People often find the whirlwind scene in the Book of Job difficult. How can God refuse to answer faithful, long-suffering Job’s questions as to why the righteous suffer? Instead, God awes him into silence.
To me, the whirlwind scene has always been the best part. That’s what led me to do my master’s thesis on Job at the University of Chicago Divinity School back when I was still healthy. Now, twenty years later and mostly bedridden with multiple disabilities, I feel this even more.
I believe God is revealing an important existential truth to Job: that the full context of our lives — in which we are to have faith — exceeds the terms of human questioning and judgment. As God rhetorically asks Job: “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the world?” (Job 38:4) This challenging question and the awestruck effect it has on Job points the way to deeper meaning in our lives.
Prior to losing my health, when I still resided in my home state of New Hampshire, I used to jog at sunrise after finishing my morning’s writing and before heading off for work. Most years I’d jog year-round. Winters I’d encounter small, hardy groups of crows that would number no more than a half dozen or so. I found their attitude instructive.
Black to white, warm to cold, crows in frosty air
Are simply there. Their attitude is in your face
Because your face occupies their space, and nothing more.
First and foremost, to the last, least and always,
Crows claim the world like a diamond claims its setting.
They are strident easily, without effort, overcoming you incidentally
Because you happen to be in their way.
Crows know one thing: what it is to be under the mothering sun,
Without question, without answer, without pause, with no
Cessation or respite or compromise from crowness till their little bodies
Wither like dry leaves on the earth they crown by dominating
With complete submission. More than unacknowledged eagles,
Crows flourish despite how little you and I care, charged with a ferocity
That is just as fierce as it must be and exceeds those requirements slightly
Because this is what crows have always done under the dying sun,
Consumed unknowingly by doing everything they can to be,
Flinging pointed sound-shafts, stinging as the wind that carries them,
Uninhibited revelry heard at a distance under a gray sky
Like brilliant fish leaping from the water at a distance, hard to make out,
Or flung innocently as light even when their joy singes antagonism
Because at times you and I stand far too close and in the way.
Crows wholly own the only knowable and shout it from our rooftops.
They own those too.
Most of us grow up with the assumption that having faith depends on things we can understand: a set of doctrines and their explication in theology and apologetics. What if it turns out that faith is truly existential — not a Kierkegaardian leap of faith, which is actually a leap to belief, but a reality already there for us to notice and accept? I think this is true, and that faith is most intimately and essentially related not to doctrine but love. In my experience, faith is more a function of being than belief.
This means that we can speak from out of the whirlwind too. You might say that God made us in his own mysterious image — mysterious not like human riddles and conundrums, but in our capacity to energetically participate in the creative, existential mystery of whatever the world is up to with us. At the eye of the storm we can know peace, strength, and a faith that passes understanding, finding ourselves at home with true mystery.