Essay / Blog

Out of the Whirlwind

The book of Job begins and ends with a puzzle. Why would God make a bet with the devil over Job’s faithfulness? And why, after everything God took away from Job, is his answer at the end of the book a satisfying one to Job? 

One of the oddest elements of this second puzzle, but perhaps its key, is that God comes to speak to Job out of a whirlwind. If I put myself in Job’s position, I don’t think I’d be pleased to meet God in this way. I imagine what it would be like, feeling pain in every part of my body and spirit, remembering my lost children, being surrounded by friends and a spouse who seem set on testing my resolve rather than bolstering it. If I were in that state, I would want God to come to me in gentleness. But God doesn’t bring comfort to Job, God challenges him.

Job’s experience of the whirlwind reminds me of laments David makes in the Psalms. In moments where the just are being persecuted, where the corrupt are prospering, how is it possible that God can be in control?

How long, O Lord, will you look on?…You have seen, O Lord; be not silent! O Lord, be not far from me! Awake and rouse yourself for my vindication. (Ps. 35:17, 22-23)

David begs God for a sign that he is in control, and the thing David is looking for God to do is to set things right – to punish the wicked and prosper the righteous. It is by enforcing order, by enacting justice, that God reveals his presence.

But both Job and David struggle, because there are long stretches of time in both of their lives when God doesn’t show himself by enforcing order or justice into their worlds. They both have to live in what feels like chaos, metaphorical and real whirlwinds, believing in spite of the evidence that God is still provident.

The heart of the question is this: Does God speak out of whirlwinds?

We expect God’s action to be characterized by order, justice and gentleness, which means that when we encounter chaos in the world or in ourselves the assumption is that God isn’t speaking. But in Job’s case, the chaos of a whirlwind isn’t just reconcilable with God’s providence, it’s the very means by which God reveals his providence. God uses chaos to teach Job that he is in control.

Those of us living in Orange County this weekend have had an unusual encounter with chaos – my house has been shaken by earthquakes every few hours since Friday evening. Even though none have been severe enough to cause any damage, the knowledge that they are continuing, and that the next one might bring my roof caving in on my head, has had its impact. I have been forced to come into contact with how little I can rely on the protections I have around me – my house, my workplace, the very ground that I walk around on.

This is not unlike the experience of those who have been healed miraculously. All of us rely on God’s graciousness for our good health at all times, of course, but if we’re honest, few of us ever feel it. But for the one who has been on the verge of death and has been delivered, the question becomes ‘for how long’? Suddenly, it is perfectly clear that every day is a gift from God, and that at any moment God may chooses to withdraw his merciful hand of healing.

Perhaps these are moments where God is, metaphorically, speaking out of the whirlwind. Sometimes he shows us his providence by expressing the perfect order of this world he has created. At other times, however, God communicates his providence by reminding us that he controls the chaos as well. It is through an encounter with the whirlwind that he reminds us that we are sustained by his mercy alone.

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