Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The God of the Snowstorm


So here is an adaptation of the second sermon I preached at Inlet Community Church this month  in a series on snow. 

Job was a wildly successful businessman, prosperous in every way.  This from the beginning of the book that bears his name, “He had seven sons and three daughters, and he owned seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen, and five hundred donkeys, and had a large number of servants.  He was the greatest man among all the people of the East” (Job 1:2-3).  This is said straight-faced, without any hedging.  He was the greatest, bar none. 

And then he loses it all in a day.   
- The 500 oxen and 500 donkeys are stolen by the vicious Sabeans and the attending servants are killed.
- The 7,000 sheep are burned up by fire falling from the sky and the attending servants are incinerated.
- Chaldean raiding parties sweep away all the 3,000 camels and the attending servants and struck down with swords.   

In three waves, all his livestock is wiped away, along with workforce.  Material loss is compounded by familial loss.  All his sons and daughters are feasting together at the oldest brother’s house, when a stiff wind causes the house to collapse and all of them are killed. Stripped bare, he declares, “naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart.” (Job 1:21).  It gets worse.  All that naked flesh is afflicted with boils, pussy and painful skin lesions.  Physical discomfort, emotional upheaval, material devastation.  

But despite all this tragedy, he refuses to reject God.  He will curse the day of his birth, with verbose eloquence (the whole of chapter 3), but he will not curse God.  Even at the prodding of his wife to do so.

But while he won’t reject God, but he will ask why.  Again and again. 
- Why did I not perish at birth, and die as I came from the womb (3:11)
- Why is light given to those in misery, and life to the bitter of soul (3:20)
- Why do you hide your face and consider me an enemy (13:24)
- Why do you not pardon my sins and forgive my sins (7:21)
- Why do the wicked live on, growing old and increasing in power? (21:7)
- Why does the Almighty not set times for judgment? Why must those who know him look in vain for such days? (24:1)

He may not raise his fist in response to this slurry of misery, but he will scratch his head.  He wants to make sense of all this.  For if there is no sense, then we are left with nonsense.  And to remain loyal to a God of nonsense is just one last heaping teaspoon of nonsense.   He longs for an explanation.

And don’t we all.  When things don’t work out the way we expected.  When we get terrible news.  When it seems like those with no regard for God are living carefree lives while we who strive to walk in obedience are beat down with misfortune.  Why?  It doesn’t seem fair.  We long for an explanation.  Is there sense in this or is it all just a pile of nonsense? 

Because if I were writing the script, I would never write in “get a flat tire” or “bang my knee on the corner of the bed” or “bite my lip in the same place for the fourth time”, or “fix the leaky toilet.”  And if I’m not inclined to include these little “c” crisis into my script, you can bet I’m not going to write any capital “C” Crises into the storyline – terminal disease, miscarriage, tragic accident, divorce, financial ruin, depression, adultery, job termination.  If I were writing the script it would be all green lights and blue skies.  And yet I look out the window and the sky is ashen, dreary gray.  Why? 

Job asks why.  Finally, God intervenes with an answer.  But it turns out he answers a different question.  Instead of getting ensnared by the question of why he responds to the question of who.  For four chapters (Job 38-41) God lays out a torrent of questions of his own, forceful in their delivery.  The two sections of his response are introduced with the same knee-knocking formula – “Brace yourself like a man and I will question you and you shall answer me” (38:3, 40:7).  He goes back to his work in creation and touches on sunrise, constellations, tides, rainfall, the foodchain.

In this midst of this, snow makes an appearance.    Job 38:22 “Have you entered the storehouses of the snow or seen the storehouses of the hail?” 

All this snow, vast and powerful, delicate and artfully sculpted, is at his bidding.  He determines when and where the snow will fall.  He has this immense storehouse of snowflake masterpieces that he grabs by the handful and scatters throughout the earth. 

As it says in Psalm 147:16 “He spreads the snow like wool and scatters the frost like ashes.”   What can cripple us, shutting down the interstate, delaying flights, causing power outages and treacherous travel, is just handful of snow scooped up from his storehouse and flung through the sky.  I labor in the removal, doing the back breaking work of clearing my driveway.  But there is no labor in the delivery. My labor contrasted with his ease.

An avalanche begins with a failure in the snowpack.  The angel of the slope is usually somewhere around 38 degrees, a point at which accumulation is extremely unstable.  Most often, slides begin with additional snowfall adding weight to the snowpack or the sun causing snowmelt compromising the stability of the snow.  Sometimes other sources set the avalanche in motion – animals, skiers, seismic activity, explosions, thunder, etc. 
                                        
Whatever the cause, load exceeds strength and the inert snowpack is set in motion.   Up to a million tons of snow, traveling at speeds of nearly 200 miles an hour with no friction to slow it down.  It drives an invisible wave of air before it, smashing everything in its path.  It is an amazingly powerful display.

But avalanches in the macro are made up of snowflakes in the micro.  And a snowflake is as delicate as an avalanche is powerful.  Each flake is a tiny six-pointed ice sculpture, a uniquely crafted masterpiece.  They can be extremely beautiful, but are rarely admired.  They are too small and too fragile.  They are easily crushed and quickly melted.

And this is God.  He is crafting flakes with intricate precision and then flinging them with such abandon that they will never be appreciated for their artistry. 

All of this is intended to bring Job to this declaration in response, “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.” (42:2). 

We want to know why.  God suggests that a better question is who.  We need to remember that this is a God of vast power, displayed in creation.  He made all this.  The fury of the snow squall, the delicacy of the snow flake, and everything in between.

This power in harnessed with unfathomable competence.  He keeps the universe in motion and juggles the intricacies of an immense created order without ever getting jumbled up.  That same competence not only tunes the dials of this world, it tunes the dials of my life. 

I used to have this video game as a child, in the days of Atari and Intellivision.  Two biplanes would fight it out.  The controls were quite simple – up for up, down for down, red button to shoot.  That was it.  I was pretty good – quite a pilot.

Be wouldn’t that be audacious if I took my expertise at this video game as an indication that I was ready to sit in the cockpit of a real plane with its myriad of gauges and buttons, levers and switches.

Asking God why is akin to that.  As if we with our video game expertise could begin to understand the true complexity of the cockpit controls.  So when I’m in flight it’s more important for me to know who’s flying the plane that to know why he chose a particular cruising altitude.  If the pilot is trustworthy, I can leave the particulars of the flight in his hands. 

The God who unleashes avalanches with his pinky and crafts masterpieces by the trillions - he’s a God I can trust.  And if that question of who is settled in our minds, then the question of why, even if left unanswered, is not so pressing.  The pilot knows how to fly this plane better then I do.