Avril at Romsey

… and Lancefield and Riddells Creek and Mount Macedon

Job and Peter Parker: Sermon for October 18

Job 38:1-7, 34-41

I am a reader of comic books. Mainly the Marvel comics: the X-Men and the Avengers and my favourite, Spider-Man. When family and friends give me the weird “why are you reading that?” look, I explain that comic books are full of deep and meaningful explorations of life’s big questions. And usually my family and friends snort and walk away.

Issue 40 of The Sensational Spider-Man is called “The Book of Peter”. In it Peter Parker, who as a high school student was bitten by a radioactive spider, is having an extremely bad time, culminating in his Aunt May, his last remaining family member, lying in a coma after being shot. Peter goes to take his anger out on a dumpster and in the middle of destroying it is interrupted by God, who looks a little like a homeless New Yorker. God and Peter then have a discussion about the meaning of human suffering. Peter asks God if he’s being punished for something, or tested, and God says no, human suffering is a mystery. God’s exact words are: “Hard to explain why it’s necessary to someone who wasn’t there when the foundation of the earth was laid … or when the walls were built around the oceans …”

And this is why I love comic books. Because in the middle of a Spider-Man comic, God references the Book of Job.

This is the third week that we’ve spent with Job. In the first extract the lectionary gave us, we saw Job losing almost everything he had: family; wealth; material possessions; health, as the result of a bet between God and Satan. In that first extract Job was apparently coping, demanding of his wife: “Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?” Then, in last week’s reading, after various conversations between Job and his three friends, we had Job mourning the absence of God and demanding that God face him so Job could argue his case; that he is a righteous man who doesn’t deserve what’s happening to him. In this week’s extract, God does finally appear. Job is able to confront God and demand that God answer for all his suffering. But the answer God gives isn’t what Job expected.

We, who have read the Book of Job from the beginning, know that Job’s right – he is a righteous man. And we know that there could be an easy answer to the question of why he suffers. God could tell Job about the bet with Satan, explain that it was all a test of Job’s virtue, and reward Job for not turning away, despite his anger with God. But God doesn’t. Job never receives an answer to his questions; why do the righteous suffer, why do the wicked seem to escape punishment. What happens instead is that Job has an experience with the living God.

From the whirlwind God questions Job: “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?” God’s rhetorical questions of Job go on for four chapters, describing the breadth of the creation. Job has been questioning God’s treatment of him and of other human beings; God points out that whatever humanity may think, there’s more to the world than them. God’s creation is rich and full – and not just made for humans. As God points out, it rains on lands where no one lives, satisfying waste and desolate ground. God has made wild animals as well as domesticated ones: God asks Job: “Is the wild ox willing to serve you? Will it spend the night at your crib?” God’s description of Creation, doesn’t just include animals; it includes monsters – Behemoth and Leviathan. No wonder that after God’s long list of rhetorical questions Job answers: “I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.” The great flood of questions has one answer – we can’t do what the Creator can do. We are not God. This response to the question of human suffering isn’t comforting, but it is one that neither we nor Job can argue with. God is God. We aren’t.

And yet the fact that God answers at all is a vindication of Job, and an answer to his prayer for God to appear. As we know, in the end God praises Job, and says that Job has spoken rightly. Unlike Job’s friends, God doesn’t suggest that Job has sinned; only that Job is creature and not Creator. God treats Job with respect and doesn’t demand repentance or an apology. God’s relationship with humanity allows humans to argue, complain, be angry, as Job does.

After God’s great speech, Job is a changed man, but it’s not just the content of the speech that heals him. It’s also the fact that a God whom he had only heard about has now come to him personally. Job meets God and discovers that the God he accused of being absent; the God of whom Job said: “If I go forward, he is not there; or backward, I cannot perceive him; on the left he hides, and I cannot behold him; I turn to the right, but I cannot see him,” has actually been keeping a very close eye on him.

Back to Spider-Man and his discussion with God about the meaning of life. As the conversation ends God says to Peter: “you know, if it’s any consolation … I’ve asked a lot more from people much closer to me than you.” The God who appears in Job reveals the majesty and ultimate otherness of God. But we know that this majestic and transcendent God is the One who also came in the incarnation in Jesus Christ. The God who is overwhelming in the face of Job’s personal concerns is yet one who in Jesus Christ has experienced human struggle. One of our answers to the question about suffering that Job asks is that in Jesus God suffers in solidarity with humanity. It might not be much consolation to Peter Parker but, as the God who appears in the comic book implies, in Jesus God has experienced the worst that humanity can experience, including the very absence of God.

The question of human suffering is such a burning one that it appears not only in high art and biblical books like the Book of Job, but also in pop culture and comic books like the “Book of Peter”. It’s a question to which we will never find the final answer in this life, but one that both Job and Spider-Man encourage us to keep exploring.

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October 19, 2009 - Posted by | Ministry, Pop Culture | ,

5 Comments »

  1. I’ve never snorted and walked away when you’ve mentioned that you read comics. In fact I heartily recommend that you read more comics, and help feed your addiction by giving you stuff to read. The Bible on the other hand … that will rot your brain.

    Comment by Pete | October 20, 2009 | Reply

  2. Thanks for a great sermon, Av. Poor old Job — and Spider-Man — grapple with one of life’s biggest questions. I am reminded of 1 Cor 2:7, where Paul refers to “God’s wisdom, secret and hidden.”

    Comment by Olivia | October 25, 2009 | Reply

  3. Lovely. Interestingly, this is the second blog entry I’ve read this morning about comics, the other was over at http://www.martynpedler.com/, about Batman.

    Comment by thecarriageheldbutjustourselves | November 13, 2009 | Reply

  4. Ha! Ha! I used to read The Savage Sword of Conan in Marvel until it got cancelled…perhaps not as philosophically inclined as Spiderman but a hell of a lot of fun.

    Seriously, though, I love the Book of Job and have been overjoyed at having the opportunity to preach on it this year. Thanks for your thoughts, Avril.

    Comment by stillcircle | November 25, 2009 | Reply

  5. Waow loved reading your article. I added your rss to my reader!

    Comment by Immerypaype | December 10, 2009 | Reply


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