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Job 38:1-11

Imagine this scenario.

In a dimly lit hospital room, a mother stands near the bed of her toddler. He is still, seemingly asleep, as his body is surrounded by wires and tubes, central lines and other medical equipment. She touches his head and feels the warmth of it below her fingers as tears stream down her face. His future is uncertain, which means hers is as well. The chaplain enters her room on a routine visit and in their conversation, she asks, “Why did this happen to my son? Why, when I love and care for him, has this thing happened that threatens his life? I know parents who don’t care about their children and they are alive and well, but me, I love him, I want him, and he is here, maybe dying. Why is God doing this to me?”

I have learned that people aren’t really looking for theological answers when they ask these kinds of questions in moments like these. They may ask the question, and they may truly want to explore the answer at some point in their lives, but most commonly, in the thick of a despairing situation, theological conversations about God’s will and theodicy are not really what people are looking for.

In this text, Job is in the heart of his own despairing situation. We have read 37 chapters about Job’s afflictions and his friends’ responses with all sorts of theological reasoning for his circumstance. When he demands an answer from God, God responds differently. Rather than give Job a direct answer to his question, God responds poetically and gives Job the promise of God’s presence. God is the God of the cosmos, the God of the darkness and the light, the God of the waters above and the waters below, the God of the land and the sea, the God of all creatures big and small, and God is the God of Job. In the thick of Job’s suffering, Job is reminded that the God of all creation is not absent from him. Though God is grand and beyond what Job can fathom, God is near to him.

In the scenario described above, a chaplain could begin a theological conversation about the nature of God with the mother at her son’s bedside. Or, the chaplain could help her see that, even though God’s ways are known to God alone, God is present with her in her suffering. The chaplain could honor her questions, help her create space for mystery, and imagine a God who is lovingly present with her in her time of questioning. The God of the universe is also the God of her son; God sees him. God loves him.

I think this is often the role we are called to as pastors, preachers, chaplains, and ministers of all sorts. Of course, we have theological training that is often very useful, and we are able to chat about deeply significant matters in the life of the church. But sometimes, instead of responding with reason, logic, and direct theological answers, we might follow God’s cues here. God does not offer an explanation, nor does God give Job a verdict. God invokes Job’s imagination and makes Godself known in a personal way. At the end of the book of Job, Job responds and says, “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you” (Job 42:5).

Through the act of preaching, whether this text or another, perhaps we can respond to people’s questions of theodicy in similar ways. Theological explanations are not always necessary, and in fact if we are honest with ourselves, we must admit they are limited and are only our best attempt at understanding a God who is grand and beyond human comprehension. By providing an invitation to wonder at the God of the cosmos, maybe we, and our parishioners too, will see and experience the presence of God who sees and is near to us.


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