Proper 24B/Ordinary 29B/Pentecost 21
October 21, 2012
This week’s installment of Job has YHWH finally responding to Job directly, answering Job “from out of the whirlwind” (Job 38:1). Being from Oklahoma, I know a thing or two about the major variety of whirlwinds known as tornados. On May 3, 1999, the biggest tornado in American history – with winds clocked in excess of 380 miles per hour – slammed into Moore, Oklahoma, just a few minutes north of my hometown. It left a giant scar down the middle of Moore from which the city is still recovering, physically, financially and emotionally. Thirty-six people died and $1.1 billion in damages were incurred.
Whirlwinds are not typically that huge, but they are certainly chaotic, unpredictable and baffling, touching down here, but not there; leaving one city block torn to pieces and another block completely untouched.
When YHWH responds to Job’s complaints, the arguments that come forth are much like a whirlwind: giant, overpowering and baffling – Job does not receive a straight answer as to why he has received such suffering when he has led a just life:
“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding” (Job 38:4).
““Have you commanded the morning since your days began, and caused the dawn to know its place, so that it might take hold of the skirts of the earth, and the wicked be shaken out of it?” (vv.12-13).
“Have you entered the storehouses of the snow, or have you seen the storehouses of the hail, which I have reserved for the time of trouble, for the day of battle and war?” (vv.22-23).
““Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades, or loose the cords of Orion?” (vv.31).
Job demands justification for his suffering, and YHWH responds with: Life, the Universe and Everything. It’s not exactly a fair argument.
In some ways, though, this is how the Universe responds to suffering: It just keeps on. Time goes on, the sun rises and sets, and with each passing day, our pain becomes less like a crushing weight and more like a wedding ring – we know it’s there, it’s not going anywhere, but it’s not the center of our life anymore. YHWH is not interesting in justifying suffering, but YHWH does not desert us in our pain, either. Life, in all its chaos, fullness and beauty, is still all around us. Our pain may not go away – we have to slog through it one footstep after the next – but life does not go away, either.
When the poet Mary Oliver’s beloved life partner of 40 years died, she grappled with her grief much as Job did – asking the Universe for answers and receiving only Life in response. Here, she finally embraces the answer she has found:
My work is loving the world,
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird –
equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there, the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.
Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect? Let me
keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,
which is mostly standing still and learning to be
The phoebe, the delphinium,
The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all the ingrdients are here,
which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
and these body-clothes,
a mouth with which to give shouts of joy
to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,
telling them all, over and over, how it is
that we live forever.