Sermon Text: Job 38:1-11
Pastor Steven Pagels
In the name of Christ Jesus, dear friends:
A boat was sailing on the open water at night when storm clouds began to gather. Sheets of rain from above collided with the crashing seas below. Wave after wave pounded the ship as water poured over the sides. The sailors did everything in their power to keep from capsizing. They used buckets to scoop out the incoming water. They even threw their cargo overboard to stay afloat, but it was no use. The panicked expressions on their faces said it all. They all believed that they were going to die.
All except one, who was sleeping below deck without a worry in the world. With nowhere else to turn, the rest of the passengers shook him awake. In response to their begging and pleading, he got up and spoke a few words: “Quiet! Be still!” (Mark 4:39). And at his command, the seas instantly became calm
You probably recognize this as a summary of the gospel lesson for today, the miracle account in which Jesus calmed the storm on the Sea of Galilee. The story is made up of three major components: a storm, a lack of faith, and God’s powerful Word.
The text before us this morning from Job presents us with the same key elements, but under somewhat different circumstances. Job takes the place of the Jesus’ disciples. He is the one who shows a lack of faith in God. There is a storm in this lesson too, but this storm doesn’t pose a threat to Job’s life. What is the same in both lessons is God’s powerful Word.
In today’s gospel lesson, Jesus clearly had the last word over the storm on the Sea of Galilee. He spoke, and it was gone. Through his conversation with Job in another storm, the Lord demonstrates to us that he is our Almighty Creator, and he too will have the final word.
The Creator Has The Final Word
People who know who Job is are likely familiar with the first two chapters of the book that bears his name. Job was a man who had it all, then lost it all, and then got it back again. The opening chapters describe Job’s fall. His children were killed. His fields and flocks were destroyed. Job even lost his health when his body was covered with painful sores.
Even if you are familiar with the opening chapters of Job, did you know that the book goes on for 40 more? The first two chapters are really background that set the stage for everything that follows. The majority of Job focuses on the “why” of Job’s suffering, why this terrible tragedy happened to him and not somebody else.
Job’s friends (Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar) thought they had the answer. They reasoned that Job was to blame for his misfortune. It was God’s punishment for some terrible thing he had done, a simple case of cause and effect. And Job’s fortunes would never change for the better unless he first repented of his sin.
Job could not have disagreed with his friends more. He was convinced that he was innocent, and over and over he tried to prove it. But as strong as Job tried to be, he had to face the facts. Humanly speaking, he was ruined. Everything he valued had been taken from him, and he couldn’t understand why.
The Lord was all that Job had left, and he even started doubting that. How could a loving God be so cruel? How could a just God punish the innocent and give a pass to the wicked? If this was the fate of the righteous man, then Job didn’t want any part of it. What he wanted more than anything was the answer to one question: “Why?”
At the end of thirty-seven chapters of back-and-forth dialog, the Lord finally broke his silence. Imagine Job shaking with fear when he heard the Lord’s voice thunder out of the storm clouds: “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge” (2)? “Job, who do you think you are? And what qualifies you to criticize me?”
God never said Job’s friends were right. And God didn’t stand up and defend Job either. Instead, the Lord challenged Job: “Brace yourself like a man (3). Job, you had your turn. Now it’s my turn. I will question you, and you shall answer me” (3).
Before the Lord appeared in that storm, Job had argued that his suffering was unjust. Job’s friends disagreed with him, but they were just as sure that they were right. This know-it-all, or at least know-better-than-God, attitude provides us with two clear examples of sinful pride.
Pride wants me to think that I have all the answers. Pride wants me to believe that there is no problem too difficult for me to solve. Pride boasts that I am the master of my own fate. I have the strength. I have the wisdom. And I have the ability to take care of myself.
But what happens when something goes wrong, something I can’t fix, something I can’t explain? Then who is to blame? Not me. That’s when I point the finger with questions like: If God is as powerful as he says he is, why there is so much pain and suffering in the world? If God is as loving as he says he is, why is there so much pain and suffering in my life?
To make those questions more relatable, here is a quick scan from last week’s headlines. A tourist ferry in Indonesia sinks and kills two hundred people, and the skeptic is quick to ask: “Why, God?” A 9-year-old girl is shot and killed in Milwaukee. Almost instinctively, we demand an answer: “Lord, how could you let something like this happen?”
We say that we believe Paul’s words in Romans: “The wages of sin is death” (6:23). But when this Bible truth becomes reality, it can pose a serious challenge to our faith. When we attach those lethal words to real people, they put our trust to the test. When the battle between good and evil plays out in a sinful world, people die. And because we can’t stop the pain and suffering, because we can’t find any other reasons to explain the senseless violence, the default setting of the sinful nature is to demand answers from God.
God doesn’t owe us answers. The Lord didn’t have to dignify Job’s complaints with a response, but he did. He thundered: “Who is this who darkens my counsel with words without knowledge (3)? Who are you, and what do you know?” When confronted by God, we must confess that we know nothing. We stand speechless before the almighty Creator. We have no right to ask questions like: Why isn’t the world a better place?” or “Why isn’t my life any better?” What we really should be asking ourselves is: “Why does God allow this wicked world to keep spinning for another minute?” “Why does anything good happen to me at all?”
The Lord appeared to Job in the storm to expose his pride, but there was another reason. In this final confrontation with Job, God was giving his servant one final test, a test that ultimately led him to repent of his sin and trust in the Lord more firmly than ever. In this account God impresses on us the fact that He has the final word, and His Word answers all questions.
If you have ever been to a groundbreaking ceremony (like the one out on Highway P back in September), you know that it is a joyful occasion because it is the start of something new and exciting. And when you look back at the completed project, you can take pride in the fact that you were a part of it, that you were there when it all began.
God took Job back to the original groundbreaking ceremony, the creation of the world itself. If he was as wise as he claimed to be, Job would certainly know every last detail about creation. So the questions came flying: “Job, where were you when the earth was created? Who marked off its dimensions? How was its foundation set?
Job could only stammer and stutter because he didn’t know as much as he thought he did. His knowledge was nothing compared to God’s. God alone created the earth. God was the architect and the engineer and the builder all wrapped up into one. Only God understands the mystery of his creation, and he is the only one who can maintain control of it.
To demonstrate his power, God used the example of the open sea. Every summer hurricanes and tropical storms batter our nation’s coasts, and there is nothing anyone can do to stop them. In this part of the country, we have a mixture of wind and water that causes these little things called tornadoes. What is our best defense when a tornado hits? Run for cover and pray that it passes by.
Now listen closely as God describes his relationship with the wind and the waves: “Who shut up the sea when it burst forth from the womb, when I made the clouds its garment and wrapped it in thick darkness” (8-9)? To God, the ocean is nothing more than a great big baby. He clothed it with clouds like a mother wraps up her child in a blanket. And he has set limits for it. Doors and bars have been set to hold the seas in place. The tides can advance only as far as God allows.
On the one hand, God’s speech probably made Job feel about this big. In chapter 38 alone, the Lord asked Job more than thirty-five questions? With each question, Job was convicted of his sin. “I created the sea, Job. Where were you? I formed the earth with my own hands. How did you help me then?” Job needed to hear that. As great as he once was, and as innocent as he claimed to be, he had no case before the Lord.
The Almighty Creator also wanted Job to remember that he is the Master of all things. No matter how bad the situation is, no matter how dark the skies appear, God is steering the ship. Everything we see may suggest the opposite, but God is in control. God is always in control, and we have his promise that he will always take care of us.
And so instead of wondering how God could let sin corrupt his perfect creation, instead of wanting to know why life is so hard, instead of asking any more accusing questions we join Job in giving thanks to God for giving us a way out. The almighty Creator who created the world in six days is the God of grace who graciously devised a plan to save us. God’s Son was God’s perfect answer to the problem of sin in the world. Jesus died for your sins. Jesus paid for your sins. You are forgiven, and you have a perfect place, a permanent place, reserved for you in heaven.
Job’s story is compelling because I think we can all see a little bit of Job in ourselves. Even if we haven’t repeated Job’s complaints verbatim, sometimes we think we deserve better, sometimes we feel slighted by others, sometimes we even think we have been mistreated by God. The Lord’s response to Job challenges us to compare ourselves with our Creator, and that has a way of humbling anyone.
You and I will never be in a position to understand why everything happens, but we don’t have to because we know the One who does. We put our trust in the one true God, the triune God, the God who loved us enough to save us and who will direct all things for our eternal good. How do we know that? How can we be sure of that? Because it is a promise God has given to us in his Word, and his Word is the final word. Amen.