An Untamable God

An Untamable God

Preached by Rev. Shane Montoya on May 6th, 2018

Scripture: Selections from Job 38-41, John 11: 32-45

The storm rages.

Four friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, and Job, lounge around a hearth, frustrated and angry.  The fire blazes, driving away the worst of the storm.

One, in particular, is torn with rage and grief, having buried 10 children just a few weeks ago, in addition to losing a lifetime’s work in a single day. To add injury to despair, Job has been afflicted with terrible and painful boils that cover him from head to toe. Already, his wife has told him to give up, curse God and die.

Yet still he persists.

Persists in terrible grief, in terrible pain, persists in wondering the most eternal of questions: Why do bad things happen to Good people? Why does evil exist? Why me, oh Lord, why me?

Before the night is through, these men will have an answer. Not necessarily the answer, but an answer: The universe is a wild and terrifying place, with a God who is not to be bound by human reason or emotion.  Their God, our God, is not one who denies evil’s existence, but a God who is our Good Shepherd, willing to journey beside us in our dark valleys. But that night is not yet through.

Earlier, Job’s friends, spent a week in silent mourning with him, what I believe to be one of the most heroic acts in the entire Bible. After this period of mourning, Job once again tries to make sense of his pain and suffering, crying out in rage and grief.

His friends respond to his pain by slinging platitudes at him.

“Job, you must have done something wrong!”

“Job, you’re undermining good religious values by being mad at God,”

“Job, your complaining means you’re really an Atheist.”

They tell him this is so because it is only the wicked who ever receive such punishments from God, that we should never be allowed to be angry at God.

Job, for his part, parries and dismisses all of their complaints, arguments, insinuations, and insults. He counters them with brutal efficiency, reminding them that good things happen to wicked people, that his suffering and agony are real and cannot be dismissed.

Throughout his response, Job challenges God to answer, calling God to account in the same way that the prophet Micah puts God on trial, for the scattering and destruction of one of the Kingdoms of Israel. The same way that Jewish survivors of the concentration camps in World War II put God on trial after the horror of the holocaust. This time, God responds.

God responds by speaking through the storm, through the whirlwind. This is not the voice of God that is still and small, barely heard by Elijah, but the voice of God as heard in the wildest aspects of nature, that which we have no control over.

God responds, not with moral and metaphysical arguments about the nature of suffering. Nor does God respond with a philosophical treatise about the problem of evil. No, God responds with a tour of the most primal of forces, the creation of the earth and the seas, the dawning light of the sun and the passing of the seasons.

God asks if Job as ever been with a young lion as it hunted, had ever been there for the birthing of a deer. God then ends with a long description of the Behemoth and the Leviathan, the kings of the beasts of land and sea, fantastical creatures which defy any human attempts at domestication.

This response has long puzzled commenters and theologians.

“Why doesn’t God just respond to Job?”

“Why doesn’t God tell us why bad things happen to good people?”

“Why does God go into an in-depth look at the natural world?”

“What is God trying to say here?”

Some have said that this might be a dismissal of Job’s concerns, a string of non-sequiturs. I disagree. I believe that God is trying to tell us something quite profound about the nature of the universe. I believe that God is attempting to impress upon us three things: humility in the face of natural wonder, God’s impartiality, and God’s untamability.  When God gives Job, and us, a tour of creation, God reminds us that the universe is very very large, and we are very, very small, and that our world is still a dangerous and chaotic place.

As modern folk, it’s easy for us to become complacent about the natural world. We’ve tamed and caged animals, cracked open the earth and dug deep to procure the minerals which fuel our modern lifestyles. In West Virginia, it’s no longer “economically viable” to dig coal mines underground anymore.  Instead, they just remove the entire mountain top. It goes without saying that this is devastating to local ecosystems.

So God’s reminder of the wildness and immensity of the world around us can be a hard one for us to swallow, especially when combined with God’s second point.

God notes that God is with young lions as they hunt their pray, lying in wait with them. God hears the cries of those who are hungry, be they animal or human. Yet God is also there when mountain goats and deer give birth, the animals that one day become the food of those young lions.

This reminds us that God is not just my God, God is not just our God.  God is the God of people I don’t like, of things I don’t understand, and those who oppose me.  God is more than a totem to invoke when I feel bad, but the ground of being itself, from which all arises.

This is not to say that God is not with us – but it is a call to remember that God only once promises that suffering will cease. God makes that promise in the next to last chapter of the last book of the Bible, in the book of Revelations, Chapter 21, after the apocalypse, when history as we know it has come to an end, when there is no need for churches or temples, for God dwells with us.

Before those verses, God never promises that our lives will be easy, that the roads we travel will be straight and flat, but only that God will be there with us, just as God hunts with the young lion, and cries out with the hungry raven. That we assume that we can bend this overall impartiality to our will, fit it into our boxes, brings us to God’s last point, God’s untamability.

God tells Job about the terrible power of the Behemoth and the Leviathan. The Behemoth and the Leviathan are the archetypal king of beasts, who cannot be tamed. No one can bridle the behemoth, nor fish or farm the leviathan, the great sea beast. These are creatures beyond the power of humanity to control, to domesticate, to make into prizes and ride.

This untamebility is an important reminder for Job, who used to be a successful farmer and rancher, owning thousands of sheep, along with herds of cattle and horses.

For if Job cannot control the Behemoth and the Leviathan…

What makes Job think that God is something to be domesticated? What makes us think that God is someone we can defang and ritualize into submission? What makes us think that we can prescribe one certain way to talk to God that will make God conform to our will?

That if we pray to Saint Anthony we will find our lost goods, that if I spread my hands at the altar, that I can summon God and transform the bread and wine and juice into the body and blood of God Almighty?

What kind of creature are we to attempt to create God in our own image, rather than to realize and remember that we are created in God’s Image? So God reminds Job that the world is still wild and dangerous, that even at his most prosperous, Job’s control over his life was an illusion at best, and a lie at worst.



God also reminds Job that God is always, always with us during our journeys through the shadows of the valley of death, just as God is with the young lion and the hungry raven.

God reminds us of this, reinforcing this idea to us as Christians through the ministry of Jesus Christ. Our second bible story reminds us of this, as Jesus is called to attend to Lazarus, the brother of Mary, Mary who sat at Jesus’ feet and scented him with perfume.

Jesus does not come immediately, when he could have prevented Lazarus from death, but waits until three or four days later, when Lazarus’ body was starting to stink.

This, Jesus says, is for the glory of God. The road to God’s glory, however, sometimes hurts. When Jesus and his disciples enter the town, they are met with a populace that is sad and angry.

“Why didn’t you come sooner?”

“You could have saved him!”

But God, especially in the person of Jesus Christ, does not act on our timelines, but on his own. Even Jesus Christ, born lowly in a manger, meek and mild, is not to be tamed. Nobody, not even his mother, tells him what to do.

And Jesus, seeing what death has wrought in this town, in the community, becomes greatly agitated. Death, which God has participated in since the dawn of creation, causes Jesus Christ pain.

Oh death where is thy sting?

It is here, in this town, with these people.

And Jesus begins to weep.

Maybe he weeps in sympathy, or in empathy, or out of rage and grief, but cry he does. Perhaps these tears are part of God’s Glory, terrible tears that show us a God who wants to be with us, who is with us in death’s dark valleys,a God who becomes present at the communion table not through my action, but through an invitation to make visible, tangible, and physical the grace that already exists inside of every Christian who yearns for God.

For as much as we yearn for God, we have a God who yearns to be with us all the more. And although that doesn’t make all of the evil, all of the destruction, all of the harm ok or good.

It does make it bearable.

And sometimes that’s enough.