Changed By a Wild God

Changed by a Wild God
Job 42:1-17
Rev. Liz Kearny
Longview Presbyterian Church
October 24th, 2021

Then Job answered the Lord:
2 ‘I know that you can do all things,
   and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
3 “Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?”
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
   things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
4 “Hear, and I will speak;
   I will question you, and you declare to me.”
5 I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
   but now my eye sees you;
6 therefore I despise myself,
   and repent in dust and ashes.’

7 After the Lord had spoken these words to Job, the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite: ‘My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends; for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. 8Now therefore take seven bulls and seven rams, and go to my servant Job, and offer up for yourselves a burnt-offering; and my servant Job shall pray for you, for I will accept his prayer not to deal with you according to your folly; for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has done.’ 9So Eliphaz the Temanite and Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite went and did what the Lord had told them; and the Lord accepted Job’s prayer.

10 And the Lord restored the fortunes of Job when he had prayed for his friends; and the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before. 11Then there came to him all his brothers and sisters and all who had known him before, and they ate bread with him in his house; they showed him sympathy and comforted him for all the evil that the Lord had brought upon him; and each of them gave him a piece of money and a gold ring. 12The Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning; and he had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand yoke of oxen, and a thousand donkeys. 13He also had seven sons and three daughters. 14He named the first Jemimah, the second Keziah, and the third Keren-happuch. 15In all the land there were no women so beautiful as Job’s daughters; and their father gave them an inheritance along with their brothers. 16After this Job lived for one hundred and forty years, and saw his children, and his children’s children, four generations. 17And Job died, old and full of days.

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God. 

These are the final words of the book of Job.  And to help us grapple with them, let’s imagine we are filmmakers trying to bring this text to life. It will help us, as we watch Job respond to God in this text and then receive back double what he lost, to have a flashback moment to remind us of where Job started. 

In this flashback scene, we’d zoom in on Job setting up a large fire, arranging the kindling, so that he would be ready to offer as a sacrifice the goat he has just slain in the shot behind him. In this flashback scene from the beginning of the book, Job is offering a sacrifice. You see, before he lost everything in God’s frightening wager with the accuser, Job was a parent who would offer sacrifices on behalf of his kids the morning after every one of the raging parties they used to throw for their friends, just in case his kids had done something that made God mad. Before his kids died, before all the suffering and railing against God, God was a predictable equation to Job: put in X and get out Y. Religiously offer a sacrifice when you think your kids went off the rails, save them from God’s wrath. Pastor Teri Daily puts it this way: “Like some of us, Job apparently believed in a world whose organizing principle is a rigid, linear, and predictable system of reward and punishment – a world in which we can control the outcome, a world in which we can even control God.” (Teri Daily, “Learning to Love What We Can’t Control: An Appreciation of Ellen Davis and Her Reading of Job.”)

At this point in the film we are making, we cut from the flashback scene to the current moment, this text, where Job is responding to the words God had spoken directly to him in the chapters leading up to this one. And we might think that when Job talks about despising himself and repenting in dust and ashes that he was recanting everything he had said to God when he cried out in his disillusionment for justice. But actually, the Hebrew word for “repent” can actually mean something more like changing one’s mind about something. The same root word was used in the book of Exodus for God, actually, when God changed God’s mind about bringing calamity upon the freed Hebrews when they built a golden calf to worship. Repent, in this regard, can be akin to seeing things in a new way and changing directions because of it.

At first glance, we may not see in the latter half of this passage, when Job receives double what he lost, how Job has repented, changed his mind, and started living in a different way. But there’s a detail in this text that would be easy to miss if we didn’t read closely. “In all the land there were no women so beautiful as Job’s daughters; and their father gave them an inheritance along with their brothers.” For a patriarch in ancient times to give his daughters an inheritance along with his sons was absolutely unheard of. Nothing about this practice was common in a society in which women were considered property to be leveraged in marriage to improve one’s status in society. And so, what seems like a tiny detail actually represents a monumental shift in Job. He went from religiously offering sacrifices to somehow pay the balance of what his kids might owe to God to a man who risks his broken heart by even deciding to have kids again and bucking all the societal rules by making his daughters equal partners with his sons in his inheritance. 

To understand what wrought this change in Job, we look to the chapters leading up to this passage, in which God responds directly to Job’s righteous complaints with a wild and glorious accounting of the creation God has made. In these chapters, God essentially asks Job, “Have you been down to the deepest parts of the sea like I have? Do you monitor the birth of every mountain goat as I do? Do you glory in the ostrich who seems to have no other purpose than to be a flapping bird who can’t actually fly? Have you seen the Leviathan, a dragon in the sea, that refuses to be contained no matter how many people have tried?” As Old Testament theologian Ellen Davis puts it, God describes Her involvement in the world in these chapters as “…unapologetic delight in a creation whose outstanding quality is quite simply magnificence: Power and freedom on a scale that is bewildering and terrifying… [and that] God’s self-giving generosity…is the highest form of causality operative in the universe, the generosity that brings another into free being.” (Ellen Davis, Getting Involved with God: Rediscovering the Old Testament, pg. 138-9.)

Thus, the God Job meets face to face in the chapters leading up to our passage today turned out to be nothing like the stringent patriarch, bound by predictable equations, that Job thought God would be. Instead, when Job refused to let go of his disillusionment, he met the God who is – a God who glories in what is wild and who delights in an absurd grace that turns expectations and rules on their heads, opening up a space for a liberated creation that is beloved in all its strangeness simply because it exists. 

I will never be able to resolve the tension that is the book of Job. And I don’t believe we were ever meant to. It’s not a book of answers, but a book of questions that won’t let us get comfortable. I do know that I want to have the kind of encounter with God that leaves me braver, bolder, and wilder like Job. I want to meet this God who makes me willing to risk my broken heart again, who energizes me to challenge the oppressive structures around me in favor of a more liberated existence for all creatures. And to get there, I’m reminded that in this very text, God shows us how. God points out to Job’s friends that “you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has done.” One way this could actually be translated is “You have not spoken to me what is right, as my servant Job has.” You see, Job’s friends speak about God. But Job speaks to God. And that seems to make all the difference, for as Job says, “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you.” It turns out that talking directly to God and seeing the God who is changes you. Because as we will see throughout the scriptural narrative, the people like Job who refuse to let God off the hook and keep insisting on engaging with this God, they are the bravest, wildest, most untamed lovers of the world we’ve ever seen. They are Moses, pushing past their fear of public speaking and lead the Hebrews from slavery into freedom. They are Mary, asking the angel her questions and saying yes to bearing God in her body to the world. They are the disciples, praying together day in and day out, which leads them to sell their physical properties to bring the cash to the apostles feet so that everyone in need might have enough. 

Friends, when we feel scared and want to reach for a paint-by-the-numbers God who will stay inside our boxes, may that be the moment we remember to start praying. May that be the moment we stop talking about God and start talking to God. May that be the moment we link arms with each other and refuse to let God off the hook, demanding an audience with our God. And may we be transformed in the process into the wild, untamed lovers of absurd grace who turn systems of oppression on their heads wherever we find them. It’s the way of the ostrich, the deep sea, and the Leviathan. May it be our way as well. Amen.

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