The Real God Shows Up: Reflections on Job 38:1-7, 34-41

YHWH is in the business of pouring life-giving rain on places where no human being lives and as a result grass grows there, and no human ever sees it. In other words, the universe is far larger than the humans who inhabit it, and much occurs in the design of God that has nothing to do with humans at all. It turns out, Job, that the world does not revolve around your cries for inter-human justice after all.

And this point is driven home in the second part of YHWH's first speech as God becomes a zoologist, recounting a long litany of animals that are fed and housed by God without any aid from the human beings. Every single creature mentioned is a wild one, including the foolish ostrich, who is a poor parent, but a fast runner (Job 39:13-18) and even the "war horse," not some domesticated steed, but a mighty and violent snorter, barely tameable at all (Job 39:19-25). YHWH's world is vast, wild, gritty, and much of it is non-human, and not subject to human whim and control.

Job does not hear any of this as an answer to his question. What he does hear is a big divine bully who pays no attention to him and is only interested in demonstrating vast divine power and splendor. Thus he answers, "Look! I am trivial; how can I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth. I have spoken once, and will not answer; twice but will proceed no further" (Job 40:4-5). You win, mighty God, shouts Job, but you still have not answered.

But YHWH has answered Job, at least in part, in this first speech.

YHWH has announced that Job's questions are just not the right questions, because they are based on false premises. God obviously does not reward the righteous and punish the wicked in some sort of mechanical universe. The universe is far more vast, far more mysterious, far more wild, far more complex than Job and his worthless friends have ever imagined. Job, says God, you need to think more of mountain goats than you have; you need to contemplate the snow more assiduously than you have; you need to ponder the blood-eating ravens who survive on the deaths of other creatures in a tough and struggling world. There is my world, says God, not some sort of bumper-sticker place filled with easy answers and clean and simple pieties. The God Job worshipped was plainly not the God who is.

How is that true for us? Is our God far too small, far too explainable, far too graspable? We need the God of Job, a God large enough and mysterious enough to create and love a world of struggle and surprise, a world of pain and joy, a world of difficulties and triumphs. In fact, that is the world we know, if we will only allow ourselves to look around. And that is the world that our God has made for us and for all of our fellow creatures.

10/14/2015 4:00:00 AM
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  • John Holbert
    About John Holbert
    John C. Holbert is the Lois Craddock Perkins Professor Emeritus of Homiletics at Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, TX.