2009-06-17 by Stephen Schuette
Turn left and it’s the power of the storm; turn right and it’s the power of Jesus over wind and wave. Either way these disciples have eyes popping and mouths a-gape.
What they wanted, perhaps, was for Jesus to put them back in control of a situation that had grown out of their control. At least that’s what I want in a crisis. I don’t want everything to change; I don’t want the world to shift radically; I just want the specific need addressed, thank you very much. But please don’t upset the whole order of the universe as I know it for that is fraught with a whole new set of anxieties.
And perhaps that’s why there’s a delay before rousing Jesus. They’re not just waiting for the storm to take them but are bailing, turning, straining on the oars – everything within their means. They’ve thrown their efforts at order against the chaos and the chaos is winning in spite of their efforts. So their final appeal to Jesus is a cry of exhausted resignation. They’ve done everything, except trust, which according to Kierkegaard and others does nothing to speak to their need of control over the natural forces of the world. Instead they run into another force beyond their control and now must take God seriously.
Could that be the point of the story? Look at the order. In vs. 40 Jesus’ question isn’t “Why were your afraid?” but “Why are you afraid?” Then in vs. 41 the words tumble over themselves: “They were overwhelmed (like being swamped?) with awesome awe." But this is after the storm is calmed
This narrative cracks the world open in a way that has nothing to do with peace and calm. It’s interesting that John places a similar swamped boat story at the end of his Gospel with the risen Christ, only there the boat is not swamped with water but an abundance of fish. Either way, it’s quite a boat ride!
Time to bail
2009-06-17 by Roger Gustafson
Of course Jesus is asleep. What, he should worry? What the disciples experience as the threat that is likely to end their lives is the same old λαῖλαψ (“whirlwind”) out of which God spoke to Job. We know this; they don’t. So they wake him up. According to artists’ renderings, they are wide-eyed and terrified, their mouths open in a shout. According to Mark, they simply say: Teacher, do you not care that we are dying? Either way, it isn’t a request for information; it’s a declaration of desperation in the face of disaster.
But we too have questions. The Greek indicates that the waves were beating into the boat and that the boat wasn’t simply taking on water, but that it “was already full.” So why did they wait so long to call on Jesus? What had they been doing, bailing or waiting?
What is it about our appropriation of faith that renders some of us helpless (“Teacher, do you not care … ?”) and some of us lion-hearted (“I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Phil 4:13)? Had the disciples’ journey with Jesus simply sapped them of their initiative, of confidence in their own resources? After all, some of them were veteran fishermen; the Sea of Galilee was their office, so storms were nothing new; this one was no surprise, probably nothing they hadn’t encountered before. But this one was new; it was first storm they encountered in the company of Jesus, the miracle worker, the healer, the great teacher – the One to whom they had taken a backseat. Perhaps they had gotten too comfortable back there.
We often lament our tendency to domesticate God and so turn away from God’s redemptive power in our lives; it’s also possible to domesticate ourselves in the face of faith in God’s power and so turn away from our own “created co-creator” power. There is a downside to a pure “let go and let God” surrender ethic.
Roger and Theodicy
2009-06-17 by David von Schlichten
I am grateful for our guest blogger's reflections on Job. Scroll down to read Roger Gustafson's insightful posts.
He is right that, when someone suffers, she or he does not really want to know why. The person just wants the suffering to stop. That's a helpful point that I will probably take with me into the pulpit this Sunday.
Many people derive comfort from the belief that "Everything happens for a reason," but I find more comforting and more sound biblically and logically the belief that "Some things just happen, but God never forsakes us."
Why do people cling to the "Everything happens for a reason" theology? What's good and bad about it?
Yours in Christ,
David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator
'Now my eye sees you'
2009-06-16 by Roger Gustafson
Job asked for it, a reckoning, an explanation for his suffering. No secret sin burdens his conscience; he has nothing to fear because his record is clean. So bring it on. “Let the Almighty answer me!” (31:35b)
In good rabbinic fashion, God responds to Job’s question with a question. “Why do I suffer?”, Job asks. “Who are you?”, God responds.
“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” Job has been wearing not simply blinders but a blindfold. The Lord speaks out of the chaos of the whirlwind. While the appointed reading encompasses 11 verses, God goes on for four chapters, recounting God’s own activity throughout the grand sweep of creation. God’s view is cosmic; Job’s view has been pitifully myopic and immediate. As God speaks, God inserts an invitation to Job to respond (40:1-5), and by then his response amounts to wide-eyed surrender in the face of God’s majesty: “I am of small account … I lay my hand on my mouth. I have spoken once, and I will not answer; twice, but will proceed no further.” (40:4-5).
What accounts for Job’s shift in perspective? “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,” he says in 42:5-6, “but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” Job had known God by reputation only; now, he had a vital, personal experience of the Almighty that gave his circumstance wider perspective. Job stops asking for an answer that fits within his framework of justice because he has encountered God in all of God’s glory and power. It’s an encounter that has rearranged Job’s priorities and given him new eyes.
We don’t really want answers, do we? When we suffer, we don’t want to know why, not really. We simply want the suffering to stop. The weary, all-cried-out, puffy-eyed parents of a 19-year-old daughter who is dying of liver cancer come to you pleading for an answer to “Why?” But they’re not really trying to understand the mechanics of the illness’s origin, as if understanding will make it all better. They don’t want information; they want the cancer gone. To use Craig Barnes’ construct at the recent Festival of Homiletics, the question is the text, the pain is the subtext. The subtext is where those parents deeply live.
We can’t give them what they want, but in time we can give them an awareness of the overwhelming, overpowering presence of the God who redeems even the very worst thing. We can invite the anger, the despair, the questioning; we can ride out the storm with them, contributing a generous amount of “I don’t know” and putting up with their corresponding frustration with us. We can, if they allow, enter into that subtext and be present, announcing by our presence the God who redeems.
God, got a minute?
2009-06-14 by Roger Gustafson
Questions, questions, questions. Job has an abundance of them, all of which boil down to one: “Why me?”
We know what’s at work here, we in the gallery. We know that what’s really happening is the playing out of a wager between God and Satan. Job, however, like a bewildered bystander caught in a drive-by, is left simply and profoundly slack-jawed by his sudden and drastic run of misfortune. His cattle, his servants, his children are ravaged and destroyed in an escalating tale of horror which, especially because of the death of his offspring, leaves him with no prospect of a future. And good Lord, that’s only Chapter 1.
I have to feel for Job. All his life he had been playing by the rules of a system that paid him handsome dividends. Retributive justice had been his ticket to prosperity: If you do good, you get good; if you do bad, you pay for it with illness and financial hardship, and worse. Job apparently had done only good, and had the goods to prove it. But now the system by which he made sense of the world, the structure which in the past had provided such security and guarantee of the good life, was producing no payoff; it was pointless, leading nowhere. In fact, Job would have welcomed a simple lack of abundance instead of the crushing harvest of pain that he was experiencing. And for no reason. Is there no justice?
Robert never joined our parish, but near the end of his life he often sought out the early morning, middle-of-the-week quiet of our sanctuary. He was retired military, gruff on the exterior, a tough guy who had been caught in a drive-by of his own: though he had never smoked, he had lung cancer, and it was killing him.
So he would ask permission to sit in the sanctuary, usually on Wednesdays, and read the Psalms. He wasn’t a churchgoer, but he knew a few of those Psalms. He especially liked the one that talked about how those who wait on the Lord will mount up with wings like eagles. He used to sit in a sunbeam, silent, just breathing softly, reflecting on that psalm, waiting on the Lord.
I asked him if he ever got angry with God, angry that he had cancer when there was no apparent reason for him to be suffering from it. “Nope,” he said. “I know a lotta guys, in my shoes, they’d be mad. Not me. I never ask, ‘Why me?’, because I know the answer would probably be, ‘Why not?’”
Job is not Robert. Robert operates under a different system by which life makes sense. Call it chaos-in-a-box: Stuff happens, good stuff, bad stuff, and sometimes the bad stuff happens to you, but God makes it all work out, somehow. It’s nothing personal, it’s cancer. I imagine it took Robert a while to achieve that partnership of existential detachment and personal connection to the God at the center of the Psalms. With Job, however, life is a matter of straight-line justice. He suffers undeservedly, so it is personal; he is due an accounting.
By the end of Chapter 37, when Job has pleaded his case to his friends and his friends have pleaded God’s case to him, the stage is set for resolution, for a judgment. He’s been asking, “Why me?”, and God begins God’s answer with, “Wrong question.”
Roger is a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, serving a congregation in the Kansas City suburb of Olathe, Kansas. He is a contributing writer for Lectionary Homiletics and The Living Pulpit preaching journals, and he is working on a book on the challenges of and unique opportunities inherent in second-career leadership in the church. He believes that the local parish and motorcycling are most excellent venues for learning.
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