I know well that it is so;
but how can a man be justified before God?
Should one wish to contend with him,
he could not answer him once in a thousand times.
God is wise in heart and mighty in strength;
who has withstood him and remained unscathed?
In a vision the Prophet Isaiah saw the Lord sitting on his throne in the temple, high above the priests and their clouds of incense, while seraphic angels cried, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God of Hosts!” That vision informed the rest of his writing, and the writings of the two other “Isaiahs” who added to the book. The vision inspired the liturgies of the Christian church, especially with our “song of the angels” in the Eucharistic prayer. It had a deep impact on the imagination of Saint Francis, the “seraphic saint,” who saw in a vision the Crucified Lord with the wings of a seraphic angel.
Isaiah saw God as magnificent, powerful, benevolent, beautiful and altogether adorable. He is worthy of all praise. As Saint Francis said, “You are holy, God, and all your deeds are wonderful.”
The Wise Man Job has a similar experience of God, though perhaps less colorful. It is a moralistic vision; God’s goodness is beyond question despite his overwhelming power. That is not how we ordinarily experience power in our corrupt world. Although the powerful make claims of generosity, innocence and goodness, clouds of suspicion follow them. There is no one so rich, benevolent or wise as to satisfy the demands of poverty. The needy always feel they’re being cheated of their rights.
Tempered by physical pain and crippling disappointment, Job’s vision is painted in shades of grey. "Why do the innocent suffer?" he demands. "Is this fair?"
Few would claim to be satisfied by the resolution in the closing chapters of the Book of Job. According to the story, God appeared to Job and demanded, “Who are you to question me?” That answer had already been proposed by the sages who visited Job and by the loudmouthed Elihu.
There are no words to answer Job except the Word who became flesh; the word who was as meek and silent as a sacrificial lamb, even when he was led to slaughter.
This question of theophany appears in many forms in hospital ministry; it probably appears as often in schools, jails and parishes. Some people find it a plausible excuse for leaving the faith. But there is little satisfaction in that answer either. That option only ignores the conundrum of human existence, “Why are we here?”
The other day I raised a similar question among the Veterans searching for sobriety. I pointed out that we human beings are never satisfied; we always want more. More pleasure, more freedom, more security, more love. One fellow got up and walked out. I can’t blame him; I’ve thought of doing the same.
Perhaps Job and Isaiah were satisfied because they saw what Francis saw in Jesus’ crucifixion, the astonishing beauty of God. If it only stuns the mind into silence, it fulfills everything in the heart.