The God of the Breakdown

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You lift me up to the wind and cause me to ride;
And You dissolve me in a storm.” (Job 30:22)

Some of the Hebrew text in the book of Job is tricky, and ambiguous, which makes it an open field for would-be interpreters. Also of course, there are long speeches given by Job’s friends, who are subsequently discredited, so one should at least be thoughtful before using them as a basis for a sermon.

This verse is a case in point. I’m doing a book called “The Storm Path” and so began charting storm references in the Bible. When I came to Job 30 I encountered an online sermon which tied this verse with “Mount up with wings like eagles” and made it a positive affirmation of “Violent men taking the kingdom by force” (another ambiguous text). The appeal was along the lines of “Go for it. God is the wind under your sails. He enables you to fly like an eagle. You were meant for so much more.”

Etc.

Sometimes I find myself agreeing with the sentiment of a sermon but not with the exegesis. I often find myself saying: “I know what you mean, and I agree, but that’s not what this particular verse means.”

And it’s very important to be accurate, because you can easily miss the full flavour of what God is saying.

Because Job 30:22 is almost completely negative. It’s the “almost” that makes it interesting.

Matthew Henry  (who famously noted that Job “did complain overmuch” – Don’t you love statements of the obvious?) saw the verse along the lines of Psalm 102:10 (“Thou hast lifted me up and cast me down”), that is to say, as a contrast between previous prosperity and present destitution.

More recent commentators refer to the practice of winnowing, whereby the grain is cast into the air and the chaff blown away, until it seems that almost nothing is left.

Certainly there is a sense here of being at the mercy of God’s decision-making. Three times God is credited with the action: You fling me into the sky; you force me to fly; you break me into bits. You expose me to the brunt of the storm, so that I’m lifted up and carried away, tossed about like chaff. And you “dissolve my substance.”

I was talking to a teenager recently, and in a plaintive lean-back-on-the-sofa  moment, explaining why he couldn’t possibly help in the kitchen, said, “Man, I’m so wrecked.” (And fitting word to occasion, promptly fell asleep, phone in hand).

HIs substance was dissolved, you might say.

And that’s a picture of where Job was. Wrecked. Finished. Unable to function. The context is quite clear:And now my soul is poured out within me; Days of affliction have seized me.”  It’s a generalised picture of being brought low.

And the complaint is that it is God who has effected the destruction. Job is not “riding the storm” in some triumphalist  Go-for-it way.He is annihilated by it.

And here is the point. Here is the tiny glimmer of hope at the bottom of Pandora’s box. Job has  consistently looked to God as the author of his situation.He is not lost in a bog of nothing, or even a cloud of unknowing. His sense of injustice is personal and it is directed against a personal God.

So even here, at the depth of his wretchedness, he claims a relationship, even if it is -so far as he is concerned-  a terrible one.

And God is about to answer. God is about to move into that tiny glimmer of open space

In fact, perhaps this is the only time God can answer,when Job is completely out of questions, and too exhausted to snap back. Maybe now he’s finally able to listen.

Now I have had an easy life, by and large. It’s been comfortable and happy and I am surrounded with people who love me. So perhaps I have no right to speak about the God of the breakdown.

But let me say that there have been moments when I have been devastated and lost and broken.

And here’s the point: it has been precisely those moments when I have come closest to hearing God’s heart, and understanding his voice.

So though we never seek those moments, there is no doubt that God uses them.

And so maybe, after all that, the sermon that I’ve been mocking wasn’t so bad after all. Maybe the storm that broke my heart and “dissolved my substance” and threw every certainty to the wind…. maybe (just maybe) God is bringing something hitherto unimagined out of the apparent chaos.

Maybe this storm too, is in his hand.

 

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