Worship Start Time: 10:30am
Theme: Official Complaints Against God, Part Two
Come to Scarboro as we worship together every Sunday at 10:30am. We will have the coffee on at 10, so come early and catch up with your community. There will be more time for coffee, tea and conversation after the service in the Memorial Hall.
At 8:30am there will be sandwich making in the Kitchen for drop off at the DI. Bring a loaf of (labeled) sandwiches from home and leave them with us for delivery.
Refill your coffee after worship and head over the the Chapel for Prayers For The Earth at 11:30am.
There will be an Indigenous and Non-Indigenous Women's Talking Stick Healing Ceremony at 1 pm in the Social Room. This is a sacred and safe space for women to gather and share their life stories, offering healing, support, and community. Register with facilitator, Marilyn Shingoose at 403-667-4863 or [email protected] - an Elder will be present.
Official Complaints Against God, Part II
Rev. Lee Spice
It feels like we’re having one of those years. Our church has sustained a number of losses of beloved people, and it seems like it’s happening all at once. And although what we’re going through is nothing like what is described in the Book of Job, sometimes it feels like we’re getting whumped. Have you ever had a year like that? Or a week? Or a month?
Last week and this week we have been reading excerpts from the Book of Job. If you didn’t catch Reverend Erin’s sermon last week, I encourage you to listen to it on line. Last week, she brought us up to speed as to what was happening with Job – every kind of loss imaginable – and she outlined how it is not only acceptable to complain to God, but that articulating our pain and complaint is an important part of our spiritual vocabulary. She also let us know how patently unhelpful Job’s friends were, in trying to explain and theologize about his suffering. Many of us came away with a better idea as to how to come alongside someone who is bearing deep pain.
Today, we heard the voice of God speak from the whirlwind. “Gird up your loins like a man, and I will question you! Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Answer me, if you understand.”
Yikes. I’ve always heard this as a bit of a rant. God whips up the wind so that you can’t even get close, and then out comes this condemnation – like God is saying, “You know nothing, you little worm.”
Not my favourite picture of God.
If anything, it seems to minimize Job’s pain. It seems to support that old unhelpful saying that, “God must have HIS reasons.” That is like rubbing salt into the wound.
I can’t buy it. That’s not the God I know.
Is there anything in this story at all that is helpful to those who are suffering? The Book of Job is like heights, if you’re afraid of heights, or snakes, if you’re afraid of snakes. Many of us are both repulsed and drawn to it, because it does have something to say about life, and meaning, and suffering. But, whoah.
I owe a great deal of what I’m about to say to my husband, Ron. Ron’s clinical work is in the area of palliative care – he cares for those who are dying, and, as you can imagine, he describes the Book of Job as one of the most important books of the Bible. Over the years, he and I have wrestled with this book, and I’ve come to the conclusion that this is exactly what we are meant to do – to wrestle with it; to challenge it; and to let it challenge us.
So let’s challenge it.
First of all, I challenge God’s angry attitude, as it happens in this story. I want to decolonize this aspect of God. In this story, God appears as an all-powerful tyrant. I believe that the writer has projected his own colonization onto God. Life on earth has the colonizers and the oppressed, and so, this must be how it is with God. Even our own projections figure in here. If we have always looked at God as “far away,” and as a kind of benevolent dictator, our own imagines will fill in the picture of the big voice hiding away in a dangerous whirlwind.
But what if we thought of the whirlwind in a different way? What if the whirlwind is any number of chaotic situations in which a person might find themselves? What if the whirlwind is the chaos of the world today, or the chaos of your life, or a situation of pain which is inexplicable or the cascade that happens in a tragedy. Surely, all of us have experienced a whirlwind, where you can’t tell up from down and you can’t find your footing.
And, even in that place, where it seems that nothing makes sense, and it seems that everything is wrong and the world sucks and no one can figure it out – from THAT whirlwind, God speaks. God is present. God is pulling up alongside. God is THERE.
A year or so ago, I was chatting with my friend and colleague, now the late John Snyder. I asked him about the Book of Job, and how I believed that God does speak out of the whirlwind, but, that doesn’t seem to answer the questions of suffering.
John said, “God is saying, ‘Don’t ask the question.’”
We didn’t get to completely finish that conversation, but I believe that John was saying that the question NOT to ask is, “Why me?”
That’s the hardest one of all. When you see that someone gets killed in an accident and someone else walks away; when someone gets cancer and someone else doesn’t…that’s the question that comes up for many. And the equally scary question, “Why not me?” Oh, I’ve heard some devastating stories from people who’ve heard other well-meaning people try to explain, usually describing God as making some kind of decision…I saw one person giving thanks to God on the internet because she wasn’t on one of the planes that hit the Twin Towers on 9/11. She had the flu or something. But God saved her, and not all the others? What?
Humans are human, and humans still search for meaning in what happens and what doesn’t happen.
But the question, “Why me?” is a colonial question. It’s a question that a subject asks of their king, or of their oppressors. And so, yes, again, the colonized and the colonizer have projected themselves onto their view of God. Maybe John was right – maybe we shouldn’t ask the question. If we are to decolonize our view of God, then “Why me” becomes an invalid question. “Why me” presumes a subject asking the question of their monarch.
Again, what if we were to think of that relationship in a decolonized way?
What if we pulled away from the despot-God image, and of the why-me, why-not-me, subject to colonizer image, and looked at the scene that is being painted in a different way?
What if the story of Job is not meant to justify God’s actions?
What if the story of Job is meant to take our focus off the suffering of one person, and paint a broader, comprehensive picture of Creation? What if it is actually a story about how things relate to one another – how things are connected?
Bill Brown, a professor of Old Testament Theology, thinks it is just that. He pictures Job as an alternate creation story, and it has many surprises. In the many pages that follow that which we just read, God takes Job on a tour of the cosmos. It is as disorienting as it is exhilarating. God speaks of many, many beings – some we recognize, and some we don’t – but God speaks with real tenderness, as if God has given birth to them. At one point, God says, “Can you provide prey for the lion?” This sets traditional ways of thinking on its ear – one test of kings was to kill a lion, and other animals. In this case, God is not proving strength by conquering the lion – God is providing for the lion.
According to Brown, this account of Creation turns Job’s world on its head. Why? Because there is no centre. And, more importantly, humanity is not at the centre. This is quite unlike the Genesis Creation story, where animals are paraded past the human so that he can name them. In Job, humanity is not at the centre – exposed to worlds beyond his imagination, Job comes to realize that he is a part of the whole of it.
Bill Brown takes us all the way to the end of the story, where Job, in other translations, is said to REPENT. Brown is adamant that this is a mistranslation. In his correction, he quotes Job as saying, “I am COMFORTED over dust and ashes.” In other words, Job doesn’t repent of his despair…after all, what is there to repent about? Rather, seeing his place in all of Creation, he is comforted. He is a changed man. So much so, says Brown, that he gives his inheritance to his daughters, as well as his sons. He has become an unpatriarchal patriarch.
The very first religions on this planet recognized that The Holy is that which connects all things. In North America, you can hear this in some Indigenous prayer, which may begin or end with “all my relations.”
When “why me” becomes “how is this connected,” it becomes a much more useful question. I don’t want to invalidate anyone’s pain. Pain is real. Suffering is real. This is just to say that, when we are looking for meaning – the answers to the “why,” the answer is bigger than one person, bigger than a faith community, bigger, even, than humanity. Asking, “how is this connected?” establishes humanity’s place in Creation, and begins to pull in other facets of inquiry – scientific, social, communal. The problem of cancer becomes a worldwide problem. The problem of infant mortality becomes a global issue. The problem of personal suffering becomes a community issue.
We are having one of those years. It might be easy to ask, “why us?” but that just sends a community down a rabbit hole of misery. Instead, what if we considered how this is all connected. In the past few months, we have been in a whirlwind. And, many, many times, I have heard the voice of God. I’ve heard the voice of God in the way that the community has pulled together. I have heard the voice of God as we have we have comforted each other as family. I have heard the voice of God as members have spoken about how blessed we have been, by the people that are no longer with us.
God has been with us all the time, in the connections in the community, in the beauty and majesty of Creation, and in the stretch of time past, present and future. God is alongside, outside, and within; and, even in the most terrible whirlwind, God will continue to speak.
All my relations.