Friday, 16 October 2015

Job to Jesus: Transcendence and Immanence

One question raised by the book of Job is along the lines,
“Does God even care about what happens to you and me?”

Job’s suffering is a conundrum and in the conversation that he is engaged with his three friends the story continually explores the correlation between a person’s experience of life and the providence and judgement of God.

Job’s questions are our questions:

Why do I suffer?
Why do those I love suffer?
Am I living a good life?
Why is there evil in the world?

It is a book which explores what is known theologically as theodicy.

Is God distant and uncaring?
Does God cause our troubles and ensnare us in difficulties?

When God finally speaks in the book of Job at the beginning of Chapter 38 God unleashes a torrent of questions and challenges which on their own emphasise God’s transcendence and sovereignty.

God and God’s ways are beyond human understanding. 
God is beyond our comprehension. 
God cannot be domesticated.

In the response God reflects on God’s power:

God speaks of the act of creation
God speaks of the movement of the seas and the seasons and the sun and the moon
God speaks of the power of the storm and the raging rivers
God speaks of the wonders of nature of the animals and the birds

We might easily interpret God’s answer to Job is no answer other than to emphasise how distant we are from God.

The great Reformation theologian Ulrich Zwingli once declared ‘We as little know God as the scarab beetle knows what a human being is.’ (Commentary on true and False Religion)

In a sense this is what God is reminding Job of – Job is not God and God is the author of creation with all its mystery and power and majesty and confusion.

Of course, in our modern scientific world God’s answer to Job may not seem to carry as much weight.  In the last few centuries humanity has grown so much in its understanding of the world around us, so much so that for many people God’s transcendence alongside scientific insight has led many to the assumption that God’s distance is a sign of God’s non-existence.

The Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor in his lengthy tome “A Secular Age” explores how science has demystified the world. I this process of extracting mystery and replacing it with understanding, it appears that God has become even more removed from our sight and from our lives.

The notion that God is some uncaring distant being flies in the face of the idea that God cares for each one of us and God’s declaration to Job that begins in Chapter 38 seems to confirm this.

How do you and I maintain faith in this seemingly distant God? 
How do we continue to believe in this transcendent impersonal God?

As simple and as complex as the answer may seem it is found in Jesus words to his disciples.

“The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve.”

The counterpoint to Job’s experience of the transcendence of God is the disciples’ experience of the immanence of God.

The opening words of Mark’s gospel tell us a new and surprising story about God.

“The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

Word’s echoed and affirmed by the Roman soldier at the cross in chapter 15:

“Truly this man was God’s Son!”

In Jesus, God has walked among us.
In Jesus, God has shared our existence.
In Jesus, God has tasted the joys and sorrows of our human lives.

In Jesus, God has endured the horror of our mortality.

As much as God may seem transcendent in our personal experience God is no stranger to what it means to be one of us: God is Immanent! God is present!

The promise of Jesus to his disciples is that his presence in the world is to serve the world; to serve the creation; to serve us in our existence by sharing in it.

The sending of the Holy Spirit draws us into God’s very life participating in the mystery of God’s presence in the world.

Yet God’s presence remains a mystery.

It is not our place to domesticate God interpreting God into our suffering and our joys rather like Job confronted by the mystery of the transcendence of God we listen for the story of the mystery of God’s immanence with hope.

God’s transcendence and power breathes life into the whole creation and creates space for freedom and for living.  God’s immanence and intimacy in Jesus reminds us of the personal connection God has with our lives and God’s desire to serve us.

Like Job we still have our questions but faith is not about having all the answers it is about trust and hope that lies beyond our experience in God who is both above all things yet chooses in Christ to be in all things.

It is trust and hope that the great story of our existence has an author.
Trust and hope that the author of life cares enough to come along side us.
Trust and hope that in coming along side us we can share in the trajectory of God’s life:
Love, reconciliation, renewal, healing, mercy, fullness of life for all people!

God speaks from the whirlwind and in Jesus God speaks with human words.

“Does God even care about what happens to you and me?”

The mystery of our faith declares resoundingly and hopefully yes.

1 comment:

  1. "It is not our place to domesticate God..." but we so easily find ourselves doing just that and forget God's transcendence and the mystery of God's activities and presence. Thank God that i"n Jesus God speaks with human words" and that reassures me that God really does care even when it appears otherwise. A very helpful reflection on Job - thank you.