Life from the whirlwind
We think of Job as a pious man, a man who bore up under suffering well – and unjust suffering at that. Nothing tells us that Job “earned” the loss of his children, his house, his wealth, or his health. All Scripture tells us is that Job got caught between God and Satan. Satan bet God that Job would stop following him if God took everything from Job. God took the bet and told the devil he could do everything but kill Job; which the devil did quite effectively.
And Job seemed to handle it well. So well he remains a pious platitude: “the patience of Job.” When his wife pressed him to curse God, he reminded her that he came into the world naked and he’ll leave naked. When she kept at it, he said, “It wouldn’t be right to accept only good from God and not also the bad.”
Later, under a withering blast from three “friends,” each of whom tries to convince Job that he did something to earn God’s punishment – “Just admit it you self-righteous snob!” – it’s Job who speaks an Easter treasure: “I know that my Redeemer lives! I will see him, in this flesh, with these eyes, in the resurrection!”
In other words, we think of Job as the hero of the book that bears his name. He stands up well under the pain. He rebukes his three well-meaning, but wrong, friends. He puts his wife in her place. He looks to the resurrection for comfort and hope.
Except, he doesn’t always. He edges close to cursing God. Time and again he says, “Would that I had never been born!” Time and again he asks questions, all while trying to defend himself and God; still, he comes close to the edge. Close enough, that when God deems the time right, he blasts even Job. “The LORD answered Job out of the storm…. Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you and you shall answer me.” The LORD lets fly with a litany of rhetorical questions.
“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundations? Tell me, if you understand.”
“Have the gates of death been shown to you? Have you seen the gates of the shadow of death?”
“What is the way to the abode of light? And where does darkness reside?”
“Surely you know, for you were already born! You have lived so many years!”
“Will the one who contends with the almighty correct him? Let him who accuses God answer him!”
“Would you condemn me to justify myself”?
“And if you can answer, then act like the god that you are! Thunder down from your mountain, then I myself will admit to you that your own right hand can save you.”
Our first inclination is to blubber. “But, but, but.” Job knew better. “I am unworthy – how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth. I spoke once, but I have no answer – twice, but I will say no more.” Which you’d think would put an end to things, but the LORD says, again, “Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me.” And after this second go-round, Job says, “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know….My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”
Somewhere at home I have a button that says, “Don’t follow me. I’m lost.” Here Job puts that button on. We do it each week when we confess, “I, a poor, miserable sinner.” What is our great sin? Well, to borrow from Browning, “Let me count the ways.” But it’s mainly one that Paul has in mind today. I bet you were wondering if I was confused, had perhaps forgotten in all the excitement of a new baby aborning, that our text came from Paul’s Romans, not Anonymous’ Job. No, I didn’t. But what you can’t see, unless you have a study Bible open in front of you, is that Paul brings Job to our attention today in Romans 11. He quotes from the LORD’s Job-silencing soliloquy, Job 41, to be exact, “Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?” He also grabs Isaiah, “Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?” Both prove his assertion: “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!”
Paul presents us with Job, because in our arrogance, we imagine a lot about God and tell God a lot about himself. We create God in our own image and tell people about him all the time. “My God told me this,” and “My God would never do that,” and “The God I believe in always does this” or “never does that.” We imagine a Valentine’s Card God, all mushy and love-sick, a God that fits right in with Joel and Victoria Osteen, just wanting to make your life better and brighter every moment of every day: Need an upgrade? It’s yours! Got to pass a test? Done! Co-workers annoying you? Let’s find you a new job! Enemies around? Let’s wipe ‘em out.
But then we see him. In a whirlwind yelling at Job, whose only “sin” is to complain a little about the death of his children, the loss of his wealth, his house burning down, and his body breaking out in sores that made him unrecognizable and stinky. A God Isaiah talks about in the 40th chapter of his prophecies, from whence Paul quotes, “Who has known the mind of the Lord, etc.?”, a God Isaiah describes this way: “To whom, then, will you compare God?...He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers….No sooner are they planted, no sooner are they sown, no sooner do they take root in the ground, then he blows on them and they wither, and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff.”
No doubt about it, between Job and Isaiah and Paul – who just finished a three chapter tour de force on God’s control in Romans 9-11: “It does not…depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy….God has mercy on whom he will have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.” – between these three we’d almost rather God didn’t have total control. If he’s in control and this happened to Job, then what? If we knew God’s mind, I mean really knew it, it seems like we might go insane.
Or at the very least, get lost. “His paths beyond tracing out,” Paul says, because they’re God’s paths, not ours. It’s God’s mind, not ours. He didn’t ask for our advice. He doesn’t need our advice. Our advice doesn’t help him. He’s God, we’re not. He said it to Job. He said it through Isaiah to Israel and Paul to the Gentiles, and through them to us. In another part of Isaiah, the prophet says, “Surely you are a God who hides himself.” Unsearchable. Beyond tracing out. Deeper than we can imagine. Way out of our league.
And more, “Who has given to God that God should repay?” All those things we think we want, need, and deserve…says who? What compels God to give them? What compels God to mercy you? Nothing. A sack of sinful flesh, that’s all we are. Job nailed it when he said, “Who can make pure out of impure?” No one. You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. “Not because I have earned or deserved it,” is the catechetical refrain that comes to mind.
Who is this God? Unknown. Seemingly unknowable. And always doing unknowable things. Death and destruction; building and enriching. Tearing apart families and creating them. Seemingly at random. Why did Rachel survive and plenty of other babies die stillborn? Beyond tracing out. Unsearchable. Who has known?
More, who has given that God should repay? We ask “why some and not others” questions as if God owes us. Job drifted that way and God slapped him down with Genesis 1 and 2. Psalmists drifted there occasionally. Think of Asaph in Psalm 73 or David in Psalm 13. Think of Mary and Martha, “If only you had come in time to accomplish something, then, our brother would be alive, but he’s dead.” Even Jesus, in his bloody sweat, asked, “Any other way?” Knowing that it could not, knowing that it had to be murder, death, kill – cross! His life for the many. Totally forsaken and abandoned by His Abba, His Father. Yet, he asks, “Any other way?”
Brace yourself like a man. If you, like Job, Mary and Martha, Jesus, sow the wind, prepare to reap God’s whirlwind. Still waters run deep, and, as Paul said, God’s depth exceeds all understanding. When something disturbs his water, prepare for the storm.
Why does Paul take us back to Job? “Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?” It’s the only possible way he can express what began back in Romans 3. “A righteousness from God has been made known,” he said. A righteousness given, not paid out. A righteousness won when that Son who asked, “Is there any other way?” yielded to his Father and became God’s sacrifice, a sacrifice caught up in the whirlwind of God’s wrath and vengeance, the only sacrifice that could withstand the storm and come out the other end alive. Which he did. Just as Mary and Martha’s brother Lazarus did. They didn’t ask Jesus for resurrection because they couldn’t trace God’s path. They believed in the resurrection at the last day, but now? Likewise, Israel didn’t expect a Messiah to rise from the dead, mostly because they didn’t expect him to die.
Brace yourself. God’s riches, wisdom and knowledge, the unsearchable judgment, the untraceable path, the unknown mind, the Lord of the whirlwind means a God from whom and through whom and to whom is everything. That everything isn’t just the house, home, and family that God restored to Job, it’s also death, death that leads to life: binding men over to disobedience, so that he might have mercy. It is mercy when he kills his Son, exchanging that Son’s sinless death for our sin, Jesus’ untouched righteousness for our filth. It is mercy when God’s Baptism drowns us in Christ and raises us from the dead. It is mercy when God calls death a sleep, promising that in Christ, we will awaken!
Like Sgt. Schultz, we know nothing. Like the beggars we are, we have nothing God needs. So, naturally, He gives everything. From the death dealing whirlwind, comes what we’d expect: the power of God, doing what we could never foresee, giving what we could never earn, planning what we would never counsel: His death for my life. His life, to free me from my death! Amen.