“Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know” Job 42:3
I had a very hard time the past few weeks, as we took on the case of a 10 year old child who was suffering from cancer. It so happened that I knew this boy’s mother very well, and she specifically sought me out to be her chaplain.
I’m typically assigned cases based on geography and whoever the case manager is. I had never expected anyone to say “I want you to be my chaplain.” It was humbling, terrifying, and one of the most meaningful experiences of my career.
My theology tends to be a bit more theocentric than christocentric (although I am still working on what exactly this means to me). A main truth that I hold on to and have held on to is that God is in control, that He is omnipotent, and that His purpose is being worked out through all things. The story of Joseph is critical to my understanding of God in this respect. If something happens, there is a reason for it happening. This does not mean that everything is meaningful to me however, and I will never know the meaning of most things in this world. But that does not mean that they are any less meaningful in themselves. It may not matter to me one lick that I’m the first one to go through the green light as it turns yellow. However it will be quite meaningful to the person two cars behind me who decides to try to beat the red light and ends up in an accident. If I’m not there, he makes it through no problem. But I am there, and I don’t think that it could be otherwise.
That said, the problem of evil looms huge and ominously in this view. As I watched cancer eat away at this child, I felt as if I was face to face with evil. Yet even then, could this evil compare to the lives ruined and lost through the never ending parade of murder and hatred on the TV news? What of Hurricane Katrina? The Vietnam War? The Holocaust? If God purposes these things, then He is apparently a monster and a sadist according to the evidence laid before us. The flip side of the coin, where God purposes good but not evil, is more palatable at this point, but the question remains as to why they happen at all. In this case, God is either powerless against evil, which makes Him less than divine, or chooses not to interfere with it, which only changes the sin from one of comission to one of omission. The final way out of this conundrum is simply to deny that God has a role at all in the world, neither for good or ill. We’re on our own and “stuff just happens” – there is no meaning at all, unless we impose meaning upon our chaotic world.
Yet God answers Job differently. Job’s complaint against the injustice done to him by his friends and apparently by the Supreme is met not with a direct refutation or explanation, but with a presentation of who God is and how big the world is. Perspective matters: our lives seem small in comparison to the number of lives in the world, the world is puny in comparison to the sun, the sun is a mote in the eye of the galaxy, and the galaxy is lost in the vast sea of the universe. And God basically asks Job, “did you do that?”. It is an expression and manifestation of God’s kabod, meaning glory or literally “weightiness”.
Job’s response was to recognize his smallness in the midst of God’s plan, yet God acknowledged Job as part of His plan as well. Things of great weight to us, while they still impact God (no sparrow falls…), are merely part of a much greater tapestry. One made of finer and finer threads, infinitely intricate and ornate, going on forever, always revealing itself but never fully.