliefs and conclusions on what little information we truly understand.
Let me remind you about our friend, Job. He was a man, living in the land of Uz, a man who was blameless and upright, one who respected God and turned away from evil.
But evil still found him. His vast possessions were wiped out. His large family all died, except for his wife. Then he got covered with boils. He was the picture of misery. His wife counseled him, “Do you still persist in your integrity?! Curse God, and die!”
But Job held on to his faith. He said, “Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?”
But Job continued to suffer. His well-meaning friends tried to counsel with him, but their words were no comfort. Finally, Job complained to God. He saw himself as innocent, and all his suffering undeserved. He appealed to God’s sense of fairness and begged God to grant him justice. He begged for an answer from God. And, in today’s reading, we hear God’s response—not exactly the response Job was expecting! Let’s look at what God says.
Who Is This that Darkens Counsel by Words without Knowledge?
God’s answer begins with a question: “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” Then he says, “I will question you, and you shall declare to me.” God is saying that Job is a know-it-all who needs to learn; and God is comparing Job to the One who truly knows it all.
God says, “I am the one who laid the foundations of the earth. I am the one who determined its measurements. I stretched the line upon it. I laid its cornerstone when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy.”
Then God asked Job, “Can YOU lift up your voice to the clouds, so that a flood of waters may cover you? Can YOU send forth lightnings? Can YOU hunt the prey for the lion?
Who do you think it is that has put wisdom in the inward parts, understanding in the mind? Who do you think has the wisdom to number the clouds? Who can tilt the waterskins of the heavens and make it rain? Who provides for the raven?
I, the Lord, know all these things, and I have power and understanding(not you).” Next week, we’ll hear Job’s response to all this, and finish up with his story.
A Tradition of Praise
I’d like to take a look at our reading from Psalm 104. This comes as part of the great tradition of praise of God, and acknowledgement of God’s wisdom. “Bless the Lord, O my soul, O Lord my God, you are very great!” The Psalmist mentions all of creation as proof of God’s greatness—including rain, wind, and fire. “O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. Praise the Lord!”
There’s another Psalm that praises God’s majesty, and then contrasts God with humanity. Psalm 8 says, “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?”
This is an acknowledgement that God is beyond—that God is sovereign. We find much in our Judeo-Christian tradition that attempts to express the inadequacy of our words to describe the wonders of God, and the inadequacy of our understanding of all God’s workings. So we find that it is best to say, “I may not understand, but I am going to leave it in God’s hands. Bless the Lord, O my soul!”
The Message in the Questions
Back to our buddy, Job. When God asks, “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” I am sure it was not meant as a put-down. It’s more in line with the promise, “You shall know the truth, and the truth will make you FREE.”
God’s first task was to clarify the difference between Job and God. And, when we read this passage, we begin to learn the difference between God and us. It illustrates graphically the scope of God’s wisdom and power and activity in all of life (right down to the ravens)! God speaks not as a judge, but simply demonstrating the vastness of the difference between Creator and Creation.
It was necessary to establish this understanding in order to show Job his position in the whole order of things. God needed to affirm God’s sovereignty over all of Job’s life, and then lead Job into the next step of his spiritual growth.
And this is what God does with us! Just look at Jesus who exercised such patience while teaching his disciples. Sometimes, they were truly dense. And sometimes, they grasped the truth but didn’t like it—so they stubbornly clung to their previous ideas!
God is patiently trying to teach you and me—and we are indeed dense at times! But the marvel is this: The more I learn and grow, the LARGER the world becomes, and the more I can see that I have yet much to learn.
An increase in knowledge results in an increase in the MYSTERY! I recently read a quote by Albert Einstein in which he confesses his wonder at the sheer mystery of the world. “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious side of life. It is the deep feeling, which is at the cradle of all true art and science. In this sense, and only in this sense, I count myself amongst the most deeply religious people.”
Friends, if Einstein wonders at the mystery of the world—maybe you and I are on a good track with him and with Job as we learn to trust the God who is above all, and in all, and through all.