After thirty chapters of silence, God finally speaks to Job. God answers with questions.
“Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?” (38:4)
“Where is the way to the dwelling of light?” (38:19)
“Have you entered the storehouses of snow, or have you seen the storehouses of hail?” (Job 38:22)
“Who has the wisdom to number the clouds?” (38:37)
“Can you send forth lightnings?” (Job 38:35)
“Surely you know, for you were born then” (Job 38:21)
God sounds a bit sarcastic in that last verse. Surely you know…
Job is confronted with the fact that, at some point, he was born, he has a birth date, the fact that he has arrived to existence quite late in the grand scheme. A whole lot of life has happened already, by the time he is born—a whole lot that he will never know. God confronts Job with the reality, the significance, of the fact that Job is a creature, not the creator—that Job is not in a position to know why the world is here instead of nothing, why existence, why life, why his life.
Let me recap the story of Job so far. At the beginning of the book, Job loses everything, he suffers devastating horrors, then there are over thirty chapters about God, with Job talking with friends about God, Job talking to himself about God, Job talking to us about God, and Job talking to God about God. With all of these words, Job and his friends try to work out their reasons for what has happened, the reasons for Job’s sufferings. They especially want to know what God has to do with all of it.
Then, after chapter after chapter of God’s silence, finally, at the end of the book, here in chapter 38, there’s a whirlwind, a tornado—as if Job’s life wasn’t already a whirlwind, as if he wasn’t already inside of a whirlwind, as if he hasn’t been suffering a whirlwind since the beginning. And in the whirlwind, God finally speaks.
I wish God’s words were more comforting here. That’s what I would have wanted to hear, if I were Job. A word of reassurance—that everything would work out for the good, that everything happens for a reason, that there’s a reasonable explanation for all of this, that the suffering will be justified.
All there is, in the whirlwind, is God’s voice as a whirlwind of questions, a realism about an uncontrollable world of experiences, and an honesty about a mysterious God who we’d like to control, if we could.
We know so little of this world, so little of this God, so little of our lives and the lives of the people we are called to love. We know so little. “Tell me if you have understanding” (38:4), God says to Job. “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” (38:2). Words without knowledge. That seems to be our situation. We know so little, only flickers of knowing awash with a night of ignorance.
I think the important thing about the story of Job for us, for our lives, is his persistent waiting—his return, chapter after chapter, to God, to keep on talking about God and to God; the way he presents his life to God, all his sufferings, and his expectation of a response. His patience is not passive. His waiting is not resignation. That’s what I think Job offers, in terms of an invitation for our lives—his persistent waiting for God in the midst of a world he can’t control, Job’s waiting for a God who he can’t control, his persistence as the best he can do in terms of faith, a trust in God.
Even if his persistence sounds like “words without knowledge,” Job doesn’t care. His conversation with his friends is a kind of hope—an invitation, a provocation, for God to join them, for God to set them right, for God to say something, anything. Job expresses his faith in a communion of words, a fellowship of words among friends, a sharing about God that connects one person to another, flashes of connection, of being together, of shared life, even if only in fragments, the fragments of broken lives gathered in the midst of whirlwind after whirlwind, but shared life nonetheless.
That’s what Job holds onto, he doesn’t let go of the hope found in a communion of words. And that’s what we have. We don’t know much, but we do know we have this, here—a return, week after week, in the midst of our whirlwinds, to these Scriptures and our reflections on God, the persistence of our prayers, spoken to each other, all as an expression of our hope, that God listens as we listen, and that God reaches out with help as we care for each other.
There is good news here, in this chapter towards the end of the book of Job. The good news in these verses that we heard today is that God wants what Job wants, that God joins the conversation, that God accepts the invitation to Job’s communion of words, God finally speaks with Job. After chapter after chapter of Job and his friends talking about God, we discover that God can’t help but be drawn in. God can’t help but want to be part of Job’s life, God can’t help but share life with Job, to share in the fellowship of words, because there’s a longing at the heart of God, a longing for communion with Job, a longing for communion with us.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve always wondered what God’s voice sounds like. I haven’t had the experience Job has had—with hearing the sound of God’s words in audible form. I do my best to listen for echoes, I guess, wondering if there are whispers of God’s voice in your words, when you speak here during worship, or perhaps a lyric in a hymn that we sing together. I try to listen for God’s response to me, to my thoughts, to my prayers.
The Psalmist has a lovely line about all of this, about how to listen to God, about how to wait for God. This from Psalm 104, verse 4, that we heard earlier in our service. “You make the winds your messengers,” the Psalmist says to God. “The fire and flame are your ministers” (Psalm 104:4).
God’s presence feels like the wind, sometimes a gentle breeze we don’t notice. According to the Psalmist, God flickers into our lives like a flame, burning in us with that same fire at the heart of God, a longing for a shared life, the comfort and joy found with one another, even in the whirlwinds, in the fragments of our lives held together in God, in God’s love for this world, in God’s love for you.
The winds are your messengers, fire and flame your ministers.