Saturday, October 17, 2015

When the Morning Stars Sang Together


When the Morning Stars Sang Together

 Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said:
“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
Dress for action like a man;
I will question you, and you make it known to me.
“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone,
when the morning stars sang together
and all the sons of God shouted for joy?
Job 38:1-8
“Que bonitos ojos tienes.  Que bonitos ojos tienes” said the Nicaraguan woman while holding my hands and staring deep into my eyes.  There we stood, me staring into her dark brown eyes, she staring into mine, holding hands, and wondering at each other’s humanity.  “How beautiful are your eyes.”  What a strange and wonderful thing to hear from a stranger, a person I just met.  You see, I had travelled 3000 miles that summer between my second and third years in seminary to go work with people in Nicaragua who had lost their homes in mudslides due to hurricane Mitch.  Mitch had come in the fall of 1998 and totally devastated the countries of Nicaragua and Honduras.  In places of Nicaragua, Mitch had dumped as much as 50 inches of rain.  The resulting mudslides and flooding had a negative impact on 2 million people.  Whole villages and sections of towns were washed away in the mud.  On the flank of one of the volcanoes a lahar resulted that created a mudslide 5 miles wide and 10 miles long in places.  Everything was buried in feet of thick brown mud.  And so, on our first days there, as we were touring the devastation, destruction that was  evident still 10 months after the flooding, we met with one of the women who was making a difference.  This woman had lost her husband and two of her children in the mudslide.  She herself and another of her sons had only survived by climbing into a tree and hanging on for dear life.  Of course, she had lost everything.  But she was making a difference.  Through her Pentecostal church she received survival counseling. Later, she herself went through training to receive a certificate to counsel others with PTSD.  And so, here we stood, in the middle of a vast mudswept valley, 50 feet atop where her home and village had been, where the remains of her husband and children still lie, and holding my hand, staring into my eyes, her greeting to me was “que bonitos ojos tienes.” 
“How beautiful are your eyes.”  The story makes me sound vain, of course.  And of course I didn’t come here to preach about my eyes.  What amazed and shocked me was that I, a seminary student---really still a kid--who could barely understand or speak a lick of Spanish, would experience such a moment of profound wonder with this stranger, a stranger who knew the utter and absolute depths of loss, simply by staring into one another’s eyes.
Loss, brokenness, hurt, betrayal, injustice, feeling godforsaken, forlorn, alone, anxious, unable to cope…I could go on and on.  This is all part of the human condition.   It is also the background of our sermon text today. You see Job had lost everything, his wealth, status, property, children, everything.  Everything he held dear was taken from him.  What is more, the text tells us that God allowed Satan to take these things from Job.  God allowed evil to come into Job’s life, even though Job had not sought it.  Job was a good, God-fearing man.  The evil that befell him was not of his making.   Just as hurricanes and floods can be viewed as “acts of god” by insurance agents, so Job too has experience profound loss—and God has done nothing to stop it.   This is what scholars call the theodicy question:  “Why does a good and powerful God allow evil to happen in the world, especially to those who trust and obey that good and powerful God?”  There is no good answer to that question.    Life happens.  Life is hard.
 When I deal with people who have undergone extreme pain and loss, I don’t know how to answer this question.   I don’t want to be like Job’s friends who engage in discourse with Job over his lack of faith.  It is indeed a hard thing to tell a theologian to be quiet; but sometimes the best thing we can do is simply shut up, simply shut up and listen.  That’s wisdom I should take seriously more often.  Doctor, heal thyself, right? Right…
In spite of our experiences of tremendous grief and pain, human beings still have the unique and amazing capacity to wonder.  This is what our Old Testament text is about today.  Job, after being lectured by his so-called friends about why he should believe in a God who he feels has let him down, hears the word of the LORD speaking to him out of the whirlwind.  Yes, you heard me right, a talking tornado.  Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.  The first thing this talking tornado asks Job is “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?”  In other words, JHWH is saying to Job and his friends, “why are you talking about things you know nothing about?” 
This is a wonderful question for anyone who dares to speak about God.  When it comes to the divine, when it comes to the transcendent, it is wise counsel to be cautious in the claims we make.  So much of religious talk, God talk, and theological thought, is just human approximation of what we want or need the divine to be.  We theologians spend a lot of time saying who God is and what God would do, but spend far too little time simply being in awe and wonder at the power of the divine.  This is what the LORD is reminding Job of here.   There are clearly limits to human knowledge.  We can learn and know a great many things.  We can point our telescopes at the skies and study the farthest reaches of the universe.  We can measure light coming into our telescopes that was produced by stars millions of years ago.  We can break the atom.   We can send particles whizzing in circles around accelerators at near the speed of light and smash them together.  We can recreate conditions that were present mere microseconds after the formation of the universe.  But the big questions, the important questions, these we cannot answer. 
As the LORD asks Job, “where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?”  Do you know how I laid the foundation, the cornerstone of the universe.  Do you know how and why all this came together?  Do you know why your alive?  Do you understand the secrets of existence and the finality of death?  What follows in the next chapters are wisdom descriptions of the kinds of natural phenomena that the ancients awed.  There is a description of a behemoth, which seems to suggest something like a monster hippopotamus, and a sea-dragon-like Leviathan, not unlike a massive whale.  The text seems to suggest to us that there are a great many things in our universe that we don’t understand, that we can’t understand.            
Yes, so much of life is beyond our ability to predict, beyond our ability to understand.  Yet, we do have awareness.  One of the deepest and most significant wonders of our lives, I think, is our ability to be aware and self-aware.   This is what the text tells us as the whirlwind asks Job, “were you there when the morning stars sang together
And all the sons of God shouted for joy?”
This is what is truly amazing about the text: the wonder of human imagination.  No, it is true, neither Job, nor ourselves, nor anyone else was there when the morning stars of the universe sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy at God’s amazing craftwork at the creation of the universe.  What is wondrous is that the author of this text—and you and I—can imagine the stars singing in harmony to celebrate the wonder of creation.  Somehow, I think the human capacity to suffer is also linked to the human capacity to wonder and imagine things that are beyond our experience.  Sometimes our ability to wonder couples with our capacity to tell stories, and we can create fiction and film that is truly remarkable.  Poets have the capacity to capture moments and experiences in words.  Musicians often give voice to that which is truly beyond our ability to utter.  Artists use all sorts of visual media to give expression to those imagined experiences that are beyond our human capacity to express in everyday life.  Oftentimes, they offer sheer expressions of joy.  Other times, horror, fear, and anger take their place.

And then, there are times, when we simply can be with another human being and share in the intimacy of awareness and silence.  Were you there when the morning stars sang together?  Have you shared those special, intimate moments of silence when you were caught up in your own awareness and the awareness of the other?  Have you captured moments of divinity in your own life?  Perhaps those of you who have been present with others in times of great grief and loss know what it means to experience the sheer humanity of simply being present with another suffering being.  Perhaps you’ve experienced it as a friend consoling another, or in the abject joy of cuddling on a cool morning with another to watch the rising of the sun.  I think in those moments, when we share our utter and absolute brokenness with one another, when we share in utter and absolute vulnerability and stare in one another’s eyes, at those moments we may be in the present of something truly beyond our ability to comprehend.  When we see the divinity in each other’s eyes, perhaps we too can utter the words, “Que bonitos ojos tienes.”

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