This is the fifth and final installment in my series on the book of Job. Search here if you would like to read the previous installments.
I now want to turn to the final chapters of Job. Chapters 38-42. I’ll give a quick overview of these 5 chapters, followed by a deeper dive into what I think is central to their meaning. What we will see is how Job’s experience of suffering opens out unto a deeper discovery of the heart of God the Father.
God Speaks out of the Whirlwind
In Chapters 1-37, Job has been unable to find the answer to the mystery of his suffering. His friends, he can see, are unable to do so as well. Their lengthy dialogue has filled many pages but has left Job dissatisfied and the reader bewildered.
Then something unexpected happens. Something wondrous. Something like sudden lightning.
God himself enters the dialogue. Out of the whirlwind, God answers Job. He addresses him. Often in the Old Testament God appears in a storm, as he does in Zechariah 9:14 and Ezekiel 1:4, for example.
Here, in Chapters 38-41, from the midst of the storm, God addresses Job. What exactly does He say?
He issues a series of rhetorical questions which aim at a pedagogical point.
Here’s a sampling:
“Where were you when I founded the earth? . . . Who determined its size? . . . Who stretched out the measuring line for it? Into what were its pedestals sunk . . .” (Job 38:4-6)
Like an architect of all created things, God speaks of laying the foundations of the earth, the placement and limits of the sea, the arrival of the morning, the reality of light, the sources of the sea, the gates of death, the wide expanse of earth, the storehouses of the snow, the channels built for the falling of rain. He talks of the function of clouds, the direction of lightning bursts. He speaks of the animal kingdom. What directs the lion in his hunting of prey? Or the raven? Who sets the months and the time for when the deer gives birth? He speaks of wild asses, wild oxen, ostrichs, the might of horses, their bravery in battle. He asks: by whose hand does the hawk soar? By whose command does the eagle build its nests in high places and hunts its prey with such prowess?
The implicit question arises: whence comes the wisdom that directs all this diversity of life?
It’s a broad survey of creation, in detail, in majesty, in the wisdom of all its parts. It is a kind of unveiling of the mind, the wisdom and the power of God, unveiled through a consideration of the created order of things. God is opening up before Job a vision of the wonder of creation. It is a kind of retelling of the book of Genesis, but in God’s own voice. God’s mouth to Job’s ear, as we might say. God speaking directly to Job, manifesting himself, in a way, to Job.
It’s an unveiling, an apocalypse, a revelation. (The meaning of the Greek word apocalupsis is an unveiling, a revelation).
Our modern mind might doubt that this is sufficient evidence to concede God’s authorship creation. But Job, in the story, hears God himself speak these things. It’s a theophany, a revelation of God to Job. Job responds by falling silent before the presence of God, which is what all the holy prophets do when they find themselves in the presence of God.
“Look, I am of little account,” he says, “what can I answer you? I put my hand over my mouth.
I have spoken once, I will not reply; twice, but I will do so no more.” (Job 40: 4-5)
The Place of Evil in the Divine Order
But God continues to speak.
Chapters 40 and 41 come next; these are a bit more difficult to interpret. God speaks of two mythic creatures, created by the might of God, Behemoth and Leviathan. These creatures seem to be primeval personifications of chaos and evil. God is saying He is the master and tamer even of the manifestations of evil and chaos in the world. Behemoth and Leviathan represent the most fearful creatures on earth but even these are as play instruments in the hands of God. In other words, in the grand survey of earth’s creation, creatures of evil and power have their place, but they fall within the grand design of God; they are subject to his power.
This thought hearkens back to that disconcerting image in the beginning of Job Chapter 1: Satan appearing in the halls of heaven, as one who received from God a certain territory in which to operate. But only up to certain bounds. Evil has its place in the world, in other words, but it is subject to God’s dominion.
After Chapters 40 and 41, Job appears to come to an understanding that the mystery of evil and suffering that he has experienced is not beyond the reach of God’s great arm. He replies:
“I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted . . . Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.” (Job 42:2-3)
This is an important statement. “I know that no purpose of yours can be thwarted . . .”
Job sees, in other words, the intense purposefulness of all creation, the wisdom and the reason tissued into all things. He comes to understand that somehow there is a purpose in what he has suffered. He has not yet been able to grasp this purpose, but in the light of God’s presence and word to him, he comes to trust that there is a purpose.
This is a big step.
He concludes with these words:
“I had heard of you with the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore, I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:5-6)
In other words, Job has had a vision of God. God has stood before Job, a little like Jesus stood before the disciples at the Transfiguration. Job stands before the transcendence of God and falls silent. He perceives that God acts in all things in wisdom. He believes this to be true of all things, including his suffering, and he repents of his prior words and laments.
Fast forward: God receives this repentance and restores the fortunes of Job. His suffering, in other words, gives rise to restoration and redemption.
I will not comment here on whether we find the redemption of Chapter 42 believable or satisfying. I simply make the observation that in this story, after his suffering, Job finds a redemption that exceeded his original blessings.
What is the Heart of This Passage?
With this as an overview of these final five chapters, I want to ask the question: what is the heart of this passage?
By way of answer, I am drawn to a single verse:
“Has the rain a father?” (Job 39:28).
This single verse seems, to me, to give the inner key to these chapters. God’s basic message to Job is:
Look at creation. It is evidence of my fatherhood. Look at the rain. The very being, the nature, the action of rain on earth springs from an act of my fatherhood. One of the primary ways I express my fatherhood on earth is through the created order that I called into being, that I have just set forth before you in a majestic discourse.
Think of it: what causes rain to exist? Why should it bring invaluable, life-giving water to the earth? Why is water drawn up from the earth, condensed in clouds, released upon our lands in intermittent intervals, to revive crops, to cool lands, to saturate soil? Why should rain exist? How did it come to exist?
“Has the rain a father” is God’s ways of saying to Job: rain is a concrete expression of my fatherhood. A generative gift written into the natural order.
Verse 28 continues, extending this generative imagery to dew, ice and frost:
“Has the rain a father? Who has begotten the drops of dew? Out of whose womb comes the ice, and who gives the hoarfrost its birth?” (Job 1:28-29)
Recall that we are listening in on a four chapter dialogue between God and Job about the nature of creation and the nature of God the creator. This is a longer exchange and one utterly unique to the account of creation in Genesis. God speaking directly to a person. God revealing his hand in creation. God saying, in effect, that in creation I have expressed my fatherhood, my wisdom, my power, my goodness.
Job has not yet understood the mystery of suffering in his life. God responds by saying, in essence:
And do you, as a rule, understand all that I do? Do you understand and comprehend the breadth and the length and height and the depth of what I have done in creation? From well before you existed to well after you have gone? From things you have seen to things you have not seen?
For some reason, God does not give Job the key to clearly understand why suffering has befallen him. But what God does do is reveal his guiding, fathering, creating, sustaining, ordering hand in creation. That is the essence of God’s response. He reveals himself. His nature. He gives evidence of the way he acts on earth. He illustrates his wisdom and goodness. That is what his voice communicates from the midst of the storm. It is for Job now to move from this revelation of God’s nature to an act of faith that He is acting as a father in Job’s life, though Job does not yet see it or understand it.
Has the Rain a Father?
Let us listen again to these words again, to these two verses which give the inner key of these four chapters:
“Has the rain a father? Who has begotten the drops of dew? Out of whose womb comes the ice, and who gives the hoarfrost its birth?” (Job 1:28-29)
These are words of paternity. They are words of maternity. They are words of engendering, giving being to, giving birth to. It is God revealing himself as Father, as creator, as giver of life. It is God revealing himself as having certain attributes of mother, of maternity.
Job is given to understand, then, that if God fathers the rain, the dew, the ice, the frost, then so, too, does God father all creation and all things – in the sense that he creates it out of love, imparts existence to it out of love. The foundations of the earth, the placement and limits of the sea, the reality of light, the cloaking of darkness, clouds, lightning. The animal kingdom in its vast complexity. All of it reflects God’s fatherhood. So, too, it would seem, does all that tissues Job’s experience. That is the message here.
But get this. God who is largely invisible, unknowable, difficult to name in the Old Testament: this God stands before Job, in the storm. He reveals his nature as father, origin, engenderer of the created order. It’s the same message as is revealed in Genesis, but here it is delivered from God’s mouth to Job’s ear. God’s revelation here invites Job to see his experience of suffering within the overarching mystery of God’s fatherhood. God is Creator, but he is also Father.
Whom the Lord Loves, He Fathers
This thought calls back to mind a verse we considered in a previous post:
“‘For whom the Lord loves, he disciplines; he scourges every son he acknowledges.’ Endure your trials as “discipline”; God treats you as sons.” (Hebrews 12:6-7)
In that previous post (here), we discussed how the word translated as “discipline” (paideia, in Greek) is better understood as “fathering” because it represents an action that is at once stern, tender and loving – all at the same time. So we might paraphrase the above verse, as follows:
The Lord fathers those whom he loves. Receive therefore all the seasons of his fathering. For God treats you as his children.
This translation neatly captures the essence of the insight that is given to Job in the heart of his dark night. Job’s night does not end in darkness; it is a moving toward the dawn. We might say that, in the end, Job’s suffering has been a paideia, an experience of God’s fathering. It has led him, after the crucible of suffering, unto a mountain top, like the experience of the disciples on Mt. Thabor. There he stands before the presence of God and comes to better understand the mystery of God’s Fatherhood. There he is given a revelation of God unlike that given to any other prophet. Four full chapters of revelations, from God’s mouth to Job’s ear. God speaking out of the storm, out of the night, into the soul of Job. Not fully explaining the mystery of suffering, as though in a math formula, but letting him know that his suffering is wrapped up in the mystery of God’s fathering.
As I see it, Job has lived a prophetic mystery. The mystery of night. The mystery of suffering. A mystery that Jesus will reveal later, in the fullness of time. A mystery hinted at by Isaiah in Isaiah, Chapter 53. A mystery incarnated by Jesus, borne beneath the whips and the scourges of the Roman soldiers. A mystery unveiled, though behind a cloud, when Jesus shouldered the heavy cross beam and carried it to Golgotha, where he was pierced by three nails, in hands and feet, and later by a sword stroke to the side. That mystery, that suffering, so unpleasant to look at or think deeply about, was the mystery Job’s suffering pointed towards. Job foreshadowed the Cross.
The mystery of Job’s suffering cannot be explained; it can only be contemplated through lived experience and faith. It was a prophesy of the Cross, a kind of pre-enactment, a foretaste of something deeper still to come in Israel’s march toward full revelation. Job was given the task of carrying and proclaiming a central mystery of our redemption. To live it in act, even if he never fully understood it in rational thought.
To reveal to all the children of Israel that night is not the final story. Dawn is the final story. The Father’s dawn. The rising, the emergence the unveiling of the Father’s love. The redemption that comes from the Father’s hand. The deliverance – indeed the resurrection – of the soul that passes through night.
Show Me the Father
As I prayed over these chapters, I found myself wanting to share in the grace given to Job. I wanted to receive a vision of the Father that would pierce my own experiences of night with the light of the Father’s presence. With the sound of his voice.
I found myself crying out with Philip, “Show me the Father. That will suffice for me” (See John 14:8). If only I could receive a vision of God like Job did; if only I could hear the voice of the Father like Job did . . .
Then it struck me. I seemed to hear the very words Jesus replied to Phillip, when Phillip made his request to see the Father:
Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you for so long a time and still you do not know me, Philip? Who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? (Jn 14:9)
Who has seen me has seen the Father . . .
There’s something about the juxtaposition of God the Father speaking to Job, detailing the divine order of creation, and Jesus, here, standing in front of Phillip, revealing to him one of the great mysteries of the Trinity. Who has seen me has seen the Father.
This simple phrase, this summons, reminds Phillip and us that the Father and the Son are one. That to see Jesus is to see the Father of all creation.
What a magnificent truth.
The Eyes of the Heart
But what kind of seeing is this, for us, today? Can we ‘see’ Jesus in a way that enables us to see the Father? Do we have sight like that? Do we have faith like that?
If not, what is it that blocks us? That makes us feel like still there is a cloud that prevents this seeing?
Maybe it’s because we want to “see” with the rational mind what can only be “seen” by the spiritual faculty of the heart.
It’s as though there is a cloud occluding our sight, as it did for the Israelites, as it did for the apostles on Mount Thabor.
“While Peter was still speaking, a cloud came and cast a shadow over them, and they became frightened when they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my chosen Son; listen to him.” After the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. They fell silent and did not at that time tell anyone what they had seen.” (Lk. 9:34-36)
I believe we can see through this cloud. That we can see with the eyes of the heart. I believe this is our Christian inheritance. This is the sight the Father wishes to give us. A sight that must content itself sometimes with outlines, seen through a cloud of unknowing. But a sight that grows clearer as our faith grows stronger.
Just as we see better in the dark by remaining, for a time, in the dark, so we can see better through the cloud, by remaining for a time, in the cloud, looking with faith toward Jesus.
As I think of it, maybe the clearest way to see Jesus is through the cloud, the cloud of unknowing. This cloud by which the Spirit descends upon the soul, quieting the rational mind and opening the eyes of the heart. Maybe the cloud (the Spirit) moves us toward a kind of passageway from the rational faculty of knowing to the spiritual faculty of knowing. And maybe, paradoxically, suffering helps facilitate this passage, as Edith Stein writes, from sense to spirit.
Lord Jesus Christ, son of the living God, you reveal the face of the Father. The unknowable you make knowable. The unhearable, you make hearable. The untouchable, you make touchable. I forget. I fail to believe that those who see you, see the Father. That those who hear you, hear the Father. Have mercy on me a sinner. Help my unbelief. Lead me through God’s fathering into a deeper encounter with you. Lead me through my nights into a deeper encounter with the Father.