“Tornado Watch”

A Series on Job

Job 38:1-11, 19-21

The Reverend Phillip Blackburn

October 29, 2017

I come from the land of whirlwinds.  As long as I can remember, I have looked at the skies in spring and fall with a mix of awe and fear.  Will the clouds around me organize?  Will I feel the downdraft of cold air that means trouble?  Will the sirens squeal, signaling a need to retreat?  These are questions with which I have lived as long as I can remember.  I can still remember the most recent mega tornado that tore through my home state.  It was 2013 and I had just moved here when a two-mile wide twister ripped its way through Moore, about 10 miles south, as the crow flies, from my childhood home.  I have seen whirlwinds of all shape and size, I have feared them and I have stood in awe of them, and I have morbidly been fascinated by them.  But I have never heard them speak.

If someone offered me a deal wherein I could trade places with Job and see my world shattered but get to stand in the presence of God, I do not believe I would take it.  Job stands in for all of us in this way, however, as he poses the hard questions of existence to God.  As we near the end of this ancient book, we have heard Job question God’s whereabouts and motives, we have marveled as his friends alternatively challenged and placated him, and we have winced as we remembered that Job’s afflictions are a direct result of God’s challenge to Satan.  And, so now, as the book reaches its climax, Job and God finally stand face to face, well, face to whirlwind, and God speaks.

And what a speech.  For three chapters God lays Job low.  It is a rhetorical flourish delivered from the controlled chaos of a twister, and it can be summed up in three hard questions delivered by God to Job.  The first is this; who are you?  Who are you, Job, to question me?  God’s first response is to put Job in his place.  Who is Job to question God? Job is no more significant than any other human to ever walk the face of the earth.  Job is subject to the same laws of nature as everyone else.  Who am I to believe that it was some sort of divine favoritism that allowed my home to be spared each spring when others were razed by a tornado?  Who are you, Job?  No one.

Then the follow-up question: where were you?  Where were you, Job, when God did make all this?  Were you there when God established the morning and placed bounds on the night?  Were you there when God held the waters back?  Where were you, Job, when all this was established?  Where was Job?  The same place we were?  Nowhere.  That’s where.  Job was nowhere.  Job played no more role in creating all this than I played in creating the vast expanse of flat land where the air can become so chaotic each spring.  Where was Job?  Nowhere.

And then the final question: are you able?  Are you able, Job, to control the forces in this world?  In chapter 41, God places two creatures before Job, Behemoth and Leviathan.  Nobody really knows who these creatures were, although some surmise Behemoth was the Hippopotamus, and Leviathan the crocodile.  If this is true, then Behemoth and Leviathan are supercharged, F5 versions of those creatures.  Regardless, God points out the powerlessness of humanity in the face of these mighty creatures.  Are you able to control these creatures, Job?  No.  Job is not.   No more than I can control the wall clouds which thunder across the Oklahoma prairie of my childhood.  Is Job able?  No.

It’s quite the tongue lashing God delivers to Job, and to be honest it is not the most heartening for us to hear.  All of us have asked Job’s questions at some time in our lives.  As that two-mile wide tornado tore its way through Moore, I wondered it myself.  How can this be?  Why isn’t it ascending back into the clouds?  It is a question as timeless as religion itself.  How can this all happen?  And here we have God’s only direct answer to the problem in Scripture, and we can be forgiven if we are let down.   God answers our questions only with questions of his own, questions which seem bent on putting us in our place.  And yet, there is more here than initially meets the eye.

Who are you, Job?  God asks a question that seems dismissive, and yet there is far more to it than that.  Who is Job?  Job is the one to whom God speaks.  Job is the one in whose fidelity God takes pride.  Job is the one who stands within creation yet apart from it also.  And Job is a stand in for all of us.  Who are we?  We are the ones created in God’s image.  We are the ones who God has held in special esteem from the beginning. We are the ones to whom Jesus was sent, the ones for whom creation was fashioned, the ones who are recipients of divine communication throughout history.  Who is Job?  He is special.  We are special.

But where were we?  Where were you when I did all this, God asks Job.  From the whirlwind, we hear something important in the beginnings of God’s speech.  Early on, God speaks of the sea being shut in its doors.  Why does this matter?  Well, for the Hebrews, and really all ancient peoples, the sea was a symbol of chaos.  In the face of the sea, humans fully recognized their powerlessness.  And it is God who stands between us and the chaos.  Where were we when God made all this, we were at the fore of God’s mind because this place was created with us in mind.  This place was created in a way that the waters would not overwhelm us, that morning would always follow night, that sun would always follow rain.  Where was Job when God did this?  Job, like us, was in God’s mind throughout the act of creation.

But are we able to do what God can do?  Of course, we are not.  Are you able to handle Behemoth and Leviathan, God asks Job.  No.  And yet.   And yet, Behemoth and Leviathan do not overwhelm us.  Just as God hemmed in chaos, God does for us what we cannot do for ourselves.  Are we able to reconcile ourselves to God?  No, but Christ is.  God has acted, and continues to act, on our behalf in ways we cannot do for ourselves.  By all rights and accounts, this world could belong to Behemoth and Leviathan.  But it does not; we are the special ones here, and we are special because God sees us as special.  Are we able to do what God has done?  No, but God has never abandoned us to our powerlessness.

And what of God’s choice of form here, the tornado.  I have watched those all my life and I know that they are chaos embodied.  Yet here the whirlwind does no damage; it is constrained by the power of God, just as the forces of chaos are constrained to the point where we have been able to thrive as God’s children for these many years.

There is never a promise in Scripture that bad things will not befall us in this world, and God knows Job had it worse than most.  And yet throughout Scripture, we are reminded of the abundant goodness of God, a goodness which exists in the divine spark of creation we each carry.  It is a goodness seen in neighbor helping neighbor after that tornado tore through Moore, the goodness which allows us to hold out hope in even in dire circumstances, the goodness which God invested in this world, in holding back the waters, in restraining Behemoth and Leviathan. There is no real answer for why bad things happened, at least not in Job, but there is a promise that we are God’s children, this world reflects God’s love for us, and God will always be with us, dragging us through history to its culmination in resurrection.  Amen.