While in a dealership service waiting room waiting for my tires to be replaced this past week, I watched the news intently along with the other customers. We gasped at the devastation and destruction that Hurricane Ian had caused. As we spoke about the storm, I couldn’t help but think of the Book of Job. Does God send tempests as punishment? Are people in this world standing under signs of judgment? When I left, I began listening to audio files of God’s speeches in chapters 38–41 of the Book of Job. I understand that these speeches may be interpreted in multiple ways, but I think we need to heed Job’s story today more than ever.
You may remember the frame story in which righteous Job lost his money and possessions to raiders. Then came bad weather. Lightning struck and a whirlwind swept over the land with terrible force, killing all Job’s children. Finally, Job was afflicted with a horrible illness. All this was caused by Satan (Job 1:6–2:7). Job’s well-meaning friends offered justice-based explanations, but Job did not agree. He wanted to speak to God. In his quest for better answers, he repeatedly screamed, “Why?” His religious friends didn’t think God owed Job an explanation, but in the end, God showed up in the mighty Biblical whirlwind:
The Lord Almighty will come with thunder and earthquake and great noise, with windstorm and tempest and flames of a devouring fire.Isaiah 29:6
God comes with an intensity that Job is unable to resist. “It is not a quit insight, a simple act of appreciation. It is a startling event: a thunder in the world and a lightning in the soul” (Abraham Heschel, The Prophets, 1962, Vol. 2, p. 224). The description of the whirlwind not only induces a sense of awe but like flashes of lightning God unmasks the darkness surrounding Job so that he can see what is revealed.
The voice of Your thunder was in the whirlwind; The lightnings lit up the world; The earth trembled and shook.Psalms 77:18
God seemed to disagree with what had been happening to Job and took over to set thing right. He also appeared to scorn the theology that Job’s friends had been asserting—that Job was responsible for the crisis, that suffering and sickness happen for a reason, and that gaining God’s favor requires appeasing Him. The whirlwind affords a kind of truth that jolts us out of our narrow perceptions and into the sense that God provides. The whirlwind is not merely a natural phenomenon; it is a manifestation of God. Nature is not running the show.
Job heard God’s voice: God demanded to know whether Job had created the world and chastised him for thinking he knew how the world worked. God’s rebuke may seem overwhelming, but I believe He spoke this way to show that He had never lost control of this unfathomably complex world. Job needed to know that at his time of greatest turmoil and pain, God was still in charge and had never forgotten him. God’s transcendence surpasses man’s reason and sense of perception, and His omniscience whirls around those who know very little.
I imagine that hearing God’s voice was not fun for Job’s friends. They didn’t dare speak to God, yet Job insisted on it. His friends were afraid of hearing God, but I don’t think Job was. Wind can be frightfully powerful, as demonstrated by tornadoes and hurricanes, but the whirlwind through which God addressed Job was not like the devastating one that killed Job’s children. God rebukes such winds (Mark 4:39, 47–50; Job 9:8–11). It was more like the whirlwind that enveloped Elijah or the wind that swept over the waters at creation to bring order and beauty into existence. God did not cast thunderous lightning bolts from the whirlwind to force Job into submission; there was only His unavoidable voice. The Book of Job does not indicate that this voice was gentle, but the text from 1 Kings 19 gives us reason to believe it was (1 Kings 19:11–12). Though I suspect the revelation was nothing short of terrifying at first, there was then only a kind and gentle voice speaking to Job. How else would God speak to someone who is full of suffering? God’s redemptive Presence appeared amid a whirlwind as a comforting wind. When the Spirit came upon the disciples with “a mighty and rushing wind” (Acts 2:1–2), it was likewise for comfort, empowerment, and teaching.
Something powerful happened. Despite all the turmoil, disaster, and deception, God’s Presence appeared to Job. God revealed His rulership over all creation as He told of the wonders and beauty of His creation. He did not create this world to abandon us to pain and suffering. I love that God mentioned that the morning stars sang together in joy, as this tells me about His loving intention for creation. It was an occasion for joyous song.
It is true that God can use nature to cause times of trouble, but God wanted Job to notice that rain falls in deserts as well as on cultivated fields. That no one resides in deserts debunks the notion of causality; rains cannot be seen as punishment or rewards. God sends rain to the good and bad alike (Matthew 5:45).
I like that God revealed Himself out of the whirlwind as a midwife, parent, nurturer, provider, and giver. God’s speech showcases His loving compassion. He does not take away children and other loved ones. God is in the business of providing for ravens and caring for female mountain goats as they give birth (Job 38:41-39:4). He conveyed to Job that He was not a cosmic bully but a cosmic parent—one who provided for His creation.
God went on to describe how He had graced creation with freedom, allowing His creatures to run wild and free. He referred a lot to freedom, as if emphasizing its importance in His creation.
God then revealed the true source of Job’s suffering. As I listened to His words, I tried to think of Leviathan as Job did—a terrifying reality. What does this fire-breathing monster running loose in the world reveal? Leviathan was a threatening agent that wreaked havoc and brought ills to Job. Might it have been a literary device for portraying Satan and his activity in the world? Might this adversary—not God—have been responsible for afflicting suffering on Job? I can almost hear God saying, “I didn’t take everything away from you. It was Leviathan.”
God asked Job if he could do a better job at holding back such forces of evil. One can’t defeat evil by might or take Leviathan down with mere hooks. One can’t defeat him with violence or weapons of iron. God alone can defeat Leviathan.
Having received what his heart had been yearning for—a personal encounter and an intelligible answer—Job declared that he was “comforted over dust and ashes” (William P. Brown, Wisdom’s Wonder, 2014, p. 126). I really like Sigve Tonstad’s commentary: “Job gets the same sense that readers get from the frame story, first hand and in person. The voice from the whirlwind repairs the broken sense” (God of Sense and Traditions of Nonsense, 2016, p. 262). God proved to be Job’s friend, not the villain who took his money, children, and health. Job acknowledged that God spoke of many things that were beyond him, but he saw the truth about God with much greater clarity (Job 42:5). I think much of what came from the whirlwind surprised Job; perhaps it will also surprise us, moving us from our narrow perceptions and strong statements of certainty into the beauty of who God truly is. God rebuked the cruel remarks that falsely characterized Him while breathing new and meaningful insights into Job’s outlook.
Craig Ashton Jr.