Proper 24 (29)B
22nd Sunday after Pentecost
Job 38:1-7, 34-41
By Wendy Janzen
The the first reading and Psalm for this Sunday are both creation texts – passages that describe God’s amazing work in creating the cosmos. The text from Jobs is part of the longest passage in the bible about more-than-human creation (Job 38-42). It is written in exquisitely beautiful poetry, and it is God’s rhetorical answer to Job’s probing questions about God’s justice – why bad things happen to good people.
Kathleen M. O’Conner offers some refreshing insights into God’s speech to Job from a feminist/liberationist hermeneutic in her essay, “Wild, Raging Creativity: Job in the Whirlwind,” (published in Carol J. Dempsey and Mary Margaret Pazdad, ed., Earth, Wind & Fire: Biblical Perspectives on Creation, Liturgical Press, 2004.) In this essay, O’Connor proposes that: “the divine speeches are not about the bullying power of God; they are about the potent beauty of creation, of God, of Job himself.” (p. 49)
Throughout the book of Job, we mostly hear human voices. Job and his friends are trying to grasp the nature of God, and the nature of the human existence, especially suffering. In the midst of the chaos Job is experiencing in life, God finally speaks to him in a whirlwind! God doesn’t come in a still small voice here, but matches Job’s intensity and emotion. The whirlwind, or storm, isn’t just the means by which God appears to Job, but it also implies a God that is wild, free, and unsettling. God is mysterious, powerful, and unpredictable in Her approach to Job. Rather than answering any of Job’s questions, God responds with a barrage of questions in turn.
The questions are all rhetorical, typical of the Wisdom genre. “Were you there when I laid the foundations of the earth?” Of course not. Each question question that follows emphasises the limited scope of knowledge or power that humans have in relation to the cosmos. The questions throught these four chapters (38-42) draw on creation as witnesses to God’s creativity, power, and wisdom that are greater than Job’s wisdom or understanding. The questions convey God’s delight in the beauty and wonder of creation. They remind Job of his place in creation, not as an agent of control and power, but as a subject of God who created the cosmos and all its inhabitants – human and more-than-human alike.
O’Connor asks what significance can the beauty of creation have for Job? Is it just a distraction from his suffering? Is God off on a tangent, ignoring Job’s plight? To the contrary, “rather than ignoring Job, the divine speeches greet him, affirm him, bless him.” (O’Connor, p. 53) They expand the vision of his place in the world from being self-focused to including the cosmos and its astounding beauty. Cosmic beauty does not explain Job’s suffering, but it transforms him, allowing Job to see God with new eyes. Job sees himself in the context of creation, a part of something much larger than he.
Western colonizing culture has a problem with putting ourselves at the centre and aspiring to power and control. Sadly, we think we have unrestricted rights over the earth and the authority to dominate and control land, animals, birds of the air, fish of the sea, and other humans. We have forgotten our place in the midst of all of this, and we have forgotten to see its beauty and allow it to transform us. This has landed us in a huge mess.
I find God’s response to Job comforting. God reminded Job of his place in creation. God is God and we are not. I like to have everything figured out. I like to know the plan. I like to be in control. I need a reminder like Job. God in the whirlwind invites “us to open ourselves to the amazing beauty divinely loosed in the cosmos, to look for it, to let it whoosh through us, to heed it, and to obey.” (O’Connor, p. 54)
We are invited to participate in God’s wild, beautiful, creativity, and to extend our circle of care beyond ourselves and our families to the whole cosmos. We are called to embody both humility and joyous wonder in the world in which we live.
There is a practice that I have led in different outdoor settings to help nurture our connection with the beauty of creation and Creator called a “wild beauty walk.” To do it, go outside – a backyard, city park, farm, or wilderness area – anywhere will do! Walk slowly and attentively, paying attention for anything of beauty that draws your attention. Sit with it, enjoy it, admire it, and ponder one or more of these questions:
Why were you drawn to this in particular?
How would you describe its beauty?
How does it make you feel?
What does it have to teach you?
In what ways are you connected to each other in your ecosystem?
What insights does it give you into the nature of God?
In what ways does it mirror your own wild beauty?
Can you offer words of gratitude, both to it directly, and to God, for such beauty?
“O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures… Bless the Lord, O my soul. Praise the Lord!” Psalm 104: 24, 35c
Wendy Janzen lives in the Grand River watershed, which is in the traditional territory of the Haudenosaunee, Anishnawbe and Neutral peoples. She is a settler who serves as pastor at St Jacobs Mennonite Church and Burning Bush Forest Church where she is attempting to re-learn and reconnect with her place in creation. She is a partner in the Wild Church Network.
Wild Lectionary, a weekly reflection on land, creation and environmental justice themes in the texts of the revised common lectionary, is curated by Laurel Dykstra, gathering priest of Salal + Cedar, Coast Salish Territories.