Controlled Chaos: When Bad Things Happen
Rev. Kelly Jane Caesar
First Congregational Church of East Hartford
November 21, 2018
(Play sound of beach)
The beach is God’s gift to us in times of chaos and suffering,
But not just because it is a beautiful place in creation.
Our scripture and sermon today will show the ancient theological reasons
behind the power of the beach.
Why do bad things happen to good people?
Why do bad things happen at all?
Where is God in the storm?
How do you respond to pain and harm?
How do you respond to unfair treatment?
What do you do when others have slighted you?
These are the questions the Biblical book of Job reacts to.
Job is part of the “Wisdom Literature” of the Bible.
It takes place in the folklore setting of any time, any place, a long, long, long time ago.
It is a tale meant to be shared through the generations to explanation a people’s faith and tradition.
The tale begins as a bet between good and evil – a wager between God and Satan.
Satan argues that Job will no longer praise God if Job loses all his blessings.
Satan then inflicts all sorts of suffering on Job – he loses his wealth, his health, and his family.
Even his so-called friends come only to mock him and admonish him to confess,
For in that time suffering was seen as the result of sin.
But Job insists he has done no wrong.
He cries to God, “Are not you a just and good God? what have I done wrong?!”
Our lectionary scripture reading this morning is the first part of God’s answer. Let’s listen.
God re-orients Job’s questions with more questions all essentially saying,
“Where were you when…(creation was organized)?”
God basically says: There is a lot you don’t know Job. There is far more to the story than you can see.
How true that is in both the big sense and the smaller sense.
In so many of our interpersonal struggles and conflicts we assume we know the whole story,
Only to discover that there is a lot we don’t know.
There is an Indian tale about 5 blind men all trying to describe an elephant, except each one is touching a different part of the elephant. The man at the trunk of the elephant describes a wet soft flexible mass. The man at the belly a big round ball. And so forth…each on has a different description of what an elephant is because each one is touching only a part of the elephant. Each only has part of the story. The truth is larger then any of them.
The point is that there is a lot we don’t know.
We rarely know the whole story, yet too often we assume we do.
When it comes to personal relationships, our assumptions can be great cause of harm.
The tendency to think we know the whole story is especially tempting when we feel slighted or hurt.
Our friend stood us up because they are flaky and irresponsible,
The full story: their mother had a fall.
Our colleague is ignoring our email because they are incompetent.
Full story: they never received the email to begin with
Our boss is making a foolish decision to require employees to track time.
Full story: boss is trying to save the company
and needs to show investors how hardworking the employees are.
When we feel slighted, wronged, hurt, or just sad we aren’t getting what we want,
It can be tempting to gossip, snicker, grunt, roll eyes,
or otherwise passive aggressively hint about the perceived slight.
Job may be guilty of this –
Earlier in the book, Job questions God’s justice. (Chapter 12)
God responds to Job sating, “gird your loins” = tuck in your shirt and get ready =
Get yourself together and get ready to respond.
When we feel hurt or sad or slighted,
The spiritually mature adult response is to face the hurt.
Passive aggressive gossip and whispers only serves to breed negativity into a community
And fosters partial truths instead of acknowledging that there might be more.
Spiritually mature adults acknowledge the hurt and directly engage it.
That means if you feel slighted,
Go directly to the person you feel harmed you.
Share your story and listen to theirs.
Together you will get closer to the whole story.
Often times when we are dealing with loss in our lives,
We misdirect our hurt onto innocent strangers or friends
(as spoken in our confession).
We may have loss a loved one, our health, or a job, or a dream for the future, or a past joy.
In times of loss, many try to cling to something or try to control one thing in our grasp.
Sadly clinging and controlling does not restore what is loss,
It only redirects the suffering elsewhere.
Spiritual maturity calls us to face our losses and grieve them.
In times of suffering one of the most powerful and faithful acts is to acknowledge the pain.
One of the hardest and most compassionate things we can do as friends
is being willing to sit with another in their suffering.
God’s speech to Job shows that there is more to the story of suffering,
So when we feel hurt, the spiritually mature response is to face the hurt directly:
If others are involved, talk directly to them to understand the fuller story
if loss is involved, face it directly and let yourself grieve or else it will come out elsewhere.
Learning how to respond to hurt is an important spiritual lesson.
Suffering and pain is a part of this world.
God’s speech in Job does not explain why suffering and chaos is,
But rather lifts up where God is in the chaos.
Some will claim that a horrible pain is part of God’s plan.
However, I fully believe a person does not die nor any great pain is by the smite of God to fulfill some divine plan.
In the book of Job, God claims a different role in relation to the chaotic suffering of the world.
God claims to be the protector and refuge in the midst of suffering.
To fully understand what God is saying in the scripture today,
You need to understand that the sea, the waters, was a traditional image of primordial chaos.
The sea was wild, uncontrollable, irrational-
In creation myths of the time the sea was a symbol of chaos and harm.
In Genesis, note that God does not claim to have created the waters.
The waters were already there. In fact, the Holy Spirit breathes over the waters (Gen 1)
God says, in Genesis 1: 9,
“Let the waters under the sky be gathered together in one place,
and let the dry land appear.”
In God’s speech in Job, the Divine recalls this act of creation in v 8-11
“Who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb?
When I made the clouds it’s garment, and thick darkness it’s swaddling band,
and prescribed bounds for it, and set bars and doors,
and said, “thus far shall you come, and no further,
and here shall your proud waves be stopped?”
This description is similar to other creation myths in the Near East at the time,
In which the Divine overcomes and controls the chaotic and hostile waters.
In our scriptures, God makes boundaries for the sea, in a loving way.
God swaddles the ocean like a baby.
Swaddling is wrapping a baby tightly in a blanket, so tight their limbs can’t move.
It was believed to be a great comfort and protection for the baby.
So God swaddling the waters with the boundaries of the land is a mystical, metaphorical way of saying God is the comforting protection in the midst of chaos and hurt.
God is the one who provides land for us to rest when the storms of lift beat down upon us.
When I worked as a hospital chaplain I often asked people,
“what is helping you get through?”
It’s a way to ask people where the divine is, without using God language.
God is the one holding chaos at bay and providing land for us to rest in the midst of storms.
God is the one inspiring friends to write cards.
God is the one making the right song play at the right time.
God is the peaceful presence that comes when we honestly pray with our full hearts.
God is the one who gives us courage to seek understanding with the one who wronged us.
God is the one who weeps beside us in our grief.
When the chaotic and hostile waters threaten to consume you,
Remember the miracle of the beach.
At the shore we are able to stand on solid ground while the chaotic waters roll.
The land is God’s gift to us, our rest from the storms of life.
At the beach we often stand in awe of the miracle of creation,
In the bigness of the world.
At the beach we get that sense of being a small part of a larger whole:
We know there is more to the story than we can see.
When chaos and suffering threaten,
Remember the beach.
Acknowledge that you are a part of a whole larger than you can see,
Wonder at the bigger story.
When chaos and suffering threaten,
Remember the beach.
Acknowledge where God is helping you through and
Let yourself rest upon the shore of God’s great and mysterious love. Amen.