A reflection for Sunday 23rd June 2024 Trinity IV by the Rev'd David Warnes

 Job 38:1-11  Mark 4:35-41

Today’s reading from Job and today’s Gospel have a common theme, and that theme is questioning – humans questioning God and God questioning humans. 

In our Old Testament reading God asks Job:

“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?”

In the Gospel, we have a series of questions. During the storm the frightened disciples wake Jesus up and ask him:

“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”

Jesus stills the storm and then asks them:

“Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”

And the passage ends with a further question from the disciples:

“Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

Let’s take God’s questions to Job first. 

“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?”

“Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?”

For many years I misread this passage. Job has been questioning God about an issue that concerns and puzzles us all – why do bad things happen to innocent people. God’s questions to Job sounded to me as though God was pulling rank on Job.

I have come to realize that God isn’t pulling rank, but rather offering Job something that Job badly needs – a sense of perspective. When we experience distressing events, hopes disappointed, serious illness or bereavement, we feel that our confidence has been challenged, perhaps even broken. And if we, like Job, are religious believers it is our trust in God that is called into question. 

What Job needs, as Carol Newsom writes in her commentary, is

“…recovery of trust in the fundamental structures of existence”

God’s answer to Job, which extends over several chapters, is all about the glory, goodness and grandeur of creation, but also about the element of the uncertain and the chaotic in creation. The challenge to Job and to us is to hold in a trusting tension the belief that creation is good and our experience that creation is precarious, even dangerous. 

That precariousness, that danger are exactly what the disciples are experiencing in today’s Gospel. They are terrified by the storm which threatens to sink their boat. In their fright, their trust in Jesus is weakened. There’s a very telling detail in the Gospel passage. We read that Jesus was 

“in the stern, asleep on the cushion...”

In those days that was the place in the boat usually occupied by whoever was steering. Some commentators have suggested that Jesus had been given the job of steering and, perfectly trusting in God, had fallen asleep. If that’s the case, the disciples’ question: 

“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 

has a deeper significance, for it is a question that Job and many of us have asked in times of trouble and despair:

“Is God asleep on the job?”

Faith would be much easier and simpler if God always responded to our prayers in the way that we wished. For many people, especially for young people, unanswered prayers are the reason why they give up on the idea of God. When someone close to them dies and their prayers for healing have gone unanswered, they conclude either that God is asleep on the job, or that God doesn’t exist at all. 

Job needed to learn that the goodness and the precariousness of creation are not contradictory. Another way of putting that is that he and all of us need to learn that we are unreservedly and fully loved by God but that doesn’t mean that the universe will be run for our comfort and convenience. 

Job acknowledges the narrowness of his own faith when, in chapter 42, he responds to God by saying: 

“I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear but now my eye sees you” 

The puzzled disciples, though they have been saved from shipwreck don’t yet fully understand who they are seeing when they look at Jesus. Hence their question:

“Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

The understanding of who Jesus is will only come to them at Easter. Before it comes they will see their teacher submitting to the evil powers who inflict suffering and death on the innocent. Their response to the Passion must have been an anguished questioning as to where God was when those terrible events took place. At Easter they learned to see, to see that God was right at the centre of that suffering, that moral and natural evil do not have the last word. Only then were they able to echo Job’s words:

“I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear but now my eye sees you” 

That understanding did not free them what the Prayer Book calls “the changes and chances of this fleeting world” and for many of them their sharing of the Gospel led to persecution and martyrdom. We too experience those changes and chances, sustained I hope by the belief that God can bring the whole of creation, including us, to perfection.