Park Hill Congregational UCC
Rev. Dr. David Bahr
July 8, 2018
“Hey Permit Patty (and all the rest).
This is Personal: Book of Job, Part 3”
Job 38: 22-30 – The Message
Have you ever traveled to where snow is made,
seen the vault where hail is stockpiled,
The arsenals of hail and snow that I keep in readiness
for times of trouble and battle and war?
Can you find your way to where lightning is launched,
or to the place from which the wind blows?
Who do you suppose carves canyons
for the downpours of rain, and charts
the route of thunderstorms
That bring water to unvisited fields,
deserts no one ever lays eyes on,
Drenching the useless wastelands
so they’re carpeted with wildflowers and grass?
And who do you think is the father of rain and dew,
the mother of ice and frost?
You don’t for a minute imagine
these marvels of weather just happen, do you?
It feels personal this time. I can’t help it. This feels personal. When I heard the news that Justice Kennedy was retiring from the Supreme Court, my heart sank a few extra feet. Not only my heart, but my toes felt heavy. My marriage was decided by his vote. Well, not really. We were married before the Supreme Court came to a 5-4 decision that it would be legally recognized. But, because of that decision, as an example, I have my health insurance as the spouse of a federal employee. Sloppy billing has even issued an invoice or two to Mrs. Pate. Nothing has actually changed, except the feeling of a looming threat. It had already been a tough week to read or listen to the news.
Working on this three week series, however, I eventually realized I was having a Job moment, because I had made it all about me. We often look at the Book of Job through the lens of the question: Why does a God who is just and good allow horrible things to happen to innocent people? We started two weeks ago by asking “why” about innocent kids locked in cages, ripped from their parents and scattered across the country. Rabbi Harold Kushner famously posed the question as: “Why do bad things happen to good people?” But that’s not the only question or, according to Barbara Brown Taylor, even the central one. She said, Job’s essential question was “Why do bad things happen to me?” He made it personal.
She said, “For Job, there were only two alternatives: either 1) all of this terrible stuff was happening because there is something wrong with me, or 2) all of this terrible stuff was happening because there is something wrong with God. And since Job knew that number one was not true – backed up by verse one, chapter one about this decent upright man – the only alternative was number two. God is the problem, even though he wasn’t willing to say it out loud, at first. In fact, his wife tried to get him to blame God, all the way back in chapter two. “Why do you persist in your precious integrity? Curse God and be done with it.” He told her “No! We take the good days from God – why not the bad days also?” That’s a good point. Any day we wake up and think, “Why me?” is a good day to remember, “Why not me?”
Job said, “Why not me,” yet he continued to protest that it wasn’t fair because it wasn’t his fault, he didn’t deserve to be treated in such a way, especially as he had to defend himself against his three friends. They demanded that it had to be his fault. Bad things don’t just happen. They happen for a reason. Everything happens for a reason. And over and over, they said, that reason is you.
So, in the news this week, a judge ordered the administration to begin reuniting families, but they’ve discovered a clever, new twist on cruelty. Who comes up with these?! Families are reportedly being offered two choices: Leave the country with your kids or leave the country without your kids. They are dangling reunification as an incentive to get them to drop an asylum claim. A former ICE official stated, it becomes particularly difficult after a parent is no longer on American soil; in those cases, “there is a very high risk that parents and children will be permanently separated.” Immigration rights advocates say forcing parents to choose immediately between leaving with or without their kids means they are effectively prevented from seeking asylum. That’s against the law, not to mention, human decency.
Where does the fault lie? If we were to consider the two options presented by the Book of Job, according to Taylor, that would either be the parent or God. An analysis from a social justice perspective would add more options.
But first, let’s offer God an opportunity to “speak.” After more than 35 chapters of speeches and counter-speeches between Job and his three friends, chapter 38 begins: “And now, finally, God answered Job. ‘Why do you confuse the issue? Why do you talk without knowing what you are talking about? Pull yourself together, Job! Up on your feet! Stand tall! I have some questions for you, and I want some straight answers.’”
It sounds like Job is about to receive a lecture. And God does, indeed, go on for the next 70 verses. Starting with, “Where were you when I created the earth? Tell me, since you seem to know so much.” A lecture, yes, but really, it’s just a very, very long list of questions, such as, “Have you ever travelled to where snow is made?” Questions asked from a distance, by a distant God. At least, at first. The tone changes. If we stuck with only the verses assigned when Job comes up in the lectionary, we would only hear the words of a big, loud, demanding and impatient God, read in worship with a big, loud, demanding, and impatient voice: “Where were you when I created the earth?!!!” That’s one way to read it. But as God continues, the questions become less distant. Inquiries such as
Beautiful, intimate images. Can you imagine an angry God asking, “Have you ever watched a doe give birth?” Would an angry God ask, “Did you teach the eagle how to build her nest in the heights, perfectly at home on the high cliff face?” They are tender images. Inquisitive, not The Inquisition.
God made it personal. Not shouting at Job to understand but quietly, persistently, asserting that if God pays attention to such things as helping hawks learn to fly, then God is paying attention to you too.
As Job listened, he exclaimed, “I’m speechless, in awe – words fail me. I’ve talked too much, way too much.”
But his final words are the really powerful ones: “I admit I once lived by rumors of you; now I have it all firsthand – from my own eyes and ears. I’m sorry – forgive me. I’ll never do that again, I promise. I’ll never again live on crusts of hear-say, and crumbs of rumor.”
The distance between God and Job had been bridged; God was no longer above but alongside. Now, does that prevent suffering? Maybe. Maybe not. But, regardless, it says to me, we may not be prevented from suffering, but we are not prevented from healing. And healing is as real as suffering. People of faith, remember, healing is as real as suffering. The truth is not just that we are a broken nation. The truth is that we will heal.
But, wait, this story is not over yet. God then turns to Job’s “friends.” God’s pointed question to Job – where were you when I created the earth – can be interpreted. At least the tone. Their interaction can be The Inquisition or simply inquisitive. But you can’t misinterpret God’s words to his friends: “After God had finished addressing Job, he turned to Eliphaz the Temanite and said, ‘I’ve had it with you and your two friends. I’m fed up. You haven’t been honest either with me or about me – not the way Job, my friend, has.’” God went on to require acts of penance for the way they treated Job.
In the end, Job did not get an explanation for his suffering. Instead, God, originally only as distant as the farthest star, became as close to him as his breathing. Not a rumor. Nor some hear-say, but his friend. That’s who God is.
We often approach the Book of Job as a question of underserved suffering. Why me? In the beginning, Job asked a more mature question – why not me? But he still struggled with it. Yet in the end, perhaps this isn’t as much about why there is suffering but who is God. Yes, “the father of rain and dew, the mother of ice and frost.” But when we keep reading, God also says, “I am the one who teaches eagles how to build their nest on high cliffs to avoid predators.” And the message is, if God will do that for them, God will do it for us too. God is Job’s friend. Yes, but God also has a message to his other so-called friends.
The election has revealed more about our country than we expected. Talk about an understatement. But, for example, how many white people have mused, “Who knew our country was this racist?” Who knew?! Mexicans, Muslims, African Americans, and other people of color didn’t just discover the death grip of white supremacy. Or how, ultimately, the structures of society matter more than anyone’s personal animosity – although Barbeque Becky and Permit Patty and Pool Patrol Paula and all the others who call the police questioning whether a man, woman, or child of color “belongs” somewhere, still demonstrates the need to not just change systems but also change hearts. It’s personal. And it felt personal when the police showed up at our house because, I’ll call her, Playground Penelope complained that Lance, then 12 or 13, was talking to a white girl. Perhaps you missed the story this week about the police called out on Janelle Bynam, an African American legislator canvassing door to door among constituents in her own district. But she looked suspicious. Until such calls become punished, not on social media but behind bars, evidence will remain that people of color are still only 3/5th of a person.
Dr. King once said, “The myth is that legislation can’t solve the problem… because you’ve got to change the heart and you can’t change the heart through legislation.
Certainly, if the problem is to be solved, hearts must be changed. Religion and education must play a great role in changing the heart. But we must go on to say that while it may be true that morality cannot be legislated, behavior can be regulated.
It may be true that the law cannot change the heart but it can restrain the heartless. It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me but it can keep him from lynching me and I think that is pretty important, also.
So there is a need for executive orders. There is a need for judicial decrees. There is a need for civil rights legislation on the local scale within states and on the national scale from the federal government.”
As I said at the beginning, this time the news felt personal, my body heavy from head to heart and knees to toes. And then I beat myself up a little, thinking, I shouldn’t be so selfish. How can I justify being afraid when children have been ripped from their parent’s arms and scattered around the country? This isn’t just fear but their reality. But, of course, must it be either or? Perhaps we can use the story of Job and God as a lesson in building friendships and solidarity.
Some suffering is random. But not all suffering is random. Some is gleefully intentional. With recent executive orders meant to destroy affirmative action, with judicial decrees that downplay the need to protect voting rights, with the lack of legislation to protect Dreamers, or anything else to protect the assault on decency, or democracy, we must all find that place where our deepest fears meet in the solidarity of the suffering. To start with, to find what is personal and build bridges – from distance to friendship. From privileged bystanders to accomplices in resistance and accessories to dismantle this system of oppression and restrain the heartless.
As I said last week, we aren’t all called to the same task. But we are called to the same Christ. Job affirms, God is with us in our pain. And God is outraged, “I’m fed up with you” and those whose only mission is to cause more suffering. Like instead of asking, “who are these people and what are they fleeing?” deciding, “let’s make their life so miserable, they won’t come seeking refuge and asylum.” A big fat, “Who cares?”
But, like Job’s callous friends, they shall face their day and given the opportunity to repent. And then, “we the people,” damaged, shall heal. I am just as certain about that as I am that God knows the month when mountain goats give birth. And watches as the doe bears her fawn. And knows the season of her delivery, when she crouches down and drops her offspring.
I haven’t just heard rumors of this God. At my lowest point the other day, I felt this God, my God, your God, reside in that – personal – pain.
(What to get involved? )
 Barbara Brown Taylor, “On Not Being God,” Review and Expositor, 99, Fall 2002, page 609 http://web.b.ebscohost.com/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=1&sid=ed77c469-2848-4398-b072-2ec2f6695b97%40sessionmgr101
 Job 2: 9-10 – The Message (MSG)
 Job 39:1-3 MSG
 Job 29:27 MSG
 Job 40: 3-5 MSG
 Job 42: 1-6 MSG
 Job 42: 7-8 MSG
My three loves are being the Pastor of Park Hill UCC in Denver, Hiking in the Colorado Foothills and Mountains, and a Travelling around the world