God's Open House

Sunday, April 22, 2018

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Job is a weird book. But I think it’s one of the most compelling, interesting, and challenging stories in the Bible. It is one of the greatest works of philosophy of its era. I think if it didn’t end up in the Bible, we would still be reading it and thinking about it the way we do some of the great texts of ancient Greek philosophy.

At the beginning of Job, God is holding court in heaven, and the Satan appears. The Satan’s job, was to be the divine prosecutor, the Devil’s advocate, who tests the loyalty of the people of God. His job is to be skeptical. And the Satan challenges God on Job’s loyalty.

God says that Job is blessed because he is righteous but the Satan says that Job is righteous because he has been blessed. Take away the blessings, and his righteousness will fall apart. To see who is right, God takes away all of Job’s blessings. His flocks, his fields, even his family. This sets the stage for the bulk of the book of Job. Job’s friends come to support him, and after listening to his complaint, each of them gives a long speech explaining their philosophy and what he should do next. But none of those solutions seem right to Job, and he continues to complain and demand an answer from God, and eventually, he gets what he wants. Today’s passage is two small portions from God’s answer.

Hannah and I studied abroad in China our junior year of college. And of course one of the things that happen when you’re in another country for a long time is that you start to miss certain things from the US. And one day I made an amazing discovery, and I told Hannah that we had to go to Ningbo, a city about 3 hours away.

“Why Ningbo?” she asked.

“Because there’s a Subway there.”

“Drew, we have a subway here. We can ride it whenever we want”

“No, no. A Subway restaurant.”

We had to go. So we took a train to Ningbo after classes one Friday, just so that we could go to Subway Sandwich Shop. We got there around 9:00pm. In China everything is very strange to American eyes. But when we walked into Subway, everything was the same. It looked like a Subway. It smelled exactly like a Subway in the US. You know that freshly baked bread smell? The menu was exactly the same. I got a footlong Chicken Bacon Ranch. It tasted exactly the same.

In modern life it is amazing how well we can erase our sense of place. You can go to a Subway in Ningbo, China, and it will smell and taste and look exactly the same as it does in New Jersey. You can go to a McDonald’s anywhere in the world and get two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions, and it will be exactly the same, down to the number of sesame seeds on the bun.

We can take any place, no matter the natural environment or geography, and turn it into someplace else. There is a ski resort in Dubai. We have a remarkable amount of control over nature.

This was not true in the ancient world. In Biblical times nature was terrifying. People were absolutely dependent on nature for their sustenance, and nature held the power to do incredible damage to their lives and livelihood. In the ancient world, people were well aware that they were at the mercy of nature. That’s why the earliest gods and goddesses in pagan cultures were always storm gods(to bring the right amount of rain, but not to much) and gods of fertility (to make the crops grow).

But it’s not so for us. Even when natural disasters do occur in our cities and towns, we build right back there in the exact same spot, convinced that our engineering can overcome any storm. The ancients existed at the mercy of nature. Now, nature exists at our mercy. We have the power to control it, we have the power to protect ourselves from it (or at least we think we do), and we have the power to destroy it.

Which brings me to Job. The Satan’s critique of Job at the beginning of the book is that just like us, Job think he is the center of the natural world. His life is so easy, he thinks it revolves around him.

“Does Job fear God for nothing?” he says. “Have you not put a fence around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land” In other words, Job has lost his sense of place. He is fenced off from anything that would challenge his status as center of the universe. Job is upright and righteous, but he still thinks the world revolves around him. Job’s response to his misfortune is revealing. He demands an answer. He does not think that he should be at the mercy of inscrutable misfortune. Something is wrong. He needs to see the manager of this establishment.

And eventually, he gets what he asks for, but not exactly what he wants. God speaks to him out of the whirlwind, and puts him in his place.

“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?,” God says,
“Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know!”

“Did you make the boundaries of the sea?” God asks, “Do you make the sun rise in the morning, and the stars come out at night?” God calls to mind the great wild beasts of the earth, the lion, raven, mountain goat, wild ass, wild ox, ostrich, horse, hawk, eagle. Job doesn’t have control over these, they were not created for Job’s pleasure, or control, or even understanding.

What God is telling Job is that the world is a much bigger, much vaster, and much wilder place than he can understand, and it does not revolve around him. Look at this incredible world, the work of my hands, and see that you are a part of a bigger picture, one whose glory does not depend on your comfort.

Have you ever had that moment, when you’re out looking up at the stars, thinking about how each of those stars represents a sun like ours, and possibly planets and moons like ours, and suddenly you realize how tiny we are in comparison to all of that. This has got to be that feeling multiplied by about a thousand, because he got it directly from the mouth of God. The world is big, and vast, and wild, and weird, and you are just a small part of God’s created world.

Job lost his sense of place. God restores it by re-exposing Job to the incredible majesty and baffling wildness of Creation. We too have lost our place, we have forgotten that we are not the center of the universe. We have built fences around ourselves, through which we are blessed and because of which the world often suffers. Of the wild animals that God speaks of in chapters 38 and 39, only 3 of them are not at risk of extinction. Ironically, as we have tried to make life more comfortable for ourselves, we have contributed to it becoming more dangerous.[1] Climate change as a result of human actions has put dramatic strain on our environment. Increasing water use has subjected more areas to wildfires. We pave over floodplains, and reduce our capacity to handle floods. Drought in poor areas of the world has contributed to rising instability and war. We create sacrifice zones, where we give up on certain places, whether mountaintops removed for mining or permanently-polluted fracking wastewater ponds, and those sacrifice zones are commonly found in low-income communities.[2]

The solution to this for us is the same as the solution for Job. It is for us to restore our sense of place. We need to see that we are a small part of a glorious, baffling world, and that it does not revolve around us.

God has created the world, and given us dominion over it, but not to abuse it. To share it. To protect it.  To care for it, to delight in it as God delights in it and as God delights in us. The best way for us to do that is to restore our sense of place.

Get to know the ground that you live on. Learn about the incredible plants and animals right here beneath your feet. Take some time to be in awe. Get to know the peoples who have walked this land before we did, from your grandparents on back to the Native American tribes that settled it before Europeans arrived. Find something wild and baffling and see God’s glory in it.

And more than anything else, learn to love the place where you are. As Senegalese environmentalist Baba Dioum said, “We won’t save a place we don’t love; we won’t love a place we don’t know; and we can’t know a place we haven’t learned.”[3]


[1] Musser, Sarah Stokes. “Comfort in the Whirlwind? Job, Creation, and Environmental Degradation.” Word & World Volume 32, Number 3 Summer 2012, 293.

[2] Creation Justice Ministries (2018) Sense of Place [Pamphlet] www.creationjustice.org/place (p.5).

[3] Creation Justice Ministries (2018) Sense of Place [Pamphlet] www.creationjustice.org/place (p.2).