God’s Hidden and Revealed Wisdom

First preached on September 29, 2019 at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church of Logan Square

Season of Creation – Storm Sunday

Josep Castells

Good morning! It is so good to be here with you all today. I have felt so welcomed by all of you St. Luke’s and I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to learn alongside you this year as your Pastoral Intern.

This Sunday is Storm Sunday, the third Sunday in the Season of Creation, where we have been spending a lot of time in the book of Job, which is shelved in the “Wisdom Literature” section of the library we call the Bible, reading about the wisdom of God. 

But if you’ve been paying extra close attention, you might have noticed that our readings of Job the past few weeks haven’t been going in order. At all.  Which, in a way may be kind of fitting for the sort of chaotic, untamed nature of creation we have been talking about lately. The last few weeks we have been reading parts of God’s speech, God’s epic response to Job’s understandable cry of, “Why?!” after the loss of Job’s family, his livelihood, his health.  But in the reading today we back it up several chapters, and we go back to one of Job’s speeches. After losing everything, and grieving that unspeakable loss, after asking why, Job’s friends offer some…less than helpful responses to his pain. 

Maybe you’ve had that happen to you.  Maybe after suffering a devastating loss, you’re left raw and wounded, and your heart is laid bare, and you don’t know how you can go on, and in response to your suffering someone says some sort of trite, fortune cookie type platitude. Something like, “Everything happens for a reason.”  Or, “God will never give you more than you can handle.” Cheap, dismissive theology that derides our very real, very justifiable pain.

I saw something recently on social media. It said, “A positive attitude can turn a storm into a sprinkle.” I don’t know, it felt dismissive to me. Positivity has its place sometimes, sure, but positive attitudes don’t pay overdue bills.  They don’t heal chronic illnesses or bring back lost loved ones.

People do this too, when communal tragedy strikes.  When storms or other natural disasters desolate our homes, there are people who will serve up this kind of meaningless commentary.  I have a friend who is from Texas, whose family was affected in a very real way by Hurricane Harvey a couple of years ago, and people would say, “God really blessed us, our homes were not flooded!”  What does that say about the countless homes and lives that were lost? Were those people not blessed? Were those lives not precious and beloved by God? 

Even worse, sometimes people assign moral blame to the victims of storms. Job’s friends did that. They were sure that he must have sinned greatly, must have deeply offended God to deserve this level of loss and suffering. You might remember after the earthquake in Haiti, where Pat Robertson infamously criticized Haitians for what he called their “pact with the devil,” blaming their cultural practices for a country buried under rubble.  And after Hurricane Katrina, Pastor John Hagee said, “I believe that New Orleans had a level of sin that was offensive to God, and they were recipients of the judgment of God for that.”

Why do we do this?  Why – in the face of horrific suffering and grief – do we offer up shallow nuggets of spiritual bypass or horrendous examples of victim blaming?

Why? Because it is deeply human to want to feel in control.  We want a world that can fit into boxes, that can be laid out in neat geometry-style proofs.  We want the direction of our lives to be as clear and predictable as our GPS apps. We want things to make sense, to have order.  We fear chaos and mystery. Because if there isn’t always an obvious cause and effect to these tragedies, if it is truly random, if there is no formula that will make us good enough, safe enough to escape it…what is to say that we won’t be next? 

But the scary truth is?  There aren’t any easy answers to big questions like, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” or “How can an almighty and all loving God allow for such suffering?”  There aren’t answers available for us that seem good enough, or that we can understand. Like our reading in Job says today, God’s wisdom is, “hidden from the eyes of the living.”  Those righteous questions we ask ring out in the air, and they are left hanging there, unresolved.

There are so many mysteries about how God works, how the world works.  There are so many things we just can’t know. And it is unsettling.

We can’t know all of the intricacies to the ways of the universe. We can’t. But there are some things we can know.  Our reading from Corinthians today tells us that the wisdom of God is revealed to us – in Jesus. 

In our Gospel reading today we read the story about a grumpy Jesus being awakened from a well-deserved nap to calm a sudden squall on the Sea of Galilee.  This story in Luke comes right before a bunch of other healing narratives, where Jesus is casting out demons and healing all kinds of ills. For Jesus, and particularly in Luke’s Gospel, healing people is not just about that particular individual.  It is about bringing a person on the margins back into society, back into community. And so we can read this story of Jesus calming the storm as another healing narrative. In this story, the created world, nonhuman nature, is an adversary and an enemy against the very human disciples.  And by calming the storm, by healing the storm, Jesus is restoring right relationship between humans and nonhuman nature.

There is much at stake right now in the world.  We don’t know what’s going to happen in our individual lives or in the wider society.  There are very real existential, apocalyptic level threats looming over us with the impending climate crisis, which is already causing so much suffering for nonhuman nature and for human beings alike, with people of color and the global south being affected worst and first. Our human wisdom, which for so long has pointed us towards the bottomless pit of capitalism and, what Greta Thunberg called this week, the “fairy tale of endless economic growth.”  This worldly wisdom? Is foolish. It has utterly and completely failed us.

There might not be easy, theologically tidy answers to our personal and communal suffering. God’s ways frustrate us and confuse us, God’s wisdom is often hidden from us.  But Corinthians reminds us that clarity comes from the cross.  If we want answers to these unanswerable questions of human suffering?  That wisdom? It doesn’t reside in ivory towers. It doesn’t reside in hoarding bags of money.  It doesn’t reside in any political party. The wisdom of God is present in the cross, in Christ Crucified.  In a God who is not far from us in our grief, a God who knows anguish because They experienced it, intimately,  a God who came to us, not clothed in the protective powers of Empire, but in fragile mortal human skin. A God who suffers in solidarity with all those who suffer.

There are no easy answers. There are no simple ways around the pain of this life.  But God is with us, and bids us, by example, towards right relationship with the created world, particularly and especially with those who are most vulnerable.  There are those who are still being crucified by the Empires of today.  They have wisdom to share if we would listen. So God bids us towards community, towards risk.  God bids us towards solidarity…and promises we will not be alone.

Thanks be to God. 

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