The Surprise of Grace

From all human vantage points, Job had reason to demand the whereabouts of God’s great and mighty arm. He had cause to lament his pain and suffering. His human “comforters” were anything but. Bereft of everything, health, children, wealth, Job stood empty before God. A God who, in this moment, was for Job silent and seemingly absent. Unjustly suffering, Job demanded an audience with God, and answers to his questions. And God spoke to Job from the whirlwind.

Then Job answered the Lord and said:

“I know You can do all things,
And nothing is impossible for You.
For who is he who hides counsel from You?
Who keeps back his words
And thinks to hide them from You?
Who will tell me what I knew not,
Things too great and wonderful, which I did not know?
But hear me, O Lord, that I also may speak.
I will ask You, and please teach Me.
I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear,
But now my eye sees You.
Therefore I depreciate myself, and I waste away.
I regard myself as dust and ashes.”

(Job 42:1-6, SAAS [St Athanasius Academy Septuagint]

We are creatures of flesh, and try as we might, we often fail to see the fullness of reality. We look out and see the Syrian armies, but we do not see the horses and chariots of fire which surround us. And though we know that God loves us and desires our good, when he appears and when he speaks, when our mortal eyes are opened to the divine, we are taken by surprise.

But if God appeared to Job with an awesome display of his power, he is not bound by such methods. God may speak in the whirlwind, the earthquake and the fire–and he may be the sound of the gentle breeze. Subtlety is not beyond the capacity of him who created all things both visible and invisible, matter and dark matter. A blown out candle is miraculously relit as St. Genevieve proceeds to prayer. St. Benedict penetrates the Gothic disguise. The woven cross is plaited with St. Nina’s hair. And St. Brigid provides beer enough for her guests from common bathwater.

It may well be, though I do not know, that God speaks to us every day in hundreds of ways, revealing his presence and his providence. He works his incremental grace, bringing us from glory to glory. In the space of a moment, what seems certain destruction, as the Syrian armies bear down on us, is changed to hope and promise as our eyes are opened to the chariots of fire.

Such moments can be so very hard and difficult, for though the perspective of our knowledge may change, the fear of destruction and disappointment remains. Though we see we may hope, though we may have still within us the tiny glimmer of the will to hope, it is the faith necessary to choose to hope that we find so difficult to exercise.

The mystery of godliness is great: God was manifested in the flesh. How do we trace out these lines of human and divine? I do not think we can. The answers we demand of God are beyond all our comprehension and capacity for knowing. But somehow in ways we cannot, and may fear to, imagine, in Christ, and in all those united to him, the divine and the flesh cooperate for salvation, for reconciliation, for restoration. The dividing wall of hostility is removed and we are one in Christ.

It is often hard to say which is the greater surprise: the suffering that comes suddenly and devastatingly, or the grace we meet in it. Brought to the end of himself, Job dared to hope that God would appear to him. And when God did appear, Job sat silent amidst the ashes and the pottery shards, ready to learn. He had experienced God. From that experience would flow blessing and restoration.