I know I’m in trouble when God calls me a pansy.
by Mike Baughman
Old Testament Reading: Job 3:1-11
For Sunday, June 24, 2012: Year B—Ordinary 12
For my undergraduate education I went to Duke University. My Masters degrees come from Princeton Theological Seminary (the actual diplomas are in Latin). My high school is called The Pingry School and, yes, it is every bit as pretentious as it sounds. The strange thing is, I’m very rarely snobbish about education and don’t look down on people from other schools (unless, of course, you attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill).
But I’m still a snob. I’m a spiritual snob.
So there. And Furthermore…
I wrestle with God. I challenge God because God’s children are not named after Abraham—the first one to make the covenant with God. They’re not named after Noah—the one who saved creation from utter destruction and who was righteous enough to give God hope. The children of God are named after Israel—one who wrestles with God.
I wrestle with God because it’s intimate. You cannot wrestle with someone and not smell their sweat, feel their breath and quicken your heartbeat to match theirs. I challenge God and I ask hard questions of God, again and again, because it is in those questioning places that I most often encounter the Holy.
Inviting the Presence
It’s easy for me to think that people who do not ask, allow or demand difficult questions of God are spiritual cowards at worst or spiritually missing out at best. That’s when I get snobby and have let myself believe that I’m better than they are.
The bruises and limping that’s inflicted in my wrestling with God are as often a source of pride (bad) as they are a reminder of what I’ve learned (good). Then God shows up in a whirlwind and I have to clean the crap out of my pants.
Time for a Loin Girding
This is not some tiny little burning bush, nor is it the God who speaks in the stillness. It’s a torrid, windy, destructive whirl-effing-wind and God starts an almighty rant that goes on for four full chapters. (Job interrupts briefly only to be run over by God’s rhetorical Mack truck).
“Who is this that darkens council by words without knowledge?”
Remember that list of schools I attended? The exposure to knowledge can easily tempt us to believe we have a grasp on knowledge when the reality is that the more we know, the more we should realize that we don’t know.
“Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me.”
Yeah, this is the moment that Job (and I) know we’re in trouble.
Job reminds me that sometimes I question and demand too much. Even though I disagree theologically with the responses of Job’s friends to his suffering, I’m prone to committing their sin of offering far too sure advice about the mind of God.
God’s response reminds me that my snobbery goes too far and that, sometimes, my questions go too far. Although I recognize that questions are an important part of faith, they do have a certain danger. I timidly worry that spiritual arrogance can fool us into thinking that we are better than God. If I can ask questions that are, in my opinion, unanswerable by God—maybe, just maybe—I might believe that I’m better than God too.
Could my spiritual pretention go that far? The closest I came to that was about a year ago. I went to Joplin. I saw what a whirlwind can do and it is hard to imagine God coming up with an explanation for why the whirlwind is good.
The Hardest Question
So when I catch myself looking down on the spiritual lives of others or thinking too highly of the rhetorical stones that I can hurl at the household of God, I put my head down and listen to the voice of God in the whirlwind. (I try to imagine Samuel L. Jackson’s voice and it’s especially effective):
Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
The Rev. Mike Baughman is an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church, working on a new church start /coffee house in Dallas, TX. He is the co-author of one book and has contributed to a long list of books, curricula, resources and research. He also trains and consults with churches non-profits and small businesses on social media and how it can be used to help their work and ministry. He lives in Dallas, Texas with his wife (also a pastor) and four kids. You can learn more about him at www.mikebaughman.com , follow him on twitter @ireverant and read his blog, ireverant.wordpress.com