Sue Latourette

Job 42:1-6

Matthew 4:12-23




Get On Board


"Why?"  That is the question I have heard so much lately, even asked it myself.  "Why?" is the question asked when we have to face changes, pain, even suffering.  I always found it strange that the fisherman Jesus called to from the shore didn't seem to ask "Why?" when they dropped their nets and jumped aboard Jesus' ministry that day.  Even if they didn't ask it that day, I am sure they asked "why?" of Jesus quite a few times after that. 


After all they experienced with Jesus, the disciples probably never had a direct answer to the "why" of what they were doing following him.  But they had a certain knowledge that they had been in the presence of God.  Jesus passed on to them, and all who would follow Him, the task of sharing the surety that God is with us.  After Jesus' crucifixion it was made most clear that we are not alone  - because Jesus appeared again and again to reassure us his Spirit would remain. 


The Spirit fills us and works through us in subtle and the most powerful ways when we respond to the needs of others.  How God is present is demonstrated through us, the church, in times of tragedy and in times of joy.  When we are faced with changes, threats, disasters, we still ask "why?" 


Most importantly our task of faith is to reach out in our need to one another. 


Not since September 11th have we witnessed such international need  - or crisis of faith  - as when the tsunami demolished countries and devastated thousands of lives.  The questions are out there.  Why do disasters happen? 

If God is all-powerful, why didn't God prevent the huge wave that swept away thousands?  What did those people do to deserve that? 


Trying to answer the question with concrete, digestible answers is like scrabbling up a rock face crumbling from erosion.  Just when we think we have a solid grip on the answer,  our theology crumbles like sandstone into dust, and we fall. 


The first time I went rock climbing I was nervous.  Not terrified, but I was quivery and shaky, not a little uncertain of whether I could do it.  It wasn't until I fell  - about 3 feet  - that I gained confidence.  When I fell, I learned a great deal about trust.  I was roped in, belayed from above.  But I'd never had to use a life-line like that before. 


The fall taught me that I had support.  I wasn't going too far.  I might fall, but not to my mortal death or certain pain.  I wasn't alone. 


Job was the richest man around, and a faithful one, at that.  Likely, he never had to take a serious fall in his life.  But one day he was completely wiped out, devastated.  All his goods, his employees, his holdings, and yes, his family, were gone. 


He checked himself over and gave thanks that he was still in one piece.  But not for long.  When he was struck with leprosy he cursed the day he was born.  Praying to die, he lived. 


Job's well-meaning friends tried to help him figure out what he had done wrong.  You must have done something, they said, otherwise the wrath of God would not have passed judgment on him so fiercely. 


But Job hadn'  - done wrong, that is  - and he said so.  Tired of their poor arguments he wailed, "Oh that you would keep silent, and it would be your wisdom."  Job 13:4-5


Job didn't cease looking for God, wondering where God was now, looking high and low, inside and out.  Job's well-meaning friend, Elihu, came on the scene suggesting that God was just trying to help him "improve his character and sharpen his sensitivies." (pp. 74-75, Buechner, Peculiar Treasures)


"He delivers the afflicted by their afflictions and opens their ears by adversity."  Job 36:15


There are many theological explanations for suffering, but God doesn't offer one.  "God doesn't explain.  God explodes, a voice that thunders and fills chapters of Job's book.

God asks Job who he thinks he is anyway.  He says that trying to explain the kinds of things Job wants explained would be like trying to explain Einstein to a little-neck clam."  (p. 56, Buechner, Wishful Thinking)


Even with all the answers he sought, Job would still have to face his losses.  "God doesn't reveal [the] grand design.  [God] reveals himself.  He doesn't show why things are as they are.  He shows his face.  And Job says, "I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you."  (p. 57)  Job 42:5


In the midst of suffering, confusion, pain  - any of life's events  - great or small, God is present.  Sure we have to ask why  - we have in us an innate "need to know."  In the tsunami that hits and wipes out whole islands, or any tragic death, we want to know why, because deep down inside we wonder if it could happen to us. 


The challenge is, as Job's experience shows, that any answer our limited brains can conjure up will only be unsatisfactory in the end.  Barbara Brown Taylor says that "...the human imagination turns out to be the place where vision is formed and reformed, where human beings encounter an inner reality with power to transform the other realities of their lives."  (p. 46)


Faithful imagination means that we have to look at the world and give up the notion that we know what we are looking at.  There is always so much more than meets the eye. 


The disciples had faithful imagination because they had known Jesus, in life and beyond.  We are granted the same, as the church, because we are accompanied by his Spirit  - a spirit that dwells within us with the power to transform the realities of our lives.  This is our support, our life-line from above. 


When faced with questions of faith, our faith tells us that we are grounded in the sure knowledge that death is not the end, but only the expansion of life beyond our knowledge.  Being on board the ship of faith, we can always find our footing  - even if all we can do in the midst of trial is to pray. 


In the end, it is about finding our faith.  Being faithful doesn't mean that we can prevent things from happening.  Being faithful means that we can respond with all that we are and all that we have, demonstrating God's face to those who wonder where God is in such times.  God is here. 


Frederick Buecher, Wishful Thinking: a doubter's dictinary, 1973, 1993,  and Peculiar Treasures: a biblical who's who, 1979, Harper Collins San Francisco. 


Barbara Brown Taylor, God in Pain: Teaching Sermons on Suffering.  Abingdon Press, Nashville, 1998.