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October 2009

God’s Justice

God's Justice

Job 42:1-6, 10-17

by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones

Cathedral of Hope – Oklahoma City

25 October 2009

[Preached as a dialogue sermon with Nance Cunningham who went first and then I responded with the following.]

God concludes his first speech from the whirlwind:


Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty? Anyone who argues with God must respond.

Job then answers,

See, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand upon my mouth. I

have spoken once, and I will not answer; twice, but will proceed no further.

The Lord thunders forth again,

Gird up your loins like a man; I will question you, and you declare to me. Will you even

put me in the wrong? Will you condemn me that you may be justified?

Listen to this different translation of the answer Job then gives to God:

You know you can do anything.

Nothing can stop you.

You ask, 'Who is this ignorant muddler?'

Well, I said more than I knew, wonders quite beyond me.

'You listen, and I'll talk,' you say,

'I'll question you, and you tell me.'

Word of you had reached my ears,

but now that my eyes have seen you,

I shudder with sorrow for mortal clay.

After this, God restored Job's fortune, giving him twice what he had had before and a new family. Job's family and friends came to him "they showed him sympathy and comfort for all the evil that the Lord had brought upon him." "And Job died, old and full of days."

Job demanded that God defend God's actions. In response, God thundered forth out of the whirlwind like a bully. Job had never denied the power of God, he had only called upon God's justice. But God never speaks about justice. Instead God tries to overpower Job with God's speech.

How does Job respond? Traditionally we are told that Job repents of the questions he has raised and the demands that he has made. And because of his submission God now gives him all this blessing in return.

John Calvin, reflecting on The Book of Job, wrote,

Since God claims to himself the right of governing the world, a right unknown to us, let it be our law of modesty and soberness to acquiesce in his supreme authority, regarding his will as our only rule of justice, and the most perfect cause of all things . . . that universal overruling Providence from which nothing flows that is not right, though the reasons thereof may be concealed.

I find this traditional concept of God to be too much like the view of Job's friends which God has repudiated. Calvin himself believed that "all success is blessing from God, and calamity and adversity are his curse, there is no place left in human affairs for Fortune and chance." But, I believe, this view is rejected throughout the Book of Job.

The great Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor and Nobel laureate, wrote in 1976, "I was offended by [Job's] surrender in the text. Job's resignation as man was an insult to man . . . He should have continued to protest, to refuse the handouts."

Well, you probably wouldn't be surprised to know that more recent scholars have studied this text carefully and have proposed another reading. I offer the interpretation of Jack Miles in his best-selling, Pulitzer-prize-winning book God: A Biography.

Traditionally we are told that Job repents, and God rewards the submission. But, I am convinced, that isn't what happens in this text. Job has nothing to repent for; even God says that at the end when God rebukes the friends but says that Job has spoken right.

If Job's final speech is not a repentance and submission, then what is it? Basically, when Job says he will not speak any further it is because God has refused to engage in fair dialogue. All Job had been asking for throughout the book was for God to appear, explain things to Job, and give Job the justice that he deserved. God's speeches from the whirlwind did not do that. God didn't engage in conversation, God overpowered.

With irony Job responds that he had previously only heard of God, but now that he has seen God he will shudder with sorrow for mortal clay.

Job has refused to go along; God's speech has not intimidated him.

The question then is "How does God respond to Job?"

Well, we know from the story read tonight that God says that Job has spoken right and then gives back more to Job than what God took from him to begin with.

Is this an acknowledgment of God's guilt? Could it be that in this moment God has learned something about human beings? Could it be that God will now relate differently to them?

I think that the final lesson of the Book of Job is that God also grows because of God's relationship with God's people. Which is why, on this Reformation Sunday, what I celebrate is not the theological formulations of John Calvin and the other reformers. What I celebrate is the very spirit of reformation, of growth, renewal, and change. I celebrate a Christian tradition always listening for that still speaking voice of God.

I don't like Calvin's or many traditional explanations for evil and suffering. In fact, I find those sorts of views to further the abuse and the pain. But, there is another aspect of Calvin's thinking that I do like. He believed that God's power worked on the side of justice and righteousness and that if you opened your eyes you would be "overwhelmed by the immense weight of glory" seeing this beautiful work of God permeating the Creation. Sounding something like a liberation theologian he wrote, for instance:

Neither his power nor his wisdom is shrouded in darkness. His power is strikingly displayed when the rage of the wicked, to all appearance irresistible, is crushed in a single moment; their arrogance subdued, their strongest bulwarks overthrown, their armour dashed to pieces, their strength broken, their schemes defeated without an effort, and audacity which set itself above the heavens is precipitated to the lowest depths of the earth. On the other hand, the poor are raised up out of the dust, and the needy lifted out of the dunghill, the oppressed and afflicted are rescued in extremity, the despairing animated with hope, the unarmed defeat the armed, the few the many, the weak the strong.


Sure, we experience evil, suffering, and oppression. But, we also experience these "sparks of beauty." There are moments and there are lives that bear witness to the grain of the universe. Mother Theresa carrying a dying man to a hospital and demanding that he be treated. Civil Rights marchers defiantly marching across the Edmund Pettis Bridge. The Berlin Wall collapsing under the weight of humanity's desire for democracy. Nelson Mandela elected president of a free South Africa.

If we have a choice as to what kind of God we believe in, then I believe in this one.

How the Pope's move will further secularize England

In the NYTimes, A. N. Wilson has a fine piece on the Pope's move to welcome disaffected Anglicans into the fold and how that move will affect British society.  An excerpt:

Although it will be a sad day for those Anglicans who have reached a parting of the ways, for Britain itself, the pope’s maneuver is actually good news. It will formally bring to an end the idea of the Established Church, and of the monarch as that Establishment’s symbol and head. Whatever our private religious allegiances, we Britons no longer want to force our royal heads of state to jump through those impossible hoops. The paradox is that a move by a conservative pope to ease the tender consciences of conservative-minded Anglicans will actually be a move toward the complete secularization of Britain, and an acceptance of its new multicultural identity.

Bishop Spong's Manifesto

Have you seen this?  You need to read it.

An excerpt:

I make these statements because it is time to move on. The battle is over. The victory has been won. There is no reasonable doubt as to what the final outcome of this struggle will be. Homosexual people will be accepted as equal, full human beings, who have a legitimate claim on every right that both church and society have to offer any of us. Homosexual marriages will become legal, recognized by the state and pronounced holy by the church. "Don't ask, don't tell" will be dismantled as the policy of our armed forces. We will and we must learn that equality of citizenship is not something that should ever be submitted to a referendum. Equality under and before the law is a solemn promise conveyed to all our citizens in the Constitution itself. Can any of us imagine having a public referendum on whether slavery should continue, whether segregation should be dismantled, whether voting privileges should be offered to women? The time has come for politicians to stop hiding behind unjust laws that they themselves helped to enact, and to abandon that convenient shield of demanding a vote on the rights of full citizenship because they do not understand the difference between a constitutional democracy, which this nation has, and a "mobocracy," which this nation rejected when it adopted its constitution. We do not put the civil rights of a minority to the vote of a plebiscite.

Wild Thing, You Make My Heart Sing

An unspoken influence shaping the final form of Sunday's sermon was the new film "Where the Wild Things Are."  Had I seen the film earlier in the week, its influence would have permeated more deeply and broadly, and probably lent a title to the sermon.

Have you walked outside this morning?  There is the most splendid sunlight.  I lack the poet's skill to describe it, but as I watched it play across the clouds, the autumnal trees, and the houses, I marveled and gloried in it.  Finally, at one moment I was overcome with ecstacy and laughed, with gusto of the horse's "Aha!"  And then I burst into song, "Wild thing, you make my heart sing, you make everything, so . . . groovy."

Congrats to Speaker-Designate Steele

I am very pleased and excited by the election of Kris Steele as the Speaker of the House-designate for the Oklahoma House.  Kris is a member of the GOP and is the representative for Shawnee.  I supported his election in 2000, when I was a Shawnee resident.  The Steeles are friends of our family.  Kris and I attended OBU together, where he was our freshman class president.  He is decent, honourable, ethical person who will be a quality Speaker of the House.  The GOP is to be commended for this choice.