Answers Blowin’ in the (Whirl)Wind?
Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind: “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me. – Job 38:1-3 (NRSV)
Let’s be honest: the God of Job 38 must have skipped class the day pastoral care was taught. After Job spent all that time—dozens of chapters—begging God and his community for a reasonable explanation for his suffering, God sidestepped the question. Instead, God cued the whirlwind and pulled receipts. “Have you seen my work? Who’s God here, you or me?”
For many people, God’s speech to Job is unsatisfying at best and insulting at worst. Every time I read it, my gut reaction is “Ouch!” followed by “Yikes!” followed by “But what have you done for me lately, God?!”
As we live through realities that seem to take us from grief to grief, we desperately crave a balm in this Gilead. We want soothing words and delicate touch. And we deserve them in the midst of our pain.
But what I’m reluctantly and at times resentfully learning is that God’s response isn’t always pastoral, in a warm and fuzzy sense. God may instead give us hard-to-hear answers to questions we didn’t ask:
No, human beings are not the center of this wild and unpredictable universe. No, our faithfulness does not guarantee us a life free from precarity. Yes, wounds are where the light can finally enter, doing the tender work of showing us what James Baldwin called “the doom and glory of knowing who you are.” And we can only know who we are as we make ourselves vulnerable in community with others. Perhaps God’s invitation to us when we are feeling most desperate is to look around at all of creation. We might be able to find solace in our collective struggle to stay hopeful and alive in a world filled with both beauty and pain.
God, our pain often overwhelms us, and all we want is immediate relief. In the meantime, help us experience the comfort of connection in the ashes while we’re waiting for the beauty to return.
Rev. Naomi Washington-Leapheart is a Black queer preacher, teacher, and agitator. She is an adjunct professor of theology and religious studies at Villanova University and is the founder of Salt | Yeast | Light, where she develops spaces of theological candor, disruption, reflection, transformation, and public action.