When you are first introduced to him, what you notice is the sound of children's laughter filling his house and spilling out into the yard. You cannot help but observe that his gracious home is bright, cheerful and comfortable. His table is laden with good foods and fine wines. His lands and pastures are teeming with fat cattle.
When you are first introduced to Job, you cannot help but like him. He knows himself to be blessed. He has everything (riches and property, family and friends, health and happiness) and yet he takes none of these for granted.
Then out of nowhere, with a terrible and abrupt ferocity, all these are taken from him: his possessions, his health, his children … his joy.
Job is undone. His grief is beyond words. His agony is overwhelming. He aches to die … to be put out of his misery. He has seen too much of life … now he wishes only to be enveloped in blackness … the blackness of a tomb.
Job's friends arrive. Ostensibly, they have come to keep vigil. Instead, however, they begin to opine, to discuss, to analyze, to theorize, to philosophize, to conjecture, to posit. They arrive at the opinion that Job surely must have done something to deserve this.
His friends contend that such misfortune does not happen by chance … that such calamity is earned. This is no fluke, they say, but payback for something. It must be. That's the way the universe works, say his friends. That's the way God works, say his friends. You do something wrong … you get clobbered. You sin … and God smacks you.
Job protests. He maintains that he has done nothing wrong. That he has not sinned. He admits , however, that in the world of reward and punishment, something is woefully out of whack … something has gone terribly awry.
Job needs his friends to shut up. Job needs God to show up.
Above all, Job desperately yearns for God. He needs to speak with God, to make his case before God. He longs to plead his cause. He badly needs to grasp hold of God by the lapels, look God in the eye, and explain why this calamity that has befallen him is ill-directed. That there's been a terrible mistake.
For day's Job's friends argue about sin and justice, guilt and consequence. For days Job grieves and protests, shaking his fist at the heavens, all the while wishing he were dead.
And then one day God does show up. God climbs down out of the divine throne, descends from on high, and arrives by Job's side in whirlwind, in a storm. It is out of this whirlwind that the Divine Voice speaks.
"Gird up your loins like a man, Job. I will question you, and you shall declare to me."
Odd, isn't it? This is God's response to Job's distress? A debate? A Socratic inquiry? A Q and A?
Job girds his loins. He arranges his robe, tightens his belt, rolls up his sleeves and gathers his thoughts. He readies himself for God's questions.
"Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?" asks God.
Job stutters and fumbles for words … nothing comes. The question is unanswerable. Job is speechless. Silent. There is no contest. No debate at all.
God continues … "Who determined the earth's measurements, Job? On what were its bases sunk, Job? Who laid its cornerstone, Job? Where were you when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy, Job? Can you make it rain, Job? Can you make lightning, Job? Can you number the clouds, Job? Can you hunt the prey for the lion, Job? Who provides for the raven its prey, Job?"
Silence. There is no contest. No debate at all.
What is going on here?
Job is suffering. He is in profound distress. He is in pain … and God is star-gazing.
Job is undone, while God is playing with flashes of lightning.
Job is in anguish, while God is procuring a mouse to feed a raven, a hyena to feed a lion.
And that is just the beginning. It goes on and on and on. The reader is treated to page after page of God's keen interest in the intricate and strange marvels of creation … in ostriches, snorting horses, and soaring eagles.
What is going on here?
Job, who has seen too much of life, who wants nothing more than to be enveloped in a tomb of blackness, is treated to a panoramic view of the splendors of creation: to dancing stars, a translucent moon, shimmering oceans, purple wild flowers, ponderous hippopotami.
What is happening is that Creation's Artist is treating Job to a personal, one-on-one, narrated tour of Creation.
God, Job learns, adores Creation, revels in Creation … all of it together: the way the mighty horse snorts, the eagle's keen eye, the white and pink hues of the lotus flower, the ostrich's glossy, cream-colored egg, and the heft of the hippopotamus.
And, not only those bits of creation … for in this cascade of images, this vision of Creation's intricacies and delicacies, creation's weirdness and strangeness, vastness and wildness … Job's eyes are opened and he begins to see into the divine heart.
What does Job see? Among the cascade of images of creation's grand, expansive, majestic sweep, Job espies one surprising, shimmering truth: that this personalized tour, this tour by the Artist of His life's work, this retrospective, this exhibition is all for the benefit of one small, finite, anguished creature who has cried to the heavens and shaken his fist and grasped hold of God's lapels. This grand, sweeping retrospective is for the benefit of this small, grieving man. It is for he - and for he alone - that the heavens have opened. It is for Job that God had troubled to appear. It to the human, among all of Creation that God chooses to speak.
We are the ones with whom God converses! We are the ones to whom God reveals God's heart!
Job's suffering is not yet abated (it will have been by the end of the Book) but he is comforted by God's attention. He is moved that the Holy One - illusive, inscrutable - has pulled back a corner of the curtain and revealed to Job, a piece of the divine heart.
"Ah", says Job, "Now my eyes see thee."
There is a postscript to the Book of Job. In that postscript those things that Job loves are returned to him. Once again the sound of children's laughter fills his house. His home is again cheerful and bright, and his pasture-lands teeming with fat cattle.
In the postscript, Job's suffering is relieved. I suppose the biblical writers could not bear to leave it otherwise.
I suppose that they could not bear to leave it otherwise because, they too, have peeked behind the curtain. They too, have seen what Job has seen. They too have glimpsed a piece of the divine heart.