“The Art of Living Meaningfully”
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We are now in the second half of our summerlong journey through the book of Job. From the beginning of this series, we’ve been talking about existential questions. Questions that have to do with the foundations of our lives. This morning we’re looking at the question from which we took the title for this whole series.
“But where shall wisdom be found?”
When we’re talking wisdom here we’re not talking about decision making, knowing what choice to make when various choices are laid before us as in a type of “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood” situation. The ability to discern and choose in any given circumstance is part of wisdom and it plays a part in our everyday lives of course, whether we’re talking about what we’re going to eat to where we are going to go to school or where we are going to live etc. This is part of wisdom and I pray for that, as I was telling someone recently. The story of Job gets very deep and as we look at Job 28 though we’re talking about something deeper. We mentioned some weeks ago the question “What is real?” or “What is the thing that’s worth basing your life on?” What is the thing that is worth making the foundation of your life? Someone has described it like this – the art of living meaningfully. What is the art of living meaningfully?
Deep questions I know. Meaning of life type questions. Where do you find meaning? The type of question you might think you need to search out the answer to. The type of question one may think one has to go to the wise person on top of the mountain to find out. Is this the case? Where is wisdom to be found? Is it something we need to seek out? Is it something we are to possess? Let’s ask for God’s help as we look at the 28th chapter of Job this morning before we gather around the Lord’s Table.
When we get to this point of the story the talking is over for a little while. Job and his three friends have been cycling through a conversation. Job’s friends have been trying to tell him that he or his children must be to blame for what has happened. They’ve been espousing cosmic retributive justice as Pastor Abby put it last week. They’ve been making the case for instrumental reason. Cause and effect. Effects have causes. All effects have causes and can, therefore, be explained. We like that because it enables us to make sense of the world. Job has been wondering about the justice of God, his own integrity or uprightness, and how this can be reconciled with his current situation. He’s physically afflicted. He has lost possessions. He has lost his sons and daughters. Much talk has occurred, but nothing has been resolved and God has so far remained silent.
Then we get what our NRSV Bibles call an Interlude. It’s a soliloquy like the one we heard from Job in chapter 3 before the conversation began. The same kinds of questions that were posed there are being posed here. There is no consensus as to who it is that is giving the soliloquy. Some say a narrator. Some say Job. I have no reason not to think it’s Job. It’s a matter of interpretation but let’s go with it because we have to go with something. Nothing has been resolved through all the talking. Throughout though Job is seeking God. He’s not turned away, even in his despair. He’s not listened to his friends who are telling him that he must repent because effects have causes. He’s continuing to come before God wanting to hear God and wanting to pose his questions to God.
And we come to this one – Where shall wisdom be found?
But before we get to it we have these verses describing how we look for precious metal and gemstones. He’s talking about human ingenuity. Human know-how. Human know-how will not get us to wisdom. That does not mean that we discount it. It enables people to plumb the depths. To put an end to darkness and search out to the farthest bound, the ore in gloom and deep darkness.
There are a couple of things going on here. We’re talking about mining yes. About finding treasures stored in the deepest darkest recesses of the earth. These are paths that no bird of prey knows, and the falcon’s eye has not seen it. It takes ingenuity to get there. It takes work. It brings forth silver and gold and iron and copper and sapphires.
Precious things come out of plumbing the depths. Precious things come out of plumbing the darkness. Previous to this chapter in Job we’ve heard about darkness in purely negative terms. “Let me alone, that I may find a little comfort before I go, never to return, to the land of gloom and deep darkness, the land of gloom and chaos, where light is like darkness.” (Job 10:22) There’s also been an idea of something coming out of darkness – something good potentially “He uncovers the deeps out of darkness, and brings deep darkness to light.” (Job 12:22)
What we see here is this happening. Job is talking about miners bringing light to dark places and in so doing unearthing treasure. We’ve been talking from the first week of July about this story giving us a chance to hear deep crying out to deep – the deepest part of God calling out to the deepest part of us. In sitting with Job’s suffering. In sitting with our own suffering and the suffering of those around us, we have the opportunity for deep to cry out to deep. We have the opportunity to ask the question “Is God worthy of our worship and love and adoration and attention no matter what is going on?” We have the opportunity to ask the rhetorical question “Why are the righteous pious?” or in other words “Why do you continue to worship and adore and love and venerate God in any circumstance?” and answer with our lives.
When we face suffering we’re no longer staying on the surface the way we may when things are good. Bread comes from the earth and that’s a good thing we read in v 5, but underneath it is turned up as by fire. Stones that blaze like fire. Miners put an end to darkness and search out to the farthest bound. Job has been looking into the darkness of his own life. He’s been doing, in a way, the very thing of which he speaks here. Their eyes see every precious thing. Hidden things are brought to light. We are confronted with the essentials. I was talking to my dentist this week about our experiences during COVID and we were speaking of the opportunity to have things stripped away and in many cases being forced to stop and assess and ask the question “What is important here?”
And so we ask the question along with Job “Where shall wisdom be found?”
It’s not something to be found in human ingenuity or in a volume of words. It’s not something that can be commodified. It’s not something we can go looking for. We don’t need to go searching for it on the top of a mountain. It can’t be found in the land of the living or the deep. It cannot be bought – gotten for gold. The good life cannot be bought, no matter what retailers would have us think, no matter what advertising would have us think. It can’t be valued. Gold or glass can’t equal it. It can’t be exchanged for jewels of fine gold.
Wisdom is not something that we have to find. I’m reminded of the young person who asked once “How do I find my spiritual path?” How do I find my path (speaking of two roads diverged in a yellow wood) as I go along this road of life with all its twists and turns and valleys and switchbacks and peaks and potholes and all things which we encounter on the road of life?
The answer is of course that Jesus has already made the path. Jesus goes alongside us on our path as we go along together.
This is where God comes into Job’s soliloquy. The really interesting thing here is that wisdom is not seen as an attribute of God. Wisdom is not seen here as something God is. Wisdom is rather something that God has established. It is something that God understands the way to. It is not something that we possess any more than truth is something that we possess. It is not so much a destination as a way that we follow in the same way that the Truth is someone we follow. Wisdom is something that is discovered in God's creative action! “He looks to the ends of the earth and sees everything under the heavens.” (28:24) All of creation in other words. “When he gave to the wind its weight and apportioned out the waters by measure when he made the decree for the rain, and a way for the thunderbolt;” (28:25) What happened then? “then he saw it and declared it, he established it and searched it out.”(28:27) And when God was creating wisdom delighted and when God creates wisdom delights.
They call these wisdom books. Wisdom is found in the creative acts of God and the way to wisdom is for us to enter into such acts. How do we do that? The fear of the Lord. We hear this in Proverbs too. “Do not be wise in your own eyes, fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.” (Prov 3:7) The song that Pastor Abby will sing in a while is one that Bob Dylan wrote when he recorded his gospel albums back in the early ’70s. It contains the line “Soon as a man is born the sparks begin to fly.” This is taken from Job 5:7 “But human beings are born to trouble just as sparks fly upward.” The song goes on “He gets wise in his own eyes and he’s made to believe a lie.” Are we relying on ourselves for meaning or listening to any one of the myriad lies we hear about where we need to find wisdom – where we need to find our foundation? The song is a response of gratitude to the creative action of God. “What can I do for you?” it asks. Here is what we are invited to do. We’ve said that wisdom is found in the creative action of God. Meaning, purpose, foundation is found in the creative act of God and when we accept the invitation to gather around our Lord’s Table we respond The way to wisdom is the response of fearing and revering and loving and adoring and paying attention to our creative God. And being thankful. We don’t call this meal the Eucharist – thanksgiving – for nothing. When we go from the table we pray for God to take in us our thanks for and wonder at God’s creative love for us and reveal it in our words and actions as we go through our days.
It’s been said that this is a rather banal conclusion to this hymn to wisdom in Job 28. “Truly the fear of the Lord is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding.” We may think “Yeah yeah I’ve got that, I’ve heard it a million times before.” If we are thinking that then let us plead to God to restore to us the joy of our salvation. Let us never take for granted the creative saving work of God. Whether we are in the midst of great suffering or great joy (and often we’re in the midst of both aren’t we?) let us in the midst of our individual and collective situations plead with God that we may see what seems like familiar territory with news eyes and news hearts, created in us by our loving God. Amen.