notre dame montreal

How does God work?

Sermon for Ordinary 12, by Rev Dr Sam Cappleman

There are several common themes between the Old Testament reading from Job and the New Testament reading from Mark.

We know from the book of Job that Job Himself is in severe distress. He was a man of substantial means an family but now he’s lost his health, his wealth and his family. The three friends who come to speak with him, Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar, are convinced that this is because Job must have done something very wrong to deserve this treatment. They believed, as did just about everybody at that time, just as some do today, that if you do something bad God will somehow punish you. Funny that far fewer believe that if you do something good God will in turn reward you.

Elihu, who comes along later is closer to the truth and states that; God does speak, first one way and then another but we sometimes don’t understand it. He also suggests that God is indeed beyond our comprehension. Just as it seems the arguments and discussion can never end, God Himself intervenes and brings calm and wholeness to the scene.

God rounds on Job’s friends with their quasi theological but seemingly very logical advice about what is wrong with Job and his world, picking as His theme why humans are unfit to question Him about life.

The disciples in the boat too are in dire straits. The got in with all good intentions of getting across the Sea of Galilee and then suddenly there in the middle of a storm. They cry out to Jesus, asking Him if He doesn’t care about their plight and impending doom. Jesus gets up and calms the storm.

In one small section of the gospel we see the nature of Jesus. It may well have been this that cause the disciples so much fear. In sleeping Jesus showed that He was fully man, a God would not need to sleep; in calming the storm, Jesus showed that He was fully God.

The disciples are terrified. In the passage it’s not clear why they are terrified at this stage, is it the storm, or is it the fact that they have just seen the power and majesty of God revealed before their very eyes, probably the latter!

In both accounts we see several common themes which link the readings:

  • God, in the person of Jesus in the gospel, speak out to people out of the storm/tempest (just as He spoke when he created the world
  • Not answer questions directly or explain what is going on
  • Reveals the colossal authority and power of Himself over all creation and nature
  • The hearers are in awe after this majesty is revealed

In both cases they have tried to package God in a set of theories so they can contain and understand Him, but in both cases the power of God broke through in the situation and shows that we can never contain God or understand Him fully

What we see is the power of God breaking through versus the logical rationality of the prevailing culture

It’s a bit like the Dan Brown books, ‘The Da Vinci Code’, ‘Angels and Demons’, and many of the same genre which have followed. They take a small fact, often quasi historical/spiritual/theological and extend it so that it becomes more and more believable. We need to remember the words that are at the front of the books, ‘This is a work of fiction’.

Many people today who question God and who He is and what He is doing to allow all the suffering in the world have a misconceived or incomplete picture of who God is. Yet we sometimes get beguiled into trying to defend our position and our God when the basis of the conversation is flawed.

God is not ineffectual, but we don’t need to defend any perceptions of ineffectuality, we need to speak out about His omnipotent power and the effect that can have on the world.

We can never explain the big questions people have such as. ‘Why me?’, or ‘Why does God allow this to happen?’, adequately but even we can begin to reveal His omnipotent power.

As Elihu stated, we should not expect to understand God fully, but we are called to fear Him and His power and authority over all things

Imagine what the disciples felt when they saw the power of God revealed. They were just beginning to understand Jesus and then they are transported to a completely different level as nature is stilled. This wasn’t some intellectual argument or new spiritual perspective on life, this was real life itself and it was frighteningly close.

Over the years, Christians and non Christians alike have tried to package God so they can analyse and manipulate Him. You just can’t do that. We can never understand God on our human terms. Perhaps one of the reasons that God does not respond to Job’s questions is that our human minds either just would not understand what He was saying or explode as the enormity of what He was saying became clear.

As humans we want the theory and the structure of God but we are much more reticent to have the enormity of God in our lives.

We need to learn to trust God for what He is like, not for what we would like (Him to be) and accept and experience the full enormity of His power and presence over all the created world rather then ask our small questions of a God who is beyond our comprehension.