Text: Job 38 (God answers Job out of the whirlwind)
The Season of Creation started in the Uniting Church of Australia in 2000, and it has now spread to many other churches. It breaks up the seven-month long Season after Pentecost and directs the church to focus on threats to the environment caused by human population growth and economic activity.
The new Season also focuses on the role of God as Creator and sustainer of life. But do we still conceive of God as Creator 155 years after the publication of Charles Darwin’s masterpiece “On the Origin of the Species by Means of Natural Selection?”
Darwin and other scientists have shown how the stupefying complexity of life results from natural forces operating blindly over vast stretches of time.
Before Darwin, life could only be understood as a miraculous creation. And despite Darwin, some conservative religious leaders still say this. Creationists scoff at natural selection and say that only a deity outside of nature can explain life.
Most church leaders who support the Season of Creation side with science against Creationism. But I worry about how to square talk of God as Creator with our current understanding of the unfolding of natural history.
Today’s reading from Job, which is from a list designed for the new Season, might help with this issue. In the Book of Job, God is the Creator of all that exists. But in other respects, he seems different from the God we usually find in the Bible.
Job is a righteous and prosperous man whom God allows to be tortured by Satan. With God’s blessing, Satan kills all of Job’s children, destroys his wealth, and gives Job loathsome and painful sores. Satan does this to prove a point in a debate between God and members of a heavenly Council.
Job and his friends believe that God rewards the righteous and punishes the wicked. Because of this, his friends insist that Job must have sinned. But Job tells the truth when he says that he has done nothing wrong. He demands that God explain why he is being punished.
God responds in today’s reading. He does not answer any of Job’s questions. Instead, he fires his own sarcastic questions back at Job. God neither confirms nor denies that he rewards the faithful and punishes the wicked. Nor does he say why he has allowed Job to be tortured. God simply asserts that he is the Creator of the world and the author of all that happens in it; that his powers are unlimited; and that humans and our wishes do not rule his action.
God’s long and poetic response moves to Job to say the following: “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted . . . I have uttered what I did not understand about things that are too wonderful for me . . . so I despise myself, and I repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42)
Job comes to accept the awesome and inscrutable mystery of life and of God, and he stops complaining about the pain and loss he has suffered.
The picture of God the Creator painted in Job reminds me of the outline of natural history given to us by modern science. In both, everything that exists is the result of immensely powerful forces unfolding over vast time. In the face of this cosmic reality, humans are revealed as humble and insignificant.
God in the Book of Job seems to be a personification of the vast and implacable cosmos revealed by science. Whether called Creation or Cosmos, it is an awesome Reality that strike us as both beautiful and fearsome.
The attitude we adopt in relation to Ultimate Reality is key. Life is an inexplicable gift which includes both things we call curses and things we call blessings. If we focus on fragility and pain, we may want to “curse God and die” as Job’s wife recommends. (Job 2) But if we focus more on beauty and love, we may be moved to accept reality with all its wonders and pains just as Job finally does.
We come to consciousness in a vast and mysterious universe in which we are blessed with life and cursed with death; in which we are gifted with the powers of thousands of years of human culture and caught in webs of social evil; and in which we are surrounded by people whom we love and whom we also lose.
Can we trust reality? In his terrible pain, Job rails against it and against God. But he finally relents and accepts his place in the cosmos, which is a place of humility. This seems to be the only stance possible after we realize that we are just one tiny speak of God’s vast Creation and that we are utterly reliant on the rest of the Cosmos.
Because of the dispute in the church between science and Creationism, I tend to not use Creator as a title for God, just as I tend not to use Lord, Father, or Almighty King. I don’t object to these titles. I simply shy away from them.
Instead, I prefer to identify God as Ultimate Reality, or the very Ground of Being, Life, and Love. Such formulations make it easier for me to link Scripture to the 13.8 billion years of cosmic history, the 3.5 billion years of biological history, and the thousands of years of human history revealed to us by modern science.
But by whatever name we call the Source of Life, our lives are a gift. When we trust this gift and accept it, we can respond with gratitude and praise. Sometimes we will also express anger and grief over things we cannot see as blessings, but such complaints do not shut us off from God’s Grace. As Job discovers, Grace continues to be available even in moments of utter despair.
There is a much more that could be said about Job and the topics of science, Creation and the seasons of the church. But other than for this service, I have decided not to follow the new Season of Creation this year. Perhaps I will suggest to the Worship Committee that we return to it next year.
For now, I hope it will be enough to repeat that God the Creator revealed in the Book of Job and the cosmos understood as natural history seem to describe the same implacable power, mystery and majesty.
Both the Bible and science also show that the Reality that transcends us is also present in our very hearts and minds. Consider that all the atoms in our bodies are star stuff, forged in supernovae explosions billions of years ago; and that the Creator from the Book of Job is also the God who comes down at Christmas as Love Incarnate and who walks with us on the tough road of life as friend and brother.
Both the star stuff in our cells and the inner Christ in our hearts are as much part of Ultimate Reality as are the billions of galaxies visible in the night sky and the transcendent God we worship in fear and trembling.
Being, Life, and Love are sacred values. They are present in both those things we name as blessings and in those things we name as curses. Since God’s Creation is the source of Being, Life and Love, we trust God. We trust that, while we won’t always get what we want in this sacred life, we will always get what we need.
Thanks be to God.