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Job's quest for sense

January 24, 2017

Chapter 14 in God of Sense is entitled, "The Sense of the Voice from the Whirlwind." God speaks to Job after (1) the friends have poured out venom on him and (2) told him that God will not speak and Job should not want God to speak. Interpreters disagree about the meaning of God's speech. Does God subject Job to an instance of "cosmic bullying." Does God shut him up? Does God give him an esthetic answer to a moral and existential question? Does God tell him that everything in the end is unintelligible—that the distance between the transcendent God and the finite human being is so great that they do not even have a language in which to communicate? Or does God, as I believe, answer Job's question in a way that makes sense to Job? This is not to say that God's "sense" is according to expectations, but even strange, singular sense might light up the dark room in which the sufferer finds himself.

I wrote this poetic reflection on Job on December 28, 2016.

 

THE VOICE FROM THE WHIRLWIND

 

I hear you, Voice from the Whirlwind,
your summons I cannot deny, 
I am like a novice speaking,
to you I cannot reply.
I shall pay heed to your teaching,
and I shall have nothing to say,
‘Twas ignorance what I was preaching,
so tell me, show me the way.

 

Before you begin, let me ask you:
My friends and I—who was right?
They said that all sinners must suffer:
“This dogma you must not fight.” 
But I—I doubted their teaching, 
whether of me or of you,
I said there’s a flaw in your preaching,
your formula isn’t true.


I won that one; they fell silent,
but then they spoke up again.
They spoke of the vast remoteness,
that “uprightness brings no gain.”
They said you’re too high and mighty,
to care about me and mine.
And I—my life’s too flighty:
“Infinity’s drawn the line.”


I cringed—I felt lost and lonely,
such cruel physicians they were!
Is there anyone else I can talk to,
someone else who might care? 
They said I shouldn’t be yearning,
to speak to you face to face,
for you are a fire burning:
“Your wish will end in disgrace.”


But now, kind Voice in the Whirlwind,
You’re speaking, and I was right.
On that point, at least, though struggling, 
on that point I won the fight. 
My sense fell short, I admit it, 
but you will make up the lack.
Their cruel sense—I’m quit it,
heaven and you have my back.


So speak, kind and wonderful Teacher, 
immense the subject will be:
Beginnings, the weather, the donkey,
the one that we cannot see.
The wild goat on highest mountain
—it knows not that I exist,
it finds its way to the fountain 
though hidden by ignorance’s mist.


You mentioned the great Leviathan,
the master of faithless talk,
poetry’s word for the Satan,
whose term for ‘walk’ is ‘stalk.’ 
Can I subdue Leviathan
or have any hope to win?
Can I bring to heel the Satan?
Look what he did to my skin!


I spoke too soon and too boldly
while tradition bore down on me.
They looked at me, oh, so coldly,
I countered as best I could see.
Then you emerged behind curtain,
you broke into my night.
You said—you said it was certain
that I had said what is right.


© Sigve Tonstad, December 28, 2016

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