Master of Divinity?

Posted: November 1, 2012 by Todd in Sermons

I preached this sermon at Grace UMC on Sunday, October 28, 2012.  I used the lectionary text, Job 42:1-6, 10-17.

I want to tell you all about something you may have been taught all your life in church that simply isn’t true.  You may have heard at some point that the shortest verse in the Bible is John 11:35 – “Jesus wept.”   That is a vicious lie and I stand before you today to expose that lie.  The shortest verse in the Bible is Job 3:2, “Job said.”  They both have two words in most English translations, but there are less combined characters in Job 3:2.  The real test should be in the original languages and in comparing the Greek letters to the Hebrew letters, Job 3:2 still wins, by two full letters.  And so I hope I have expanded your horizons here and shattered this long held myth about the shortest verse of the Bible.
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Whenever people learn new things that challenge that which they have always been taught, there’s a tendency to get suspicious.  To assume that somehow, someone is pulling the wool over your eyes.  But, I can assure you, this is all true, even if it is rather insignificant.

Now why is it that the church has propagated this misinformation for so long?    I’ve got a theory about that too.  The so-called shortest verse, “Jesus wept” has some rather obvious theological significance.  The incarnate God sheds tears at the sight of human pain.  There are fewer spiritual truths as essential as that one.  God’s heart breaks too.  But it is still no excuse for the church to lie!

Job 3:2 on the other hand, seems so theologically insignificant.  Sort of a throw away line.  What a waste it would be to use the title “shortest verse in the Bible” on something so mundane.  But, as you can tell, I have a soft spot for this little verse – it might have something to teach us, so listen for it this morning.  Like an auditory “Where’s Waldo” game, see how many times you notice me saying it in my sermon, starting now.  The ones I said before don’t count.  There’s a little space in your bulletin for you to keep track.  This is what happens when we only print one service in the bulletin – we get creative about how to fill the space.

I want you to know that you can trust me – I’ve been to seminary and I have all the credentials that come with studying God and the Scriptures.  When you go to seminary – that’s a special school for preachers, you come away with a degree that has a bold title: “M.Div. – which stands for Master of Divinity.”  I’ve always thought, you know, that’s kind of a presumptive title.  I’m a master of divinity.  I don’t usually introduce myself that way to people, “Hey, I’m Todd Noren-Hentz, Master of Divinity.”  Not sure how that would go over….   It has always reminded me of a show I used to watch as a child, “He-Man and the Masters of the Universe.”  As far as credentials are concerned, it is pretty hard to beat.  It is even more impressive than staying at a Holiday Inn Express.

As you might have guessed, our text for the morning comes from the book of Job – actually, the final chapter of the book of Job.  Job is often looked to in order to hear a word from the Lord about suffering and about blessing and where God is in all that.  And the book does indeed have a lot to say about these things, but I think there is something even more fundamental that God is trying to get across in this book.  And it is really pretty simple, none of us has God all figured out.  None of us has God all figured out.  You can trust me on this, I’m a Master of Divinity.

Listen to these words from Job chapter 42:1-6, 10-17:

Then Job answered the Lord:
2 ‘I know that you can do all things,
and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
3 “Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?”
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
4 “Hear, and I will speak;
I will question you, and you declare to me.”
5 I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
but now my eye sees you;
6 therefore I despise myself,
and repent in dust and ashes.’

10 And the Lord restored the fortunes of Job when he had prayed for his friends; and the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before. 11Then there came to him all his brothers and sisters and all who had known him before, and they ate bread with him in his house; they showed him sympathy and comforted him for all the evil that the Lord had brought upon him; and each of them gave him a piece of money and a gold ring. 12The Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning; and he had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand yoke of oxen, and a thousand donkeys. 13He also had seven sons and three daughters. 14He named the first Jemimah, the second Keziah, and the third Keren-happuch. 15In all the land there were no women so beautiful as Job’s daughters; and their father gave them an inheritance along with their brothers. 16After this Job lived for one hundred and forty years, and saw his children, and his children’s children, four generations. 17And Job died, old and full of days.

This is the Word of God for the People of God.
Thanks be to God.

It may come as a surprise to you that from time to time, God and Satan like to get together for game night.  At the beginning of the book of Job, God hosted one of those game nights – all the angels were invited and Satan was there as well.  God and Satan decided to play a heavenly version of the game Jenga.   You know that game where the blocks are stacked up and you try to remove a block and not have the tower fall over.   The Lord was proud of Job, who was righteous and upright, like a stack of Jenga blocks.  Satan suggested that this was due to his life of ease and wealth.  If the Lord would smite Job’s family and take away Job’s health and wealth, take away block after block from Job’s stack, that he would tumble over and curse God.

Satan issued the challenge and the Lord decided that they would play.  And so the book of Job unfolds as calamity strikes Job and his family.  Job remains patient and devoted to God through most of the book, defending God against accusations from his friends and even praising God in the midst of his calamity.  Yet, Job and Job’s comforters, as they are often called, spend 65% of the book or more pontificating about God.  Most of what Job says (1), we would shake our heads in agreement with.  It is the conventional wisdom about God.

It is hard to get around the fact, despite the way Bible stories are often told about Job, that the Lord eventually loses the game to Satan.  Job holds out an extraordinarily long time.  If Job were a Jenga stack, just before he finally toppled, it would have looked something like this.  But finally, he breaks down in chapter 31 and questions the justice of God.  He lashes out at an unjust God and you get the feeling he had been holding it in for a while.  Job says (2), that his punishments would have been deserved if he had been unrighteous, but he had not.  God had not judged him fairly.  You see Job has been playing a game of his own.  In this game, the righteous are rewarded and the wicked are punished.  Job knows there is some nuance to this, but at the end of the game, he expects that God will see to it that these rules are respected.  And Job’s suffering persisted long enough that he realized that he and God weren’t playing the same game.  He cried foul as loudly as he knew how.  Job says (3), this isn’t how God is supposed to work.  The moment Job decided that God was breaking the rules, became the moment when Satan won the game.

God, it seems, doesn’t really like to lose.  God’s anger with Job at the end of the book sort of reminds me of Nick Saban chastising a player coming off the field after getting a penalty.

God says, {IMAGINE ANGRY GOD VOICE}
“Who is this that obscures my plans with words and without knowledge?
Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?  Tell me, if you understand.
Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth?  Tell me, if you know all this.”

This is just a taste, God actually goes on for a full two chapters chewing out Job and then says, {ANGRY GOD VOICE}
“Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him?  Let him who accused God answer him.”

And then Job says (4), “uhh…I will stop saying things now.

And then God says to Job, “Gird up your loins like a man” and launches into Job again for another two full chapters.

Job says (5), “I’m sorry,” but God’s wrath continued.  All of this is exactly where we pick up with our text this morning.   And so, after receiving the full measure of God’s anger, Job needed to choose his words carefully.  And rather than repeat the pontification about the ways of God that fills the book of Job, now – Job says (6) simply, “I’m really not qualified to speak about you God.  Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.”  Even though his patience would have outlasted any of us, in the end Job assumed that he was a Master of Divinity.  He knew with certainty the way that God worked.  The way God is supposed to work is like this: Ruin for the wicked, disaster for those who do wrongAnd I haven’t done anything wrong!  Job says (7).  It seems that the real shortest verse of the Bible has some significance after all.  Job says (8) some things about God that simply aren’t true.  God at times, sends rain on the righteous and sends sunshine for the wicked.  God doesn’t operate like Santa Claus with presents for good boys and girls and coal for the bad ones.

The assumption that we have a grasp on how God operates, leads us, when tragedy strikes, to want to know why?  More often than not, we can’t explain to ourselves why something occurred according to our current understanding of God and the facts on the ground.  If this world makes any sense, why would such bad things happen to such good people.  And it is so tempting to try to answer that question with authority and certitude, I’ve done it myself on many of occasions.  And Job and his comforters blabber on about it for 30 chapters.  But the book of Job doesn’t end with a divine explanation.  At least not one that goes beyond God pointing out that we don’t really know God.  None of us has a God’s eye perspective on the world.  Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?  Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth?  Tell me if you know this.

And so I can’t help but think that the most fundamental lesson of the book of Job is that sometimes the best thing we can say about God and certainly for God is “I don’t know” or even nothing at all.   {LONG PAUSE}  But I’ve still got about 5 more minutes to fill in this pontification about God.  Sometimes we just can’t help ourselves.  Job couldn’t help but to say.  We can’t help but to say things about God.  I can’t help but to say things about God.  The second we open our mouths and speak about God, we’ve limited God in some way.  There is nothing we can say that tells the full truth about God.  Even to say laudable things like God is all-powerful or all-loving, we ironically box God into a corner where questions arise as to why doesn’t God intervene to stop evil that has no redemptive purpose if God has the power and love to do so.  Our words, our theologies and certainly our sermons can’t capture God.

Sometimes, we need to learn to live without an answer for everything.  Some have suggested that before God spoke the world into existence, there was silence.  Silence is ultimately the first language of God.  New steps in understanding God might begin with our willingness to learn this language and begin to speak it with God.

When we’ve got God all figured out, there are no more surprises.  And ultimately, there is no relationship.  True relationships are full of unpredictability.  After all, God has not confined us to a rigid path, but rather set us free.

So, what is the point of church?  What is the point of pastors preaching sermons?  Why did I waste my time earning a Master of Divinity degree?  If our speech and our theologies always fall short, what is the point?

There is a time to keep silent and a time to speak.  But when we speak, we must always remember that our words cannot exhaust who God is.  Our words cannot tell the whole truth about God.  Our words are at best metaphorical and point towards God, but cannot contain God, cannot be the final, certain word.  We must hold on to the mystery of God.  And the mystery of God doesn’t mean that we can’t know anything about God or that God is by nature unknowable.  But rather, as the great Franciscan priest Richard Rohr says, “Mystery is not something you can’t know, but rather ‘endless knowability.'”  There are things too wonderful for us, which we do not know.  Things we do not understand.  When Job says (9) and when we say…yada…yada…yada about God, there is likely to be true and wonderful things in our proclamation, but even at their very best, they are incomplete.

There will always be more depth to explore in our relationship with God.  More the church can teach us.  More sermons to hear.  More courses in the Master of Divinity program.  The moment we think we’ve got it all figured out, that we hold our theologies with certitude and are unopen to change, is the moment we stop to grow.  It doesn’t even matter whether the content of your beliefs is 100% correct, because it is at best incomplete, because God is inexhaustible, infinite, and has no end.

There is freedom in not having all the answers – it is good news in and of itself.  But there is further depth to the good news in this story.  Just when Job finally gave up on God, lost his patience, and declared that God was not operating as God should, God goes after him.  God sends a shock to his system to completely disorient him, upend his theology, so that he might be born again.

Now when we read of the blessings that Job receives, we might be tempted to slip back into a Santa Claus theology and think that God’s blessings are doled out because of Job’s new found good behavior.  But this isn’t what Scripture says.  The text simply says the the Lord restored the fortunes of Job.  No reason provided.  And if you read this passage carefully, there are some things in here that might not seem exactly like blessing to us.  Of course there is the livestock, bread, money, and fist full of gold rings.  But all the people who had abandoned Job in the depth of his need – his family – come back.  For this to be a blessing, Job must have entered into a deeper sense of who God is.  No longer was he holding on to a sense that God had done him wrong.  Almost automatically, the family that had left at the hour of his need, only to return upon the restoration of his wealth, were a blessing to Job because he no longer saw them as evidence of God breaking the rules.  When they gave him money and gold rings, he didn’t think, “Hey guys, I really could have used this a while ago.”

Job was free to experience everything as God’s grace.  It is often said in the Old Testament that God punishes to the third and fourth generation, but shows steadfast love to the thousandth generation.  But the book of Job ends in an interesting way.  The fourth generation – usually meant as the furthest point to which God would punish for the sins of the Father, now is the depth to which the father will experience the grace and the blessing of God.

Satan may have won the game of Jenga and if the rules of that game are all you see of God, you might end up disappointed like Job.  But God might not be playing by Satan’s rules.  God might not even be playing the same game at all.  We just might miss what God is up to if we think we’ve got all the rules figured out.  When we come to the limits of what Job says (10), when we admit the limitations of what we say, then we can experience the truth of that so-called shortest verse – Jesus wept.  God doesn’t stack the rules against us, but rather God weeps for and with us.  God isn’t angry at our pain, but with our constant “saying.”  When we can get ourselves to stop our endless God-talk, we can see God’s weeping heart breaking for the brokenness of the world.  If we dive deep into our relationship with God without pre-conditions, pre-conceptions, or prejudices, God just might invite us to play an even better game, a game that is exactly the opposite of the one that Satan is playing, a game where we join a tear filled God putting blocks back together again.  Let us meet that God in prayer.

Lord, we have uttered that which we did not understand.  Things too wonderful for us, which we did not know.  Help us to listen to you and for you without filters, without assumptions, without agendas.  Help us to hear the drops of your tears falling upon our broken lives and our broken world.  Amen.

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