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Why? And other unanswered questions ... (4): Dust & Ashes

. 7 min read

2015/08/02
Christ Church, Mountain Top; Holy Communion
Call
to Worship, Psalm 8
Children,
Genesis 2 (creation from the dust)
Message,
Job 38-42, excerpts for the reading
Review:
            Job,
“fears God and shuns evil”
            Loses
everything
            Debate
with friends: Why do bad things happen to good people?
                        They
just don’t!
                        Opposing
conclusions
            Last
week, Job’s closing statement – yes, the legal language
                        Rejects
arbitration
                        Asserts
innocence (a little obsessed with his goodness)
                        Indicts
God (31.35)
Here is my signature!
Let the Almighty answer me!
O that I had the indictment
written by my adversary!
Today, God shows up!
            Not to
crush
            Not to
ignore or gloat
            To take
Job seriously
The speeches of Elihu the Buzite
            About to
burst
            The
coming storm (37.9f) – whirlwind, ice, clouds, lightening
Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind
(38.1)
Who is this that darkens
counsel
by words without knowledge?
Gird up your loins like a man,
I will question you,
and you shall declare to me (38.2-3).
Job’s had his turn at
question-asking. Now, it’s God’s turn. And, if you thought Job’s questions were
tough, try answering these ones!
Where
were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?
Have the gates of death been revealed to you?
Who has cut a channel for the torrents of rain?
Can you hunt the prey for the lion?
Do you observe the calving of the deer?
Do you give the horse its might?
Can you draw out Leviathan with a fishhook?

The two speeches –
interrupted by a brief reply from Job – are filled with a procession of
questions on the Creation
, then a succession of the creatures
themselves
, culminating with Behemoth and Leviathan, legendary, monstrous
beasts.

An expression of divine
power and divine right?
            “Because I said so”
            Ancient traditional cultures perceive truth through
creation
                        Totems
                        Shamanistic world view
            Invitation to Job to perceive truth about the world and
God differently
Two topics God avoids:
            Job’s sin – the friends do not deserve the dignity of
God’s reply
My
wrath is kindled against you for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my
servant Job has (42.7).
            Job’s suffering – would only minimize it
God
“refrains from referring to Job’s suffering … from exquisite tact and
sensibility. Job’s agony cannot be justified by the platitudes of conventional
religion, nor can it be explained away as imaginary. If man is to bear his
suffering at all, the entire problem must be raised to another dimension”
(Robert Gordis, 1965, The Book of God and Man: A Study of Job, 118).
Single
topic – the order (and justice) in
creation
:
First,
though it is not evident in Job’s personal situation, there is an order
and a justice
 to the world – though it is not perfect. The questions
function to highlight an order that we tend to overlook. One could wonder,
cynically, if this is simply God on the defensive: “Job, I was too busy
doing inventory in ‘the storehouse of the hail’ (38.22) and ‘commanding the
morning’ (38.12) on schedule that I didn’t have time to take care of you”.
But, I believe that cynicism here is misplaced. This isn’t protest we hear from
God. What we hear are questions that are intended to expand his own
perspective, to see beyond himself and his pain, to notice a world full of
order and mystery, a world that is by no means perfect, but a world that
manifests order – and, by definition, justice – as well. On this subject, God
does ask a couple pointed questions:
Will
you even put me in the wrong?
Will you condemn me that you may be justified? (40.8)

Interestingly, God never condemns Job in this speech, except for his ignorance
– but no moral condemnation. Is it possible to both justify Job and justify
God? God even offers Job a challenge to make the world more just, to do better
than God can do:

Look
on all who are proud, and bring them low;
tread down the wicked where they stand (41.12).

There is a justice and order to the world, though it is not perfect.
Secondthis
order is
 not under control, not domesticated – it is WILD.
From the raging sea, to the hail storm, to the movement of stars and their
“rule” over the earth, to wild creatures of all sorts (no domestics listed
except the war horse), and to mythological monstrous beasts – the created order
is WILD. For Job and his friends, so committed to the moral order of creation
as they interpret it, this wildness is revealed in this almost shamanistic
journey, this series of totems. We have a wild world because we have a wild God.
Neither the world nor our God are tame, under our control, able to be
manipulated by prayers or actions or money or drama. Most of the control we
seek, whether over our situation, other people, or even God, is an illusion. In
fact, human beings are just as wild and undomesticated as the rest of Creation.
Of Behemoth, the LORD declares, “I made [Behemoth] just as I made
you” (41.15). God values freedom and wildness in God’s creatures, both
animal and human.

Thirdthis order is permeated with grace. In unexpected and
even illogical ways, goodness is part of this broken world. The LORD asks
Job, 

Who
has cut a channel for the torrents of rain,
and a way for the thunderbolt,
to bring rain on a land where no one lives,
on the desert, which is empty of human life,
to satisfy the waste and desolate land,
and to make the ground put forth grass? (38.25-27)
Only
a wild and undomesticated God would be illogical enough to be gracious to land
where no one lives. And, if God can be gracious enough to a desert, then what
can God do for us?


Job’s
reply, two highlights:
Hearsay. 42.5: I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my
eye sees you. God invites Job to interact, to engage, to encounter God
directly, face to face. So much more than hearsay.

Being Human. 42.6: Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.
Debated translation questions (details in note sheet). I am persuaded by the
work of Gerald Janzen to translate this verse as “Therefore, I am undone and I
repent [change my mind] concerning dust and ashes”. The phrase “dust and ashes”
is used only three times in the Hebrew Scriptures, each time as an expression
for being human, each time when a man is debating justice questions with God.
The first one comes from Genesis 18, as Abraham argues justice in God’s plan to
destroy Sodom and the cities of the plain. “Let me take it upon myself to speak
to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes” (18.27).
      The other two are in Job, and they demonstrate the way Job has
changed his mind about what it means to be human, to be a human in contact with
God. In 30.19, Job declares, “[God] throws me into the mud, and I am reduced to
dust and ashes.”
      “You are dust and to dust you shall return.”
      Creation – from the dust, with the breath of life


The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. We are “dust and
ashes”, but we are not “reduced” to “dust and ashes”.
We bear the image of God, we carry the living breath of the Almighty, we are
living souls.

“I repent of ‘dust and ashes’”. That is, Job changes his mind about
what this means. Job realizes that there is something glorious about
being human
, even being a human in pain. How did this happen? “I had
heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you. Therefore, I
melt, and I repent concerning ‘dust and ashes’.”

God has chosen to be in relationship with you and me. We speak, and God
listens, and God responds. God speaks, and we have the opportunity to respond.
We can interact with the Creator of the universe! We are invited into this
relationship! We can participate in the mystery of Creation!

Job had lived on “hearsay” of God: “I had heard of you by the
hearing of the ear”. But God offers more than hearsay. God invites us into
a direct, face to face, “now my eye sees you” encounter. And being
“dust and ashes” is being glorious, being in the presence of God.

Here is the “gospel of Job”: You and I are invited into
direct, interactive relationship with the Creator God.

Maybe, like Job, you have survived on “hearsay”. You’ve
gone to Sunday School, attended worship. You’ve got a pretty clear idea about
God, you’re not ignorant. And today you want more than “hearsay”. You
want God. All along, God has been inviting you into this deeper and
more personal relationship.
 It is a glorious gift. Receive it today.