The Whirlwind

The Book of Job, like Ecclesiastes, like The Brothers Karamazov, looks askance at the world, at God’s world, at the evil in it, pervasive and possibly needless, and waits for the logic in the whirlwind. “I cry out to you, God, but you do not answer,” laments Job. When the whirlwind answers, or the world-wind, what does it say and what does it mean? “Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm.” God goes on, “Would you discredit my justice?” And elsewhere, “Who then is able to stand against me? Who has a claim against me that I must pay? Everything under heaven belongs to me.” This sounds, I think, like no theodicy at all, but the brute assertion of power mingling with a veiled threat: I can kill all of you without blinking

Recall now what God said to Abraham: “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love so much, and go to the land of Moriah. There on a mountain that I will show you, offer him as a sacrifice to me.” How bloodthirsty, yes? And more than bloodthirsty, cruel; it commands a father to kill his only son, “whom you love so much.” Yet we know the ending of that story. It was a test of Abraham, not a revelation of any bloodlust in God. Perhaps with Job it is the same: when God speaks in the whirlwind, it is not a revelation to Job, nor a theodicy of brutal voluntarism, but merely the final trial in the bet between God and the adversary. It is the worst of suffering: suffering in a maltheistic cosmos, a cosmos created and forever ruled by an evil God. Job is tested with the desolating inversion of the beatific vision: suffering without meaning, nor hope of meaning, and faith made ugly by a malicious God. Will Job “curse God” even here? No. He shows deference, loyalty, faith, even when, I think, he shouldn’t have. 

God won the bet in the profoundest way. The adversary had raised the stakes, incrementally decimating this and now that in Job’s life, but God raised the stakes to the maximum, to maltheism, thus the adversary’s loss counts as a total and irrevocable humiliation. Yet this divine move may be merely a move, not a revelation to Job, nor to us. What is a storm or whirlwind, if not an obscuring event? It is not clarity, light, open sky, but debris, darkness, cloudiness. The metaphor suggests something is hidden, not revealed. What is hiding is the God behind-the-trial, the God with higher purposes, whose nature is neither indifferent nor brutal, but good. This good nature is revealed elsewhere in the Bible, but not here, and not in the moment God asks Abraham to kill his son; and all that, we should think, is by design.

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