You know what we need here? An audio version of the book of Job. I don’t mean one recorded by some actors long after the fact. No, I mean a live recording of this conversation between Job and the Voice of God. I know, I know, I argued earlier in this series that this story is probably more like a parable than a historical event. So, it is likely that this wasn’t an actual conversation that took place on some dung heap somewhere in Uz. But still, think of what it would be like to actually hear these words spoken out loud, rather than reading them in a book. I need to know how to shape the voice in my head.
The question behind this rather quixotic musing is, “What is the mood in which these words were spoken?” You know what I mean? Our assumption, or perhaps our fallback understanding, is that God is angry, shouting at Job for daring to question, for daring to challenge, the divine hand at work in the world and in his life in particular. “Who is this who darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” That doesn’t sound like a happy dance going on behind those words. Certainly, there is plenty of evidence for this strident, booming divine wind of a voice flattening trees and leveling mountains as it rages from the very mountains the speech discusses. The whole thing comes at Job from a whirlwind, for heaven’s sake. You don’t get cheerful pats on the back from tornadoes. And then the words themselves speak of a celestial pique at the way honor has been dragged through the mud of Job’s suffering. And perhaps the most convincing argument for this as supernatural outrage is how Job responds to the encounter. You have to go another whole chapter and a bit to get to Job’s understandably subdued response, and we’ll get to that next week. But this rant, if rant it is, goes on for a while. God is in the zone with this one.
In fact, our assigned verses barely do justice to the speech. Read the whole chapter; read two chapters; or even better, read four chapters and maybe you’ll come close to approximating the full effect of the visitation. Some of the greatest poetry in literature anywhere can be found in these chapters of the book of Job. Bask in the wonder and the beauty and majesty of these words for a moment. Stand in open-mouthed awe at the scope of creation, presented here as a divine, no, as THE divine work of art since time began. Scan those verses and pull out the phrases and the images that take your breath away and drop them like pearls throughout the sermon and the act of worship this day. This is God in all glory and power and majesty.
That is what makes me wonder. The sheer majesty of these words makes me wonder if it was not anger, not rage that drove this moment, but simply God being God. Think of Moses on the mountain and God passing by enough to so transform the countenance of Moses that when he returns the people shy away in fear at the residue of glory that clung to his face.
Of course, Job would be cowed by that; of course he would bow down; that’s what happens when one encounters something approximating the full presence of God. The disciples in the boat, when they get an inkling of who Jesus really is, they fall down. Simon even says, “go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man.” Echoing, of course, Isaiah in the temple of the lord, who sees only the hem of the robe spilling into the common space and crumples to the ground, all too aware of his sinfulness.
Risky, I realize, but what if God isn’t angry, or isn’t angry at Job? What if God is simply (simply in divine terms, you understand) giving the Creator’s case the way Job wanted to give his personal case? What if, even more risky, God is wooing Job by talking about the nature of the Creator? Woah, too far, you might think. I know, it seems odd to me too. But at the end of this long speech, God turns to the comforters and condemns them and their words (all of which we must leave for another worship series, since the lectionary left out all their speeches. Or maybe the supporting Bible study for this worship series could delve into the middle of the book and wrestle with just how much “comfort” these friends provide.) As a part of the condemnation of the friends, God honors Job. “My servant Job,” he is called. God is clearly on Job’s side; God considers Job a companion of sorts.
Sure, God can pivot from anger to love just like any of us. But what is the image of God that we provide our hearers if we present some of the most beautiful words to come from the mouth of God to be words of wrath and rage? Maybe, another risk, this is a moment that prefigures what the theologians call the “condescension” of God, choosing to come down and meet us where we are and meeting us in love and in beauty. Maybe this whirlwind is not the destructive tornado that punishes and destroys, but instead a new wind that blows in a new vision of God and a new way of relating to the one who loves us so completely.