One of my favorite memories from childhood are the weeks my extended family spent in Ocean City, New Jersey. I loved the boardwalk with its candy apples, salt water taffy and carnival rides. We would rent bicycles and peddle our way from one end to the other. I loved the smell of the place which was a combination of salt air, fried food and cotton candy with just a touch of fishiness! I loved jumping in the waves and body surfing while keeping an eye out for man-eating sharks!
But the thing I loved the most was walking along the ocean’s edge, looking for all the treasures the sea offered up to those who took the time to find them. There were sea shells of many varieties including beautifully colored scallops, olive shells, and small conch. There was sea glass and pebbles, made smooth by tumbling in the ocean waves. There was drift wood, sand crabs, and an occasionally jellyfish that had washed up on the shore. Finally, if you took the time to look REALLY close you could find shark’s teeth which were my most prized possessions.
Those weeks spent in Ocean City gave me a profound appreciation for the ocean and all it has to give us. While I consider myself to be a mountain person, I have never lost the sense of awe and wonder I feel every time I put my feet on the ocean’s sandy shore. I suspect that you feel the same way, too. I don’t know a single person who looks at the ocean with a bored expression on their face and says, “So what? I’ve seen it a million times!” If I ever met this person, I wouldn’t trust them for a second! The only appropriate response when looking at the vast expanse of sea and waves is one of amazement and wonder.
This same sense of amazement and wonder is conveyed in our first lesson from the book of Job. If you’ve ever read Job you know that he was a righteous man who endured a long series of unfortunate incidents. To say that Job suffered would be an understatement! In the midst of his suffering, Job’s so-called friends tried to give him words of wisdom regarding the nature of human suffering. Trust me, they were not helping the situation at all. They offered very little comfort to Job. They talked about how God punishes us for sins we’ve committed. They spoke of repenting so that God would look favorably on Job, once again.
When they ran out of words to say, and Job had heard more than enough from his friends, God spoke from the whirlwind, which is a Hebrew word that also means tempest or storm. In other words, the voice of God thundered, ending the debate between Job and his friends.
The interesting thing to me is how God deals with the issue of Job’s suffering. If we read chapter 38 carefully, I believe God is trying to restore Job’s sense of awe and wonder. The Eternal One is reminding him that the true nature of God is creation and rebirth. God does not have time to sit in heaven and think up ways to punish us. Instead God is a Master Architect who drew up the complex and detailed design of the universe. God is a Master Builder who keeps our world in good working order.
“Who is this that questions my wisdom with such ignorant words?” God says to Job, “Brace yourself, because I have some questions for you, and you must answer them. Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell me, if you know so much. who determined its dimensions and stretched out the surveying line? What supports its foundations, and who laid its cornerstone as the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?”
“Who kept the sea inside its boundaries as it burst from the womb, and as I clothed it with clouds and wrapped it in thick darkness? For I locked it behind barred gates, limiting its shores. I said, ‘This far and no farther will you come. Here your proud waves must stop!'”
It would appear that the cure for what is ailing Job is not to offer him profound advice on the nature of human suffering. The cure for what is ailing Job is to restore his sense of awe and wonder; to marvel at the world around him that is so beautifully crafted by God.
After God presents Job with a long series of questions, similar to those in our first lesson, Job humbly responds to God in chapter 43: “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted…Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand.”
I would argue that Job’s sense of wonder is restored. As he contemplated the mighty works God did in creating and maintaining the world. He no longer felt sorry for himself and did not wallow in his suffering. Instead a song of praise came from his lips as he marveled at the wonders of creation.
These wonders are all around us, both great and small. They remind us that our God is the God of creation and rebirth who, in the book of Revelation, says “Behold! I am making all things new!” [Rev 21:5]
As I spent time this week, contemplating the meaning of our First Lesson, I came to the conclusion that the cure for what ails us is to restore our sense of wonder. In a world where we are constantly bombarded by bad news, it’s easy to forget that there is much on planet Earth that is beautiful, awe-inspiring and holy.
Any time we’re feeling a kinship with our poor brother Job, the whirlwind of God, calls us to step out into nature and behold the marvels of creation. It calls us to stick our toes in the sand and watch the sun rise in the East. It calls us to take a hick in the Blue Ridge Mountains and enjoy the amazing view we should never take for granted. It calls us to smell the sweet fragrance of honeysuckle and taste the crispness of a fresh fall apple. It calls us to take a dip in a cool refreshing lake or take a nap in a hammock under a huge oak tree with the sounds of cicadas and birds making music in our ears.
Our world is a wonderful God which reminds us that our God is a wonderful God. As we spend the next four weeks exploring the Season of Creation, I hope it helps to restore our sense of awe and wonder, as we think about this incredible world God has given us. I hope it inspires us to be good stewards of it so that future generations can marvel at all the wonders God has made. Amen.