It was not unusual in the spring when I was growing up in northern Indiana for our family to head down to the basement as we awaited further news on the radio concerning a tornado alert. It usually came to nothing, at least for us directly. But, April 3, 1974, when I was in the 10th grade, was different. The warnings had been broadcast and we headed into the basement. After a time, my father and I went up and out onto the front porch to get some sense of things. We did not see a tornado. But it was clear there were tornadoes around. You could feel it. Something in the barometric pressure made things feel weird, uncanny. The sky was like a big bruise, one big swirling cloud of purple and yellow. It rained mud that day.
It was later that we learned that tornadoes had struck nearby in the small town of Atwood where my dad’s aunt and uncle lived. Both their house and my uncle’s metal shop had been hit. Thankfully, Uncle Virgil and Aunt Jewel were OK (and, by the grace of God, there were no tornado fatalities). I went with my father the next day to help with the clean up. I had never seen such destruction. The fields along the way into Atwood were littered with debris. Whole stands of trees were tilted in the direction the winds had blown. The town itself looked like a bombed out war zone. Fallen trees and branches blocked the streets. Houses were collapsed into themselves. Some looked like they had been blown apart. It was a potent vision of the awesome power of natural forces.
When the LORD answers Job out of the whirlwind, it is not some wispy dust devil, but the raw, wild power of a tornado. I expect the hairs on the back of Job’s neck stiffened and his skin pimpled with the feel of the uncanny wildness of God’s presence. The “fear of the LORD” was no puzzling abstraction. It is no warm, fuzzy, domesticated God who answers Job’s lament, but the wild God of the wild creatures of this wild creation. And, notoriously, he doesn’t so much answer Job’s lament as put that lament in its proper, larger context.
While this does not address our curiosity about the way things go – why bad things happen to good people and often enough good things seem to happen to bad people – I think it is the beginning of any news that can be called good. The world is a wild place. In creating the world in which we live, God makes space for us and for all creation to be free. That means God also makes space for us to make a mess of it, to make a mess of one another, to make a mess of ourselves. And it means there is space for things like cancer cells and tsunamis. It also means that the God who creates such a world must be as wild as the wildness it contains. Why does God have to make so much space for freedom? Why does God tolerate so much suffering and injustice? Why has God created such a world? If God is at the heart of it all – the Creator and Sustainer – God is not off the hook.
Which is, of course, the point of the gospel. On the cross, God himself is on the hook. Out of the whirlwind, God speaks a Word into the mess that we have made of the world. And God enters into the wildness of the world God has created. God is wild. The Lion of Judah, as C. S. Lewis reminds us, is not a tame lion. And when that Lion appears in human history as the Lamb of God given for the ransom of many, the Lamb enters into our wildness to be slaughtered. On the cross, God in Christ takes on the pain and suffering of the world. The world’s passion becomes Christ’s passion. God transforms that passion into the promise of resurrection. There is the promise that we too will be transformed – the suffering of the world will not be lost, but gathered up and transformed in resurrection. By his wounds, we will be healed. And so will be the rest of creation which eagerly awaits being set free from its bondage to futility and decay.
We live in a world of great suffering and great injustice. As Job knew, it can be a hard place to live. It can be a hard place to believe in God – especially the generic God of human imagination. But the God we know in Jesus Christ is not a God of our own imagining. The God we know is the God of the whirlwind and the cross. Karl Barth wrote, “God earns the right to be God in this world on the cross.” God earns the right to be God in this world - with all its pain, suffering, injustice, and tragedy – on the cross. French poet, Paul Caudel, wrote, “Jesus did not come to remove suffering, or to explain it away. He came to fill it with His presence.” Jesus does not explain suffering. He fills it with his presence and the promise of its transformation in the final resurrection of which his is the foretaste.
It does not resolve all the questions, or remove all the pain, or eliminate all the anger that can come with living in a wild world. But a God wild enough to create and sustain such a world as ours and wild enough to pour his love out on the hard wood of the cross is wild enough to absorb our questions, pain and anger. Such a God is also able to evoke our wonder, love, and praise.