“Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind: ‘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.’”
These would seem to be some fighting words from God in the book of Job! In case you’re not familiar with the biblical character of Job: he is famously quite righteous and devout, and yet he experiences awful suffering and loss. In the worldview of Job and his friends, who come to be by his side in his suffering, suffering is a just dessert, a necessary outcome for wrongdoing. But this worldview is smashed apart by the story of Job. And for chapters and chapters Job is shouting out at God, asking for his day in court, so-to-speak. He shouts the proverbial “Why me!?” at the top of his lungs.
Until God appears in a whirlwind, in a storm. In a funny way, Job gets exactly what he asked for, but it definitely doesn’t turn out how he wanted. To the question of suffering, of the innocent suffering that Job experienced, God replies, in essence: You don’t understand. “Where were you, Job, when I, God, laid the foundations of the earth?”
What an answer… right? It’s more of a question than an answer actually. What an answer indeed, and for us too, who cry out to God, who may even grow to distrust this God, because of the trauma and the overwhelm we experience all around. “Where were you,” says God to us, when, at creation, the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?”
The answer is that we weren’t there, of course not. In the face of such immensity we are silenced. But as we reflect on our other lessons, from Psalms and Mark’s Gospel this morning, as we wade into the practice of being graceful with ourselves as the consequences of global pandemic continue to emerge… this silence is not meant, I think, to shut us up in shame. But to liberate us with awe, to give us the splendor of perspective and belonging.
I thought maybe in order to update the texture, the facts, of this immensity of God’s creation I would shift things into “galactic” terms. So here are just some factoids about galaxies. We dwell in a galaxy which God has created for us, of course. Our sun, our source of all life, light and heat, is a star. And in a galaxy there is an immense number of stars, among other things. Galaxies can be relatively “small” with a few hundred million (108) stars, to giants with one hundred trillion (1014) stars.
In terms of the number of galaxies, which contain these unfathomable number of suns of stars… Well, the latest guess is that there is about 200 billion, which, if you do the multiplication, means there are many many more stars in the universe than grains of sand on earth, to say nothing of the gapping space between them all.
And indeed speaking of sand and sea, the image of the ocean and of storms was the ancient world’s version of star-gazing—a sense of power and vastness beyond all human control. So often this kind of immensity either shuts down our imaginations… or we can get this circuit-frying sense of smallness, of insignificant-ness—the feeling of: “How could the struggles of our lives ever match up to such a mind-boggling vastness?”
But again our other lessons caution us against this despair in comparison. In our Psalm we hear:
Some went down to the sea in ships…
they saw the deeds of the LORD, God’s wondrous works in the deep.
For God commanded and raised the stormy wind,
which lifted up the waves of the sea.
They mounted up to heaven, they went down to the depths;
their courage melted away in their calamity;
they reeled and staggered like drunkards,
and were at their wits’ end.
Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble,
and God brought them out from their distress;
God made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed.
Here we see that God is the creator and source of heavens and earths. These things, despite how scary and vast, we trust are in God’s hand. That is what God is saying to Job. Be still, Job, says God, I know you are suffering, but you need to remember that my creation is very large.
And, of course, this truth that God invites us to trust—this gracious gift of perspective—is in our Gospel lesson from Mark so clearly as well. Take note of the ominousness of the first verse we heard: “On that day, when evening had come, Jesus said to them, ‘Let us go across to the other side.’” In other words: in the nighttime, let us get into our puny little boats, and cross this stormy sea, to go to an unknown land!
And the chaos of a storm did arise, the terrifying and colossal things of this world that seem to be under no one’s control… But Jesus just sleeps, peacefully in the boat. “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” Jesus asks in the same puzzling manner that God speaks to Job from the whirlwind. And the disciples were filled with great awe, Mark says, and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” So, we too are invited to be filled with great awe.
We are so fortunate, so blessed, because this mystery of who Jesus is, that the disciples ask, for us has long been revealed. Jesus crucified, Jesus resurrected, Jesus is our image of God, is our God. And if we read Job together with Mark, Christ is not our private magician, our private maker-better-of-all-stormy-things, but is our pathway towards trust, towards a perspective that brings peace, and a sense that we belong. Jesus stills the storm because Jesus is one with the storm. God becoming flesh in Christ is a sign that creation is steeped in God. Just as galaxies of stars are, just as canyons and ravines, trees and grass, just as human beings, are.
To us this is all revealed in Christ, and the faith that it is so, is poured into our hearts in our baptism. Nothing undoes suffering, God did not provide Job with the answer he asked for. And let’s not forget: we believe that the center of all creation is God in Christ suffering on the cross. No, our days of overwhelm and our trauma cannot magically be undone. And, although it might feel a little like tough love, today God gives perspective.
God says we belong here: we are not foreigners to this majestic creation, but an eternal God set it in motion all around us, and in us. Our connection has been made known by the birth of Jesus, God’s Son.
And, by Christ’s death, we all are made heirs to even bigger and wider mysteries, to the ages and worlds to come. We are heirs to the unbreakable connection between all God’s creations—countless as grains of sand and galaxies of stars, yet all known and all adored by God.
So as you vacation, as your feet touch the beach sand and lake shores, as the summer sky is lit up with stars, to use the words of St. Paul this morning: open wide your hearts, open wide your hearts to the trust that we belong to something very large. We pray that God would open our hearts to believe that we are not perishing (as the disciples feared), and know that Gods’ steadfast love will truly endure forever.