A sermon from Job 38: 1-7, 34-41
First Baptist Church of Lynchburg
October 17, 2021
By Paul Dakin
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord our
Strength and our Redeemer. Amen.

“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” Job 38:2

We live in a world that is filled with words and sound and noise. It seems like we are bombarded
with words and information from the time that we open our eyes in the morning until we close them as
we drift off to sleep. It is really incredible when you think about it. TV talk shows…talk radio stations…all
kinds of talk videos on YouTube…news broadcasts in an age of the 24-hour news cycle. There seems to
be no escape from the barrage of words that we are subject to almost every day. I am sure that such a
constant stream of sound flooding our ears is unprecedented in the history of humanity. It’s not exactly
what they call “noise pollution. Noise pollution is considered to be noise generated from industrial
sources and urban living. I don’t think that there’s a generally accepted term for it, but it seems to me
that a useful term for the overload of words that we encounter each day could be the term “word
Many years ago, I remember visiting at a house for the first time. As soon as I stepped through
the door, I was overwhelmed with a sense of sensory overload. There were three televisions blaring
loudly in the house. Each was tuned to a different channel, and each seemed to be competing for
supremacy with the other two. Adding to the sense of chaos was a stereo system playing loud music in
another room—but it was loud enough to be easily heard where I was standing. The noise level was
overpowering. Honestly it was a shock to my system…
And it is surprising to me to see so many people plugged into their phones or whatever when
they are exercising or jogging. Especially for those who run outside on sidewalks near streets. It just
doesn’t seem safe to me. The runner listening to music or audio books or podcasts or whatever cannot
hear the approach of a car…or anything else for that matter. It seems to me that to engage in such
behavior is unwise and potentially dangerous…and yet it can be seen any day of the year…
The overload of words that we hear each day can sometimes drown out the important words
and messages that we really need to hear. As it is true in our daily lives, the same is true of the spiritual
life. When we are inundated with words, sometimes it is difficult to hear what God is trying to say to us.
The gentle promptings of the Spirit to us can be drowned out in the abundance of words which fill our
lives and our ears every day…
The opening line of Job chapter 38 says, “Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind.” For
the previous 37 chapters, Job has been complaining…and begging…and calling out for God to appear so
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that he can question him—actually, I guess, to put God on the witness stand as in a court case. Job has a
beef with God and he wants God to hear it. Additionally there has been plenty of talk about God and
speculation about who God is and describing God’s ways from Job’s friends. But in order to hear God,
Job and his friends first had to hush up and be quiet. And when they did, God finally had the chance to
have his say…
So God appears in a whirlwind. Why a whirlwind? This whirlwind is not a tornado or a
hurricane—or dorecho…as we have come to know them. Instead the whirlwind is a symbol of God’s
presence. Like the workings of God in our lives, it is a force that is not entirely understood and cannot be
adequately defined. It signifies that you cannot pin this God down. This God is dynamic. While our
definitions of who God is are quite often static, trying to put God in a box, trying to describe God as this
way or that way. To try to get a handle on God is like trying to catch the wind. For Job, God is a
whirlwind that he cannot entirely grasp…
For this chapter, and the three that follow it, God speaks. But God does not answer Job’s
questions. At least not directly. He brushes them aside and, in their place, God asks Job questions. He
asks Job questions about creation. He asks him questions about how God runs the earth and how God
takes care of the world and its creatures. He asks Job if he has any idea of the power that God wields.
And then he asks him if he can do the same. He asks Job if he can administer justice like he does. Job is
shamed into silence by his lack of understanding. The truth of the matter is that he has nothing to say.
Job is indeed shamed into silence. Not only is he silenced, but we discover that Job is a changed
man. But notice that it is not the content of God’s speech that changes him. It is not the knowledge that
God is God and he is not. It is not his ideas of God that has changed him. It is the fact that the God that
he had only heard about before has now become real. It is his relationship with God that transforms his
suffering. The evil that has befallen him is real. Yet he now knows the God who loves and cares for him.
And that love is real. In that love and care, he has learned to trust…
At the close of today’s service, we will be singing a hymn that has been described as “the
greatest hymn on Providence ever written.” It is a classic hymn that was quite popular with past
generations of Christian believers. No hymn book found at an English-speaking congregation would have
omitted it a hundred years ago. But it has appeared in fewer and fewer hymn books over the last fifty
years or so. I frankly think it is a shame. The literary quality of the hymn’s images plus the ideas that it
conveys are simply timeless. I honestly cannot think of any other hymn that touches on similar topics in
quite the same way or with such eloquence as this hymn. You should have received a copy of the hymn
along with your bulletin when you entered the sanctuary. The hymn is “God Moves in a Mysterious
Way.” We are going to spend some time unpacking the meaning of the hymn and relating it to the story
of Job. I would ask that you take your hymn sheet and follow along with me…1

“God Moves in a Mysterious Way” by William Cowper (1773). Words are in the public domain.
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“God Moves in a Mysterious Way” was written by William Cowper, one of the most celebrated
and accomplished British poets of his day. There is a fascinating legend surrounding the creation of this
hymn. It goes something like this:
William Cowper was a brilliant man who studied law at Oxford. But he was also one who
struggled with mental illness for most of his adult life. For long stretches of time, he would be perfectly
fine. And then, at other times, he would be plunged into dark periods of deep depression that could
sometimes last for weeks at a time.
Cowper was a religious and pious man. But in spite of his faith and his virtuous life, he was
haunted by the fear that the Lord had forsaken him. He felt as if he could not measure up to what God
expected of him. Consequently his mind was frequently overcast with confusion and despair. He felt
utterly alone and abandoned by God…and he came up with a plan to remedy the situation.
The story goes that, one evening in 1773, William Cowper decided to take his own life. He saw it
as a way of offering the ultimate sacrifice to God in an effort to please him and to gain God’s favor. So
he summoned his carriage and instructed the driver to take him to a nearby river. It was his intention to
jump into the river and drown himself there.
The carriage driver sensed what Cowper’s real intent was. So instead of driving straight to the
river, he took a long circuitous route through a nearby wooded area. While they were on the hour-long
drive, a dense fog rolled in from the river. Visibility was drastically reduced to almost zero.
Eventually, the carriage wound up back at Cowper’s home. The driver explained to Cowper that,
due to the pea-soup thick fog, he had been unable to find the road that led to the river. And so he had
returned. Cowper was overjoyed with the news. He saw it as a sign from God. Later reflecting on the
event and his foiled suicide attempt, he wrote a hymn that he titled “Light Shining Out of Darkness.” It is
the hymn that you have before you…
There are two main themes in the hymn “God Moves in a Mysterious Way” that I wish to call to
your attention. The first is that God’s ways are mysterious. You can especially see that in the first two
God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform.
He plants His footsteps in the sea and rides upon the storm.
Deep in unfathomable mines of never-failing skill,
He treasures up His bright designs and works His sovereign will.
God’s dealings with his people are sometimes inexplicable. There is no getting around it.
Sorrows overtake us for no apparent reason that we can figure out. It must be said that sometimes the
reason for our troubles is because of our own foolish mistakes and choices. Sometimes. And sometimes
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our troubles are due to the hurtful actions and designs of others. Sometimes. But in other instances,
there seems to be no obvious reason or source of the sorrows that plague us. We cannot discern why
what has happened to us has happened—or what God may be trying to teach us through our difficulties.
There are no explanations that we can discern.
Throughout the book of Job, Job does his best to understand the purpose for the calamities that
befell him in the first two chapters. Everyone has heard about the proverbial “patience of Job,” right?
Well, the truth of the matter is that Job was really not all that patient. In the midst of his pain and
suffering, he shouts out at the heavens, demanding to get God’s attention and wanting to confront the
Almighty with his complaints. He consults with his friends—who seem to be decent enough people—but
they are of no help. They have no more understanding of the ways of God than he has. They keep
offering him variations of the same old tired argument—that God is punishing Job for some unnamed
sin that he is guilty of. Eventually though, Job does get his wish. In today’s text, he is confronted directly
by God himself.
Yet, for all that, Job does not get the answers that he seeks to his questions. He learns nothing
that tells him why these awful things have happened to him. Instead he learns this: the way of God is
the way of trust through good times and bad, through thick and through thin. For the godly person,
discipleship is the way of courage to whatever life may throw at us and still retain our trust in the
goodness of God.
Faith does not judge God’s dealings with us by their outward appearances. That is one of the
things that Job learned. For even when the sky is black, God’s presence is near. This is what Cowper
means when he writes in the third stanza, You fearful saints, fresh courage take/The clouds you so much
dread/ Are big with mercy and shall break in blessings on your head. This is similar to what Jesus taught
his disciples when he told them that it is only the seed that is planted in the earth that eventually brings
forth new life…and promise.2
The second thing that we can take away from the story of Job and from the hymn is that God’s
way is skillful. God knows what he is doing. He knows what he is doing in the world and he knows what
he is doing in our lives.
We may not understand why bad things happen to us. We may not understand why God allows
such so much of the suffering that we see in the world—particularly when it seems that the people who
are suffering do not deserve it. But God is not shocked by it. It does not take God by surprise. God is fully
aware of our struggles and pain. And he can use them for his purposes even when we cannot recognize
them for what they are. The Apostle Paul tells us in Ephesians 2:10 that “We are his workmanship,

John 12:24.
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created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”3 God has been
working on us—and will continue to work on us—even in the midst of our hurts and pain…
Today’s sermon does not really have an ending. There is a reason for that. When it comes to the
subject of suffering, all of us as Christians are writing…and revising…and editing…our own endings to the
story of Job. All of us who walk in the ways of Jesus grow in insight and experience throughout the
course of our lives. Such insight and experiences lead to a better understanding of who we are in Christ
and who God is as our Creator and Lord.
Admittedly the answers to the questions that we ask—and to the questions that Job asked
thousands of years before us—leave us unsatisfied. There is no getting around it. In the final analysis, we
still have more questions than answers. We desire to know more and to understand.
But though our knowledge and understanding be limited, we give to God our lives, confident in
his goodness and care, knowing through faith that God loves and cares for each one of us. Thus we are
able to sing along with Cowper in the final stanza of the hymn:
Blind unbelief is sure to err and scan his work in vain.
God is his own interpreter, and He will make it plain.
And to God alone be the glory! Amen.

I am indebted to James H. Hodson, Hymn Studies—Their Message in Biography and Devotion (Londo