Job 38-41: Almighty God appears to Job in a Whirlwind
A whirlwind, tornado, destroyed the homes and took the lives of Job’s children, and now in Job 38-41, another whirlwind comes, this time not a destructive wind but an instructive wind of the voice of God. Yes, Job does get his day in court, but he doesn’t get to say much. God speaks to Job out of the tempest, the whirlwind (40:6).
Well, maybe God will explain why Job suffers. Maybe we’ll find out for all time why humanity suffers. Maybe not. God doesn’t really explain directly why Job suffers, nor why humanity suffers. Bummer. Forty-two chapters we’ve been reading, and many of us losing lives of loved ones, suffering chronic illness, pain, enduring evil from hateful people, seeing the corruption and destruction of nature in the world, and we don’t get our answer? Starting to feel like Job here. What gives?
God has two big things to say and indirectly these do help us deal with the suffering of Job, help us to know there are other options and ways to interact with the questions the story raises about suffering, evil people prospering, the silence of God, and how to react when God does speak truth into our lives!
First, God tells Job that running the universe is above Job’s pay grade, and that goes for Job’s friends, and us, too. Where was Job when the cosmos got spoken into being? Does he know how the horse has its strength or how it’s not afraid of battle? (39:19, 24). Who are you anyway to impugn the justice of God? Would you condemn me just so you would be right? Give me a break. That’s a loose translation, by the way, of Job 40:7-8.
Then God speaks about something people have wondered about for ages: the Behemoth (40:15-24) and Leviathan (40:25-41:26). No one has figured out what God is talking about here. Some think the Behemoth is a hippo, the Leviathan is a crocodile. Makes sense in the English text with other things said about the river they dwell in. Some see images of pre-historic dinosaurs or dragons of ancient mythology. They are beasts, for sure, but what do they represent?
I like Rabbi Kushner’s idea. Kushner says they represent a complex and dangerous world God creates not for safety but for the free will to love. The very free will to love, symbolized by these beautiful creatures and the detailed descriptions of God’s vast and mysterious and unfathomable creation, is available to us, but the same beautiful creation is also dangerous. The same passion that resides in us, the spark of the divine, the image of God that we bear, is what also allows us the free will to do evil, to choose to harm someone, to hate. This is a powerful idea that makes sense not just of the story of Job but makes sense of much of scripture. In what way?
Remember when the disciples of Jesus asked him about the blind man. They asked, “Who sinned that this man was born blind? The blind man himself or his parents?” The disciples were thinking pretty dualistically, either or thinking, but Jesus offers an alternative, a third way. Just as God to Job and the description of creation, that this is beyond Job’s understanding, so Jesus says, “Neither,” and really doesn’t explain exactly why the man is born blind, why he suffers with no sight. But God will be glorified in this, Jesus adds.
Likewise, there is a second thing that God says to Job after telling him that running the universe is too mysterious and complicated for Job to even comprehend, much less have the power to do, and that goes for his friends, and us, too. The second thing is that Job is not perfect, he’s presumptuous to think he can question God and impugn God’s justice, but he is honored by God for his honest questioning. God honors this honest questioning more than the flattering of Job’s friends, more than the formulas of Job’s friends, that try to paint the world into a box and put God there in it.
Consider the health and wealth gospel: it’s the same as Job’s friends proclaimed to Job. Baddies get bad. Goodies get good. The story of Job calls this into question. Job’s innocence calls this into question. Job’s friends didn’t want their wish dream about how the world runs to be disturbed. If good, God gives good. If bad, God gives bad. Makes everything easier. But Job comes along and upsets the apple cart, kicks it over and claims innocence and calls on God to respond.
Job’s and our only response when God shows power that overwhelms us is to pray humbly for God’s mercy. Pray honestly to God and pour out your heart. The story of Job seems to show that God honors Job’s honest but angry prayer over Job’s friends’ flattery. But Job also humbles himself for what he knows is overstepping. Yet, God says Job is more right than his friends, and we don’t get that Job really is truly totally blameless literally, but that God honors Job for his raw but honest prayer, and humbling himself in the face of the mysteries of the universe and God’s immeasurable power and mercy.
My raw and honest prayer this morning is for the suffering of women in this world, the country I live in specifically. Give women more of a voice than they’ve ever had in history, and help our churches to be on the forefront of hearing and acting where there is injustice. Where we might only see intractable injustices and feel hopeless, God you can be the redeemer of women in the world who suffer from sins ranging from sex trafficking to sexual harassment. Be their GOEL, their kinsman redeemer as Job prayed (Job 19), “I know my GOEL, my redeemer lives, and I believe that my redeemer will testify on the earth.”
Greg Taylor preaches for The Journey: A New Generation Church of Christ. Greg's wife, Jill, teaches math at Broken Arrow High School and Tulsa Community College. Greg and Jill have three adult children, Ashley, Anna, and Jacob. Greg is the author of many books, including his latest co-authored with Randy Harris, Daring Faith: Meeting Jesus in the Book of John.