JOB 38:1-11; PSALM 107:1-4, 12-15; 2 CORINTHIANS 6:1-13; MARK 4:35-41
There’s been a lot of fighting in the news this week from here in Anchorage to the streets of Iran- people have been arguing about rights and routines. Some of this fighting has been physically violent and some of the fighting has been through strong words and emotional struggle. With this fighting in the back of our minds, we look at some of the texts for this week and think about how and why God fights and what that means for us in our life of faith.
In the text from Job, God tells Job to get ready for a fight. That’s what it means to “gird up your loins”. Job, like other men of his time, would have worn a long loose robe. To prepare for battle or for a physical altercation, they would pull up the back of the robe and tuck it in their belt. Thus they would be ready for the fight. After thirty-some chapters of listening to Job’s friends explain how he must be less righteous than he thinks and listening to Job lament the state of his existence, the Lord has had enough.
So He tells Job, “You want the truth. Get ready for it because it will knock you over. Come on out and let’s talk about what you have to say. You have questions; well, boy, do I have answers.” The answers Job got may not have answered the questions he thought he was asking, but they shed light on a different kind of truth- the truth by which he had lived and, more importantly, the truth by which God abides.
Certainly Job had been afflicted and seemingly without cause, but God said, “It is not that you haven’t been righteous or that you have been, but that I have a picture and a plan that is larger than you. Do you know all the ways of the world? Are you intimately acquainted with how the universe works? Do you have the kind of knowledge and love that can only come from being the creator of such works?”
Job’s personal agony brought out a fight in him that covered up the real matter. Because his friends and family offered suggestions for why such terrible things were happening to him, Job lost sight of what had given him stability before. What he thought had been solid faith shook a little when God turned out to act in unexpected ways.
However, unexpectedness is always God’s way, even though we, like Job, can forget that. Let’s think for a moment about the story of David and Goliath. That story is part of the semi-continuous lectionary this week. While we are not specifically hearing that reading, the whole Bible ties together and that story provides a good example of the fighting God. When we think of the story of David and Goliath, we often see it in our minds as the triumph of the underdog, a small shepherd, over the mighty, in this case- a Philistine giant.
Yet, that’s not actually the message of David and Goliath. Yes, David was a small shepherd whose abilities were doubted even by Saul, the Lord’s anointed. Yes, Goliath was a giant among men and a fierce warrior among warriors. However, the triumph over him didn’t come from David’s own determination. Listen to David’s words to Goliath before he winds up the slingshot, “You come to me with sword and spear and javelin; but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This very day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head; and I will give the dead bodies of the Philistine army this very day to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the earth, so that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the Lord does not save by sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord’s and he will give you into our hand.”
In a political fight against a seemingly overwhelming enemy, the gift of victory belongs to God for it is God who ultimately has the power. The triumph of David over Goliath points to the faith, that mustard seed to bush-and-tree-faith, that believes in the long-ranging strength of the hand and in the plan of the Lord. That faith calls us to lean not on our own understanding because our understanding can cause us to be Job’s friends, looking for unrighteousness where it might not be, or to be the army of Israel, doubting the power of God to demonstrate his strength against his foes.
Of course, the disciples, in their own understanding, had every reason to believe they might drown, every reason except for one. Didn’t Jesus just take them aside and explain the seeds of faith to them? In private, did he not reveal to them that God had planted these seeds within them? Had they not just learned about whom this Jesus the Christ was? And yet they immediately cling to the side of the boat and start yelling for Jesus to wake up and do something, lest they die, “Rabbi, do you not care that we are dying?” You’d think these fishermen had never been in a storm before.
Jesus stands and calms the waves. Well, that’s a little mild. In this passage, the words in Greek are the same fierce words Jesus uses when he casts out demons. “Be still” is no gentle calming, but an intense invective- one that can only come with authority, the authority that is within the Creator of the universe, whose power the universe recognizes and whose authority that creation obeys. “Be still!”
Jesus then speaks to the disciples, “Have you no faith?” What happened here? Haven’t we talked about what God has sown in you? And this is your response- cowering in fear and wringing helpless hands?
In the song “A Mighty Fortress is our God” is this line, “For God himself fights by our side with weapons of the Spirit.” This means for those who believe, in the midst of struggles and our joys, God’s own self is fighting for us. When we are like Job and overwhelmed by the circumstances of our lives, God’s Spirit battles on our behalf so that we will not feel hopeless. God engages us, as he does his servant Job, to bring our attention to the larger message of creation and the continued work of God’s hand in obvious and mysterious ways.
God’s Spirit shores us up, like David, so that we can face the insurmountable foe of the world and the forces that oppose God. Rather than let us be overcome by helplessness or fear of death, God fights to remind us that the cross is the most powerful weapon and we live in, with and through the power of the resurrection- the triumph over the grave, as well as all political and worldly powers.
And we are reminded in Jesus that God is the ruler of the universe. When we feel nearly swamped, we do not need to call for God to wake up and notice our peril, for God is awake and is right beside us in our travels and our travails.
Far too often, we believe that we fight alone and we become exhausted. Today’s texts point to a different reality and the real truth. Not only do we not fight alone- we are not leading the fight. We wrestle with fear, faithlessness and foes that are unimportant. God our Father is the fighter and He fights on behalf of the whole creation.
We are called to be supporters in that fight. We are called to use our gifts and our faith to point others to the true power and ruler of the world. Like Job, we are called to remember who made this world and loves it. Like David, we are called to stride out in faith and give the glory to God in all things. Like the disciples, we are called to open our eyes and to live by the words that Jesus has spoken. Consider God’s power and rejoice that the pressure of that power is not upon you, but rests solely with the one who made you. On this day and all days, we are called to celebrate and dedicate ourselves to God, our fighter and our Father.