Where is God? 2/20/11
Esther 2:12-17, Job 6:1-16, Matthew 5:43-48
How do we possibly answer the question: Where is God?
On the one side of the spectrum is our feelings. On the other side of the spectrum is the reality of God. In between is the murky, muddy land of “perception”.
Our feelings are real: we feel them. They are part of who we are. They don’t have to be accurate to be real. They are real precisely because we feel them.
God is real. If every human being stood together and screamed at the top of their lungs: God is not real. It wouldn’t make one iota difference. God is real, whether we choose to believe it or not.
So in between is the murk and mud. The problem is perception. Sometimes our perception is right, and sometimes it is not. It is said perception is reality, but even that statement is not entirely accurate. If everyone said my robe was orange, that wouldn’t make it orange.
Sometimes our perceptions are connected to reality, and sometimes they are not.
We feel our feelings, we are sometimes accurate in our assessment of reality, and God continues to exist. But sometimes, we still ask: Where is God?
Story of Scripture:
God’s destiny for humankind: promise, permission, prohibition.
Creation & Fall
Israel created to produce a Messiah.
Enslaved in Egypt, called out through God’s saving event: the Exodus.
Through wilderness, a law is given by God and people enter the promised land. Do not forget God, they are warned.
Prophets come when the people fall astray. And Israel wants to be like the other nations, having a king.
There are good kings and bad, and after a series of bad kings, Israel is taken out of its land, by the Babylonian Empire. For 70 years, the people live in Exile. Last week, we see that Persian overtakes Babylon, and some people make their way back. But at this point, not everyone returns to the promised land.
Including two key figures: Mordecai, and his cousin Esther. They stay and struggle and thrive in the Persian capital of Susa. And before them arises the greatest potential harm that they could imagine: annihilation.
Where is God?
Today’s theme in the story of Scripture highlights two different books that seek to answer the same question. Where is God?
In our reading from the Book of Esther, the central idea that arises is this:”Who knows, perhaps for this reason you are here”
Have you ever wondered that about yourself? You look around you, you see the circumstances, the evidence, the opportunities, and you try to figure out how you related to what you see, and the answer that you dig deep and find for yourself is: Maybe that is why I am here.
Maybe I am supposed to listen to that person who wants my time.
Maybe I am supposed to offer my talents to that community group.
Maybe I am to tell that person I am praying for them.
Maybe I am supposed to fix this problem that is weighing us down.
Maybe I am supposed to share that idea that came to me.
Maybe I am part of the solution.
Let us look at the story of Esther to see how this question came into being.
One word missing in the book: God.
Where is God? Not in story of Esther. At least, not by name in Esther. But God is there, orchestrating justice and deliverance out of a very dark and harsh circumstance.
King Xerxes makes alliances with a man named Haman. When Haman is announced in the King’s presence, everyone bows. Everyone that is, except for one man: Mordecai. He was a Jew living in the capital, and Haman is furious that Mordecai does not show respect. A plan is put into place by Haman that Mordecai’s people must be eliminated. A day is determined by the casting of lots, announced, somehow tolerated and endorsed by the King, and sent out into the kingdom, which extended from Southern Egypt to India.
This announcement causes understandable panic among the Jews, and brings Mordecai to prayer and tears. But Mordecai has one hope: His cousin Esther. Mordecai had raised her after Esther’s parents had died, and in a series of providential events, Esther had become one of the favored Queens of King Xerxes. So Mordecai talks to Esther, by way of messengers. A Jew in sackcloth would not have been invited into the presence of royalty.
Esther’s first hesitation is that no one, not even the Queen may enter the King’s presence unannounced. The penalty would be death.
But the time is getting short. The day of extermination tolerated by the King is approaching. So Mordecai urges Esther to think bigger.
“You will not survive the King’s edict” Your family and you will perish. It won’t matter that you live in a palace. You will not escape this plan of genocide.”
Silence is not an option. Mordecai predicts that one way or another, that deliverance will come. But Esther, because of you, it doesn’t have to be ‘another’. You are the way. You are here. It is time for you to stand up and act boldly. In fact, perhaps that is exactly why you were made queen in the first place. Who knows?
When life was harsh, and darkness threatened survival, and the squirming for a solution produced little hope, people surely wondered: Where is God?
In this case, Esther accepts the call to action. She had Mordecai and the people pray and fast for her. And when she offers herself to find a solution, one comes. Mordecai had been helpful in a stopping an assassination attempt on the King. Esther says to the king: Did you ever honor that person who helped save your life? The King answers no. Haman, the King says, go and honor the person who had saved my life. And so Haman, leads a parade for Mordecai, the very person who would not bow to him. Haman is so furious, he plays his cards incorrectly, and is exposed before the King. The threat is identified, and a proclamation goes out that allows the Jewish people to protect themselves.
In the darkest moment, it was asked “Where is God?” The Book of Esther shows us, sometimes we might ask that question, and sometimes we might not know the answer. But by faith, we use our resources, and find a solution. Along the way, God will show himself in the details of the story.
It reminds me of the old Portuguese proverb I have shared with you: In the end, it will all be ok, so if it isn’t ok, then it isn’t the end yet.
Our second story is very different from Esther, but seeks to answer the same question.
Job: Where is God?
For Job, the question of where is God stems from an almost unbearable amount of tragedy that comes upon his life.
The story of Job is much older book, with references to the times of the patriarchs, like Abraham. It is not in chronological order because of the type of literature it is: it is called wisdom literature. Job’s problems become symposium on the problem of evil and suffering, and how it relates to a God who is good and caring.
The background of the story is that Job is a highly successful man: in business, friendship and family. He is a pillar of the community and incredibly religious. He would offer sacrifices after the family parties for each of his children, in case they might have done something wrong.
The story switches to the heavenly scene, in which God is challenged by Satan. Satan suggests that Job is a holy man because everything is good for him. Satan is then allowed by God to test Job, which results in Job losing all his possessions, farm animals, family members and health. Job loses everything.
Where is God?
Maybe you and I haven’t lost everything, but there may be events or days or seasons where it seems like it. Where is God we ask, in the midst of our struggle and test.
There are some phrases in the early parts of Job that have become familiar to the people of faith and culture:
· The Lord gives and the Lord takes away.
· Are you still holding on to your integrity?
· Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?
· Job cursed the day of his birth.
Job seeks to entrust himself to God after his suffering, not seeking to curse the name of God, and therefore sin.
Job is visited by three of his friends, who upon coming to Job, see a suffering so great they do not say anything for a week, but sit alongside of Job.
The majority of the book is a series of conversations between Job and his friends. The friends eventually start digging deep to find the reason for Job’s suffering. In fact, they find reason to blame Job. The Book of Job is interesting to read, but we have to be careful. Job is not a book that you can pick out a verse here or there to quote. Much of the content of the book is not theologically accurate: it contains the words of friends who ultimately lack in their answers for the question Where is God? Why do you suffer?
Job also is working out his understanding of why this has come to him. It contains many authentic feelings, such as the passage that was read this morning. You and I might have the same feelings that Job feels:
If only my anguish could be weighted and my misery be placed on scales: it would be heavier than the sand on the seashores.
We might say:
Our burdens are too heavy to handle.
The arrows of God are in me, and my spirit has drunk their poison. We might
We might say:
God is out to get me.
Grant what I hope for, that God would be willing to crush me to let loose his hand and cut me off!
We might say:
Just take me God, it is too much.
What strength do I have, that I should still hope? What prospects, that I should be patient? Do I have any power to help myself now that success has been driven from me?
We might say:
What do I have to live for? What is the purpose? How can I make it back to what I once had?
My brothers are as undependable as intermittent streams that overflow when darkened by thawing ice.
We might say:
I feel all alone.
All of these questions and cries point to a common question: Where is God?
The story of Job has its climax in Job having an encounter with God. All throughout the book, Job states his questions, and God never answers them. But at the end of the book, God questions Job, and Job cannot answer the questions. Job bows before God and acknowledges that God alone is the Holy and Almighty. And that yes, he was there.
Sometimes it is hard to see. But there are signs. Jesus said that God causes the sun to shine on the just and unjust. God sends the rain on the just and the unjust. God is present. Though we cannot see him, we can believe in him. And our questions and doubts can be asked by faith. If God is not there, then why do we talk and why do some wrestle?
Where is God? The Scripture affirms God’s presence. What are some of the Biblical answers to the question, Where is God?
Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to heaven, you are there, and if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. --Psalm 139
2. In our neighbor
Whatever you have done to the least of these, you have done unto me --Matthew 25:40
3. In Jesus
For in Christ, all the fullness of the deity lives in bodily form
4. In the midst of worshippers
When two or three are gathered in my name, I am in the midst of them. --Matthew 18:20
5. When we go out to into the world in mission
Baptize in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and I will be with you always, even to the end of the age.
6. In bread, juice and water.
Take and eat, and drink, this is my body --Matthew 26:26
As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourself with Christ --Galatians 3:28
At times people going through tragedy, or looking at the world, will have despair, Where is God? It is asked. Look around. Where is God? What a mess.
People of faith: it is the same question and same answer. We also ask, Where is God? We also answer: Look around. But the answer means something very different.
With eyes of faith, let us behold the glory of the Lord.