October 21, 2018- Job 38.1-7

“A theory of everything (TOE), final theory, ultimate theory, or master theory is a hypothetical single, all-encompassing, coherent theoretical framework of physics that fully explains and links together all physical aspects of the universe.  Finding a TOE is one of the major unsolved problems in physics. Over the past few centuries, two theoretical frameworks have been developed that, as a whole, most closely resemble a TOE. These two theories upon which all modern physics rests are general relativity (GR) and quantum field theory (QFT). GR is a theoretical framework that only focuses on gravity for understanding the universe in regions of both large scale and high mass: stars, galaxies, clusters of galaxies, etc. On the other hand, QFT is a theoretical framework that only focuses on three non-gravitational forces for understanding the universe in regions of both small scale and low mass: sub-atomic particles, atoms, molecules, etc. QFT successfully implemented the Standard Model and unified the interactions (so-called Grand Unified Theory) between the three non-gravitational forces: strong, weak, and electromagnetic force.

Through years of research, physicists have experimentally confirmed with tremendous accuracy virtually every prediction made by these two theories when in their appropriate domains of applicability. In accordance with their findings, scientists also learned that GR and QFT, as they are currently formulated, are mutually incompatible – they cannot both be right.”

For some reason, I find that fascinating.  It also makes me very glad that when I was taking chemistry and physics in high school – I carefully avoided both in college – such things were much easier to understand.  The only subatomic particles we had to worry about were protons, neutrons, and electrons.  No leptons or muons or bosons.  Science has made incredible progress in recent decades in understanding how everything in the universe works.  But there’s still this amazing mystery that noone knows how everything works together in all cases – atoms, black holes, galaxies.  Noone can put together the puzzle of how it all fits.  It’s still a mystery.  Isn’t that interesting?

I know you missed hearing from the book of Job last week.  It’s such uplifting stuff.  When we left Job he was afflicted with “loathsome sores…from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head.”  He was sitting in a pile of ashes, scraping himself with a piece of broken pottery.  His wife has suggested that he “Curse God and die.”  But he decided not to do that.

We skipped the part where Job lost all seven thousand of his sheep, all three thousand camels, all five hundred yoke of oxen, all five hundred donkeys, all but a few of his servants, and all ten of his children.  Things were not going well for Job.  We can understand why he begins to complain.  We can understand why he would say things like, “Let the day perish in which I was born,” and, speaking to God, “Why have you made me your target?  Why have I become a burden to you?”

We understand those feelings.  We’ve probably been there ourselves at times.  We can sympathize with Job, and perhaps identify with him.  Maybe we haven’t suffered as much as he did all at once, but the odds are we have at least some experience with hardships in life.

So from there we skip thirty-six chapters to get to today’s reading.  Those chapters are comprised of speeches, from several of Job’s friends and from Job.  His friends try to convince him that he has sinned somewhere along the line.  They believe that can be the only explanation for why all of these horrible things have happened to him.  He responds that he has not sinned, that he has been a good man, and he does not understand why he is suffering the way he is.  Thirty-six chapters.  They’re pretty long speeches. Today we arrive at chapter thirty-eight.  This is where God speaks.

The Judeo-Christian tradition is remarkable in a number of ways.  It has survived for a very long time, which has not been the case for a lot of religions.  Its holy writings were composed over a very long period of time by a lot of different writers using a lot of different kinds of literature – stories, history, teachings, letters, poems – which is very different from the scriptures of other religions.

I’m by no means an expert in comparative religions, but I’m pretty sure that one of the truly unique things about the Jewish and Christian faiths is the notion that through the centuries the God we believe in has had various kinds of interactions with individuals and groups on a very human level.  It begins right off the bat, when we read that in the garden of Eden God apparently had a habit of strolling around “at the time of the evening breeze.”  I love that image.  God speaks to and has conversations with Abraham.  God talks to Moses and almost has to kick him in the back side to get him to go to Egypt to bring the Hebrews people out of slavery.  Then on the way to the promised land the people are led by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.

And on it goes.  God doesn’t talk to just anybody anywhere any time, but the Bible claims that God talks with people one on one and appears in various ways.  We Christians hold to the remarkable idea that God appeared in human form in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.  We believe that in this one person we see God’s traits clearly – love, compassion, acceptance, forgiveness.  So through the Bible and through the testimony and witness of believers over the centuries, we say we know a lot about God because God has chosen to be known to us.

Job’s friends think they know a lot about God.  They think they know that God punishes the wicked and rewards the righteous – in the here and now.  So they believe that Job has sinned and is suffering the consequences at the hand of God.  It’s a neat and tidy formula, and one that is found elsewhere in the Bible.  Two weeks ago I quoted from Psalm seventy-three, where it says, “Truly God is good to the upright, to those who are pure in heart.”  It goes on to say that the wicked will get what’s coming to them.  The same line of thinking is found elsewhere in scripture.

But the book of Job says, not necessarily.  It makes it clear from the beginning that Job is a good man.  God even says so.  But still he suffers terribly.  It is an argument against what we read elsewhere in the Bible.  And in chapter thirty-eight God answers Job’s complaint and question about his suffering.  Job wants to know why.  And God speaks.

I’ve said before that I’m working on a theory that our dog Jax is God.  For example, Jax loves us, unconditionally, as best I can tell. We have a little sign over his food and water bowls that says, “A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than he loves himself.”  He  forgives us when we don’t let him do everything he wants to do.  He loves to be with us and sulks when he knows we’re leaving him.  He likes being outside, and is fascinated with other creatures, like deer and frogs and turtles.  He’s very expressive, and communicates with us in various ways.  He likes to tinkle on mailbox posts.  Ok, maybe that doesn’t fit.

But as well as we get along with Jax, there are times when we don’t know what he’s thinking or why he’s doing what he’s doing.  He likes to sniff – a lot – and most of the time we have no idea what it is that intrigues him so much.  Sometimes he acts like he doesn’t want to go outside, until you get him to the door, when he starts fidgeting to get out.  As much as we know about him, there is still mystery.

God speaks to Job out of a whirlwind.  Not a cloud or a clear blue sky, but a whirlwind.  And God says, “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.  Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?  Tell me, if you have understanding.  Who determined its measurements–surely you know!”  And so it goes.  For quite a while.

Job wants to know why he is suffering.  And God says, I’m the only one who knows how and why things are the way they are.  I’m the one who created everything and sustains everything.  Randolph Harris says, “God is not dismissing Job, but is reorienting Job within a larger awareness of God’s good creation.”  God doesn’t say, everything happens for a reason.  God doesn’t say, don’t worry, you’ll be rewarded for your goodness eventually.  God says, as a human being, you can’t know everything.

It seems to be built into us that we want answers, especially when something significant touches our lives.  But the book of Job reminds us that we will not always have the answers we want.  In the end, Job says, “I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.”  He admits that’s he’s in over his head when it comes to always knowing why.

But the good news, as Mark Throntveit notes, is “that this same God will take care of that which we do not understand.”  It’s ok that we have to live with mystery.  And it’s good that when God speaks, we listen.  Amen.