The Very Rev’d Frank Nelson
Psalm 90: 12 – 17, Job 23: 12 – 28, Hebrews 4: 1 – 11
“But where shall wisdom be found?” (Job 28: 12) Where indeed? I love the poetry of Job – and wish that I could read it in the original Hebrew, when it would be so much richer, more meaningful, filled with nuance. But even in translation the words of tonight’s first reading from the Book of Job are music to one’s ears. As the words are uttered so the ideas mount up and we are invited, with Job, to ponder that great question, “Where shall wisdom be found?”
Job’s question comes with a certain frustration in his voice. After all, we have already had about twenty-five chapters of ‘good’ advice from his friends. Have you noticed how often that happens? You get sick and, looking for some sympathy, are immediately regaled with tales from others about their illnesses, or their family members and friends who have had a similar affliction, only much worse! You crash your car, lose money on the stock exchange, break a finger nail, have a relationship break-up – and there is someone ready to tell you that it could have been so much worse (which is probably true, but not what you need at that point). Our ‘friends’ in time of crisis are not always able to say the right thing.
So here we have Job, having lost everything – farm, crops, animals, children – and yet he refuses to blame God, and holds on to his faith in God. One by one Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar rhe Naamathite have their say. Job listens to each and continues to proclaim his innocence of offence and therefore being the cause of his own disaster. Job’s frustration with his friends and their fine sounding words mounts as each suggests another way of looking at the issues, another round of solutions, another go at getting Job to confess. He will have none of it.
Finally he bursts out at the beginning of chapter 26, his voice heavy with sarcasm: “How you have helped one who has no power! How you have assisted the arm that has no strength! How you have counselled the one who has no wisdom, and given much good advice!” None of it has helped. No one can understand what has happened to him. No one can understand. There is a terrible cynicism in chapter 27 as Job ponders the fate of the godless, so unlike him who proclaims his own righteousness. The godless, says Job, are without hope, unable, unwilling to call on God in time of trouble. The terrors of war will take away their children; disease, drought and floods their hard-worked for crops. The power of nature, which we know so well in Australia, will carry off their hard work, their wealth, their beautiful homes. And still Job proclaims his innocence.
Chapter 28 begins with Job diving, metaphorically, into the depths of the silver mines of his time and he ponders what the miners find so deep under the ground. There is mystery there. Yes the miners get silver, and gold and iron. Yet the earth, from which our bread comes, is also a place of fire. The birds that soar in the sky have no knowledge of what goes on under the ground, nor do the great beasts of prey. Yet the miners go underground in search of wealth – the hidden treasures of the earth. And yet, ponders Job, even these people, clever as they are in his eyes, do not know everything. Which leads to the start of tonight’s passage and that great question, “Where shall wisdom be found?”
Job answers his own question with a statement of faith: “God understands the way to it (Wisdom) and he knows its place.” (Job 28: 23) The Wisdom of God is seen in the natural world, in the wind and the waves, the rain and thunder. Ultimately, as we heard tonight, Wisdom is found in God alone. The last sentence of the first reading: “Truly, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding.” It is as simple and as profound as that. At least that is Job’s understanding and, at least for the moment, he is prepared to stand by that. We have not yet got to the end of this enigmatic book in the Bible, but let us pause here and ask our own questions. And who better to ask them than of the one whom Job says is the source of Wisdom? We need to spend time in God’s presence.
On the back page of the “The Church Times”, a weekly newspaper reporting mainly on the Church of England, is a regular interview with some or other person. It makes for interesting and informative reading as people of deep faith, and some with none, are asked about what motivates them to do whatever it is they do. The choice of subject people is wide-ranging and in recent weeks I have enjoyed reading about someone who started an orphanage, another who writes poetry, yet another who campaigns for the rites of sex-workers, and another who is shortly to be ordained. In every case the final question is this: If you were locked in a church overnight who would you choose as your companion?
We have that sort of opportunity as we ponder on Job’s question about wisdom. What are the questions we would like to ask of God? What is your list?
Here are some of mine, in no particular order:
• Is global warming a real threat to the world, or is it another of those cataclysmic, but not fatal, climate changes that scientists tell us wiped out dinosaurs?
• Why, just when I think I have everything sorted and in order, does something happen to upset the applecart?
• How did you programme the Australian Wood Ducks to be able to know exactly when to lay their eggs, and guide their tiny fluffy ducklings on the dangerous path from their nests in trees, across roads and to the relative safety of water?
• How is it that a family, already so well integrated into our community and society, should have to leave Australia’s shores?
• What is at work that so often those responsible for choosing hymns manage to choose such appropriate ones for the preacher?
• Where does a disease such as Multiple Sclerosis come from? And why does one of the best teachers I know have to suffer from it, making her unable to front up in the classroom?
• When does life actually begin – and what happens to all the aborted foetuses in this and other countries?
• If there really is enough food in the world to feed all the people in the world why can’t we do so?
• When will we humans realise that the money spent on weapons of destruction would be far better spent on the things of peace, wholeness and well-being for all?
• How can an ant carry a load so much bigger and heavier than itself?
• Why can one person sing and another not? Is one better than the other?
• Will the City Council ever manage to sort out the parking issues that plague us at the Cathedral?
• Do I have any wisdom? Dare I continue preaching week by week when the more I preach the less I feel I have to say?
I wonder what your questions would be and are – and what you will do with the answers you find?
So with Job we ponder the great and the small questions of life, even as we get on with living the lives set before us – recovering from the WATU festival, struggling to get up tomorrow morning for work or school, coping with creaky joints and muscles, meeting new people, enjoying the creativity of the artists whose work is displayed here this week, helping others, making decisions – being the light of Christ in our world.
Where shall wisdom be found? Perhaps it is right here in front of us – in the words, hymns, canticles and prayers we have used tonight; even, perhaps especially, in the silence that settles on this sacred building at the end of a very long and busy weekend?