by Maria Evans
In our reading from Job, God is explaining divine might (and pushing at Job’s ego in the process) by bringing up Leviathan, and the impossibility of taming it. Now, I don’t know much about Leviathan, but I can tell you about the time I caught a 43 lb catfish. It was a long time ago–I was 13–and I’ve never caught a larger freshwater fish since.
My dad and I were running bank poles on the Chariton River and as we went up and down the bank with the john boat, one of the poles was bent over double. My dad and I color coded our poles when we did bank lines, so we made book on his fish vs. my fish–and this was one of mine. I was expecting to pull up a snapping turtle, so I had the line in one hand and a knife in the other to get ready to simply cut the line and not even mess with the turtle.
But as I pulled on the line, it was so heavy I couldn’t budge it. I put the knife down, and pulled with two hands–and up came the biggest fish head I’d ever seen! When that ol’ fish got sight of me, he got to flopping–and the fight was on. I felt like my shoulders were going to pop out of their sockets. I almost fell out of the boat twice. My dad couldn’t help because he was trying to work the motor to keep the boat near the bank (and yelling at me a lot). I finally had to take a boat oar and get it under the fish and flip him into the boat–and even then, the flopping was tremendous, and I put a cooler on top of him and leaned with all my weight to keep him from flopping out of the boat till we got to the landing. When it was all said and done, I’d been “finned” in multiple places. (As you can see from the photo, I’m actually not all that happy in that picture, because I’m smarting from the ordeal.) The fact that I had a huge catfish paled in comparison to the fact it was way more work than it seemed to be worth. (Not to mention it ended up being one of the awfulest-tasting catfish I’d ever eaten–just too muddy-tasting.)
Other than the fact I have a picture of a 43 lb. fish and me, in the end, I think I’d have been happy with a smaller fish–but my ego wouldn’t let me let it go. I thought I was big enough to take it on! Well, not so much.
Job Chapter 40 is actually the second time Job directly addresses God–and evidently God answering out of the whirlwind wasn’t enough. But when God turns the tables and asks Job to speak, following this second challenge, Job is silent. It’s not reflected in today’s reading because Job’s silence is noted in the omitted verses between Job 40:1 and 41:1–and really, his silence is actually a feigned submission. (“See, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth. I have spoken once and I will not answer; twice, but will proceed no further,” 40:4-5.) Our reading picks up on God’s frustration with that in his description of the un-tame-ability of Leviathan.
The Book of Job is complicated and uncomfortable, partly because the problem of “why bad things happen to good people” seems as incomprehensible to us as taming Leviathan, and the dramatic narrative in the book hinges on an image of God that is decidedly unfriendly and unloveable–most of us have no use for a God who lays bets with Satan over human lives, and roars back from our questions with sarcasm and anger. But as we see in the final chapters in the book, Job’s life and family are restored to him. We have to remind ourselves, however, that this is dramatic narrative with an anthropomorphized version of God, not history. The writer tries to comprehend the incomprehensible by assigning human emotions to God. Through the means that this story is told, the angry depiction of God gives way to a restorative side of God. This depiction of God is of one who rethinks positions.
Perhaps the one thing we can glean from our reading today is the uselessness of feigning submission to God. It simply gives us a 43 lb. catfish to wrestle–or bigger–that we’ll either never tame, or be left with a “prize” that wasn’t much of a prize other than the brief time it satisfied our egos. I believe that sometimes in the depths of our pain, we simply ask questions about things that have no answer, to a God who has the means to explain it to us when we are no longer corporeal, but not before–and it is we that are the ones constantly rethinking our positions. Feigned submission to God simply makes us dishonest to ourselves, angry at God, and does a disservice to the times we have truly turned to God, asking, “Let your will be done, and not mine.”
When is a time something felt like “God rethinking a position” and you discovered you were actually the one who had re-thought the position?
Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, is a grateful member of Trinity Episcopal Church and a postulant to the priesthood in the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri. You can also share her journey on her blog, Chapologist.
Image: William Blake……Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind
British, ca. 1825