He had always known that his friends were wrong, but now he knew that, though his first judgement had been right, it had been right for the wrong reasons. He had been seeing the whole situation through the lens of his own righteousness, his own non-deserving of punishment. It shocked him – no, totally unmanned him – to realise that a man could be right for the exact wrong reasons, and that a man could seek God earnestly all his days, and earnestly strive to be pleasing to Him, and fulfil all His commands, and yet … and yet … totally misconstrue who God was and what it meant to serve and worship Him.
He had always been a careful man, a scrupulous man, the very definition of ‘God-fearing’. Only now could he see the irony of it all: that he had feared God in the wrong way, for the wrong reasons, precisely because he had cut his image of God from the cloth of his own being, that he, who had sought in all things to walk in excruciating humility so as to cause no affront by effrontery, had had the ridiculous arrogance to imagine that his human understanding could define all that God was!
It was strange though, wasn’t it, that he could see the ridiculous flaws in the understanding of those friends who had sought so hard to correct his theology and show him the error of his thinking, yet could not see the inadequacy of his own thinking. The same moral fearfulness that had always made him so conscientious had served as his defence against their accusations – had he not always searched his heart and life for hidden sin, had he not always made pre-emptive sacrifices against any possible sin of his children? And now, in his hour of tragedy, when they could find no better comfort to bring him than their blazing certainty that he must have committed some grave sin for God to punish him so severely, he knew they must be wrong. But their questions only added to his torment, and his abiding sense of injustice.
Then the Lord came, fierce and terrible in the mighty storm, and spoke the words that shattered, “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Have you given orders to the morning? Have the gates of death been shown to you? What is the way to the abode of light?” On and on the relentless questions came, until he no longer sought to protect himself from them, but instead was lifted into the grand vision, the vast glory of God’s purpose and design. How had he ever imagined that his words were enough? It was not that they were wrong, it was that they were so woefully inadequate, because his concept of God, a rumour and a theory, was so much less than even the edge of the wonderful reality.
There was only one possible, trembling reply, “I had heard of you with the hearing of my ears, but now my eyes see you, and I repent in dust and ashes.”