05 Dec Joyful Expectation | December 5
God… when pursued
is the White Tail (tale) flash
in the brush…
the sound of something leaving quickly to avoid…
not detection, but
when sleeping on the tree stump,
in the patch of sun,
in the midst of snow cold winter,
God comes to nuzzle your hunting boots,
just to keep the game alive.
One can no more than tremble at such a moment.
Many years ago, (I think I was 7 or 8 years old) I begged dad to take me along deer hunting at “Buck Rock.” This was mythic, since, year after year, many members of the family harvested a buck deer from the shelter of this particularly large boulder in the east woods of Grandpa’s farm. We walked together in silence, through the crunchy November snow, in pre-dawn darkness, and took our seat at the rock.
Even close to Dad, the rock at our backs to block the wind, I was soon miserably cold. When the sun came up, cloud cover and the bare oak branches overhead made any hope of being warm a joke. I struggled between wanting to stick it out so I would not disappoint Dad and the deep fear that soon my hands and feet would just fall off. Finally, I spoke up. “Dad, I’m frozen.” Dad said, “Can you find your way back? Follow the fence, until it reaches the road and turn right, toward the house.”
I started bravely enough, but soon was hopelessly lost. The trees had no defining marks to provide direction. Clouds blocked the sun, so I could not gain a sense of direction. I could not find the fence line we had followed in the dark. With each step, the woods became less familiar, less safe, and I got colder. There is no panic like 7-year-old panic. Absent developed adult skills of assessment and planning, primitive “fight/flight” instincts took over. I started to run. Within moments I knew I had no hope of finding my own way out. I started to sob. I was mad at myself. I was mad at the woods that would not show me a way out. I was terrified.
“Dad….Dad…DAD…DADDY, I’m lost. Where are you?”
The fear of abandonment, being lost in the face of the universe, lies deep in the sense of self. Danish Lutheran philosopher Soren Kierkegaard called this “existential angst,” or anxiety about our very being. Angst is pervasive weightlessness, like that experienced by astronauts, translated into feeling one is falling headlong at everything, but landing on nothing: relationally, spiritually, emotionally, epistemologically, or teleologically.
Inability to find one’s way “home” to warmth and safety, and the anxiety that comes with that inability, is never far from the human heart. It does not take much to remind any of us of our deficiency. Whole genres of politics, entertainment, and marketing are focused on turning those anxieties into profit by promising mental and emotional “comfort food.” Karl Marx opined that religion was such a “comfort food,” an opiate for the people to distract from their misery and prevent them from lashing out against economic injustice and power imbalances. He was correctly observing how easy it is for a social order based on the dominate/manipulate model to exploit the human tendency toward INCURVATUS IN SE (rolled up within one’s self) by linking religious or political virtue signaling to the need to “belong” or to be “safe” or to be “valued.”
The narrative of humanity to address this loss of meaning is “theodicy,” (how do we justify the ways of God?) In book of Job, two theodicies are brought into sharp contrast. The first attempt is raised by Job’s “friends.” God is a God of power and retributive justice, so you are being punished, justly, for something you have done. Confess. There is an assumption of a quid pro quo at work. God deals with us according to our level of perfection, or lack of it. Job got what he had coming.
The second theodicy is attributed to the Almighty himself. In response to Job’s, “ELI? ELI? LEMA SABBACTHANI?” God makes himself known in the whirlwind. From a literary perspective, this is not by accident. Job invites us to look at the chaos at creation. The author confirms this, placing the words of creation in God’s response, “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?” Some conclude this affirms the notion of God’s capricious exercise of power, bullying Job into acquiescence to what is happening to him. “I’m going to do what I’m going to do.” I think they may be missing something crucial.
By invoking creation, the author of Job frames the issue as the source of life itself. Is Job being told that he is being acknowledged as a child of God? In the face of his pain and sense of abandonment and loss, the display of power by God seems cruel and callous. However, there is another possibility. Job sees no way out. His stinking body, full of sores, is as close to the mud of Eden as you can get, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.
There is nothing for him to do but trust that his redeemer lives. Only a creator God is able to resurrect his life. God must provide context for and movement to such trust, thus, the purposeful display of power. Otherwise Job would have something of his own to hang onto.
Placement early in the Old Testament gives the impression it is close to the time of Abraham. Thematic review suggests it is much later, possibly a couple of hundred years before the time of Christ. The story picks up the creation, ADAM/EVE in the garden, the fall, Jacob’s wrestling with God (and Jacob’s prevailing), exile into bondage, and the awesome display of God’s glory (theophany) at Sinai. Retelling the story of the salvation and restoration of Israel through the character of Job, the author makes a powerful case for the TRUST=JUST model of relationship with God, as did the writer of the 23rd Psalm long before. No wonder that Job is often cited by modern Jews as a hopeful message in the face of the SHOAH (complete destruction) experienced in the Nazi death camps.
Notice that perfection is not required! God’s affirmation of Job’s goodness is what started the problems in the first place, almost as if the closer one is to God the harder life can be. It is Job’s willingness to challenge God to be what God claims to be, having defended God’s justice throughout, that gives rise to the rebuke of the friends by God and the restoration of Job. God handles Job’s challenge by affirming God’s trustworthiness through the recounting of the loving intent and acts of creation history. TRUST=JUST is also an attribute of God! The willingness of the people of God, recorded multiple times in the scriptures, to challenge God to be God is the evidence of their trust, not a manifestation of unfaith.
In the cold woods, I called out, “Dad….” It did not take long to hear the answer. He was trustworthy in his response as he walked with me out along the fence line I had missed. I know he was disappointed I had made noise enough to scare the deer. I know he was relieved as well that I had called out when I needed him. ABBA! Papa! Daddy! Are you there? At the beginning of the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus says this is how to begin to talk to God.
by Mark Renner
This post is part of a series of Advent Reflections – “Joyful Expectation”
Learn more about the series at gslcwi.com/advent