Monday, October 22, 2018

Out of the Whirlwind, the Wild God Speaks

So . . . it turns out God is not Alexa. Or Siri. Or Google. Still, less Santa Claus of you Fairy Godmother. Job discovered, as did James and John, that God is a much deeper mystery than they were prepared for. And wilder.

Job wanted answers. A lot had gone wrong in his life. He wanted to know what God was up to in the midst of it all. But, God did not answer Job’s questions the way he wanted. Instead he responds with questions of his own. And the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind.

When the LORD answers Job out of the whirlwind, it is not some wispy dust devil, but the raw, wild power of a tornado. I expect the hairs on the back of Job’s neck stiffened and his skin pimpled with the feel of the uncanny wildness of God’s presence. The “fear of the LORD” was no puzzling abstraction. It is no warm, fuzzy, domesticated God who answers Job’s lament, but the wild God of the wild creatures of this wild creation. And, notoriously, he doesn’t so much answer Job’s lament as put that lament in its proper, larger context. “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” Or “when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?”Have you entered into the springs of the sea, or walked in the recesses of the deep?”Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades, or loose the cords of Orion?” In effect God’s response to Job suggests that Job is like an eight-year old child throwing a temper tantrum demanding that a scientist explain quantum physics. Even if she wanted to, the child could not understand. The world, including the suffering it contains, is a wild place. It is bigger and wilder and more mysterious than Job can fathom.

In creating the wild world in which we live, God makes space for us and for all creation to be free. Maybe it is not possible for God to create beings in the image of God who are not free because God is free. That means God also makes space for us to make a mess of it, to make a mess of one another, to make a mess of ourselves. And free beings created in the image of God need to be placed in the context of a creation that is also in some sense free. That means God allows creation to do it thing without interfering to make sure things turn out the way we would like. It is a big, wild world. Wild as we sometimes are, the world is bigger and wilder. And Job learns that God is wilder, still.

This does not address Job’s curiosity (or ours) about the way things go – why do bad things happen to good people? or, just as troubling, why do good things seem to happen to bad people? Why does God have to make so much space for freedom? Why does God tolerate so much suffering and injustice? Why has God created such a world? If God is at the heart of it all this wildness – the Creator and Sustainer – God is not off the hook for all the suffering all that wild freedom entails.

Which is, of course, the point of the gospel. On the cross, God himself is on the hook. Out of the whirlwind and onto the cross, God speaks a Word into this wild world. God enters into the wildness of the world God has created. Wild as it is, God is wilder. The Lion of Judah, as C. S. Lewis reminds us in the character of Aslan, is not a tame lion. Good, but not safe. But, when that wild Lion appears in human history it as the Lamb of God given for the ransom of many. This is the deeper, unsettling mystery of God’s wildness. God’s wildness is revealed most fully in the apparent weakness of gentleness, humble servant-hood, and self-sacrificial love.

That’s the bit John and James seemed not to get. They asked Jesus to grant them places of honor on his right and left hands. As God did with Job, Jesus responded with questions of his own. “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” Are you able to embrace the apparent weakness of gentleness, humble servant-hood, and self-sacrificial love that is my way? It is in its way, a wild path.

The wild Lamb enters into our wildness to be slaughtered. On the cross, God in Christ freely takes on the wild pain and suffering of the world. The world’s passion becomes Christ’s passion. God transforms that passion into the promise of resurrection. There is the promise that we too will be transformed – the suffering of the world will not be lost, but gathered up and transformed in resurrection. By his wounds, we will be healed. And so will be the rest of creation which eagerly awaits being set free from its bondage to futility and decay. 

We live in a world of great suffering and great injustice. As Job knew, it can be a hard place to live. It can be a hard place to believe in God – especially the generic God of human imagination. But the God we know in Jesus Christ is not a God of our own imagining. The God we know is the God of the whirlwind and the cross. French poet, Paul Caudel, wrote, “Jesus did not come to remove suffering, or to explain it away. He came to fill it with His presence.” Jesus does not explain suffering. He fills it with his wild presence and the promise of its transformation. However wild the world might be, however wild our own hearts and lives might be, Jesus is wilder still.

God does not always give us what we want. Or answer all our questions. But, a God wild enough to create and sustain such a world as ours and wild enough to pour his love out on the hard wood of the cross is able to evoke our wonder, love, and praise. And out of the wild heart of God, Jesus calls us to follow in the wild way of self-sacrificial love.

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