Where were You? [Job 38:4]

“Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding!”  Job 38:4

Ray Stannard Baker in his book, “Native American, Book of My Youth” [in The Speakers Book of Illustrative Stories (Maxwell Droke): Droke House, Indianapolis, (1956), p 249] wrote:

I shall never forget my first weeks as a student in Dr. William J. Beal’s laboratory.  He handed me a plant fresh from the riverbank — leaves, roots, flowers — and told me to study it, make sketches, and write down what I saw.  I was impatient.  In 15 minutes I showed what I had to the professor.  “Go on,” he said, “You’ve only just begun.”
After using the hand microscope, I went up again with my notes.  “Go on,” he said, “you haven’t begun to see all there is in that plant.”
This continued for three or four days.  It seemed a great waste of time to me, but presently I began to find, to my surprise, that the plant, a blue lupin, was far more interesting than I had dreamed.  The veining of the leaves, their arrangement, the channels in the stem began to fascinate me.  I was making all those discoveries; it was as though I were exploring a whole new world.
Impatience, restlessness, were among the chief faults of my youth.  In Doctor Beal’s laboratory I learned that impatience is the enemy of thought, and that everything is in anything.  Now I know how far a man can travel in ten miles, the number of things one can see, hear, smell and taste. When I came across a remark of Rodin, the sculptor, “Slowness is beauty,” I knew what he meant.  Dr. Beal taught me that.

William Beebe wrote in his *The Book of Naturalists* (Knopf) [in The Speakers Book of Illustrative Stories (Maxwell Droke): Droke House, Indianapolis, (1956) p 174]:

At Sagamore Hill, Theodore Roosevelt and I used to play a little game together.  After an evening of talk, we would go out on the lawn and search the skies until we found the faint spot of light-mist beyond the lower left-hand corner of the Great Square of Pegasus.  Then one or the other of us would recite:
That is the Spiral Galaxy in Andromeda.
It is as large as our Milky Way.
It is one of a hundred million galaxies.
It consists of one hundred billion suns, each larger than our sun.
Then Roosevelt would grin at me and say: “Now I think we are small enough!  Let’s go to bed.”

Jehovah faced Job and asked, “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding.”  The two stories which I quoted reflect this challenge: In the first there is the evidence of extraordinary wonder everywhere in the world around us.  The blue lupin can have fascinating intricacy and profound complexity as you delve deeper and deeper into such a seemingly simple plant.  In the second story, one peers out into the heavens to find equal impressiveness in the stars and galaxies in the universe.  How humbling it is to have the Creator of the tiny and of the enormous look one in the eye and demand, “And where were you when I did all this?”

Job had emerged limping but victorious in his faith.  Satan’s goal was pronounced through his wife, “Curse God and die!” [2:9] and despite the worst that devil and man could do, Job had never crossed that line.  But his victory stumbled.  He needed an attitude readjustment.  But please note: of this man, probably a contemporary of Abraham, the Lord Himself declares, “that there is none like him in all the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil.”  This is no unbeliever who has to have his attitude readjusted.

This is a man who maintained a close relationship with God, and he had attempted to instill the same respect for his Lord in his children.  When his children had a feast – a party – just in case they said or did or thought something inappropriate, he would offer extra sacrifices on their behalf.  Even in the midst of the loss and suffering for which he is well known, he still would have such confidence that his ultimate destiny was unshakably in the hands of his Redeemer within a sure hope of resurrection, that he would declare in chapter 19:

Oh that my words were now written; oh that they were inscribed in a book and were engraved with an iron pen and lead in rock forever!  For I know that my Redeemer [GO’EL] lives, and in the end He shall arise over the dust; and after my skin is destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see none other than God (Whom I shall see for myself and my eyes shall behold).  How my heart yearns within me! vv 23-27

This is a man who needed his attitude readjusted?  Whatever for?  Surprisingly, because his God is too small.
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Peter has a similar problem [Matthew 14:22-33].  The story is that the disciples have been struggling throughout the night rowing against a storm.  They are working very hard and yet make such gradual progress.  If the wind is that strong, then the water does not have a mere surface chop, no, these are waves which they face.  The Sea of Galilee is still known to raise such an abrupt storm where seasoned fishermen are never seen again.  So, here they are in one moment looking at sky, in the next they can only see a wall of solid water, then sky, then water.  Those who are bailing are working just as hard as those who are rowing.  I have often wondered about the paintings of this scene – did Jesus really have this calm serene spot which made it easy for Him to walk, or did He have to roll with the sea?

According to Matthew’s account, the sea is not calm when Peter asks the Lord to bid him come – that calmness happens only after the both of them enter the boat.  So Peter is very aware of the heaving of the waves and the struggle that his tired muscles tell him was out there.  Yet of all the disciples, he is the only one who steps out onto that water and discovers that he is actually held up.  The sea, though, is still heaving, and I can well imagine him stumbling and perhaps even being knocked off his balance.

Imagine how a surfer would have fun with the ability to surf the waves without a board, but of course, they don’t have such things back then.  So for Peter it is not fun.  He becomes overwhelmed.  He becomes frightened.  In a sense, he is in the same position as Job: he does trust the Lord, and yet when it comes to the roiling of the waters of life, he does not keep his spiritual footing.  Still he knows where there is help, he knows where his salvation lies, and he does cry out to Jesus, Who does lift him up.

The attitude readjustment he needs was not that of an unbeliever, but rather that of a believer whose God is too small.  But be careful, Peter and Job do trust the Lord in the big things, like salvation and redemption and their relationship with Him.  As with Martha at the tomb of Lazarus, Peter would probably also say, “I know that [we] will rise at the resurrection on the Last Day” [John 11:24].  But the question is whether God is handling the big “little things” of life, the things of daily life, the things of even the point and purpose as to what is happening now to you and me.

So the challenge to Job is “Where were you when the details of Creation were put together, both in the daily care such as in providing food for the creatures of the earth and also in determining the grandeur of stars of the heavens?”  For Peter – as well as all the disciples – the statement is that “I, the Lord, have not lost My footing – I can still lift you up, I can still take you safely to the boat, and I can bring a tremendous calm to where there was once a heaving storm.”  The response of all these people is, “Truly, you are God and therefore I will trust you.”

There is something else, though, that is behind the challenge of the Creator to Job, which also is in evidence in the two stories with which I started.  We humans stand at the junction between the magnificence of the world around us and of the splendor of the universe.  The challenge of the Lord to Satan at the beginning of Job takes place when all the heavenly host has been gathered together.  Humans are the only creatures that we know of where Jehovah has placed His very own breath.  Humans are the only species in which God Himself came to be one of us.  Humans are the very ones for whom the incarnate Lord died.  St Paul describes in Ephesians 2:4-7 how in eternity we humans will sit on the throne of heaven in Christ Jesus.

Not only then is the question, “Where were you when all things were created?’; it is also, “Where will you be when all things are created new?”  God’s intent is that He is bringing us to where we have an honored place, an honored responsibility, and an honored privilege for those who are His adopted sons and daughters, “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special People” as Peter would later write in his first general letter [I,2:9].

It is good to see the attitude readjustment which God has given to Job, Peter and the disciples, because we need this as well.  Not only do we need to be reminded of just Who it is with Whom we are dealing, but also to be reminded of the great plans and position into which He has placed us.  We too lose our balance and forget the wisdom and also the love which is focused on us.  We need the same humility which sees the greatness of the God with Whom we are dealing, and also the bewildering honor which He has given to us.

And as with Job, Peter and the rest, how good it is to discover that our Lord comes not to beat us down for our failure to comprehend the grandeur that surrounds us.  He comes with forgiveness as we repent along these great saints of old.  But again we are so privileged, because this same God comes here to actually be among us.  He comes to give His very Self, His Body and His Blood, so that as with Job and Peter, He lifts us up, gets us to look up and also to look forward as to all which He has yet to do among His People right here.  He comes so that we may indeed “proclaim the praises of Him Who called [us] out of darkness into His marvelous light”, as Peter would write in His letter [I,2:9].

Come, be impressed with the majesty of the Lord displayed in the smallest plant and the grandest star, and displayed here before us in Word and Sacrament, in the Word made flesh and in the Word found in each of His People.  And be impressed with the heights to which He raises us as He places us within the safety of His love and involvement, not just in the universe, but also in the daily events in each of our lives.

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