My advent image today comes from that most wonderful illustrator of biblical texts, William Blake. I’ve chosen one of his watercolours from the illustrations he did to accompany the book of Job. This biblical story is brimming with pain, loss, grief and anger. Job rails against God for his unjust suffering – and who can blame him? The divine response, coming at last in chapter 38, can leave us both perplexed and awed, as God appears to ignore Job’s complaints and instead, takes him on a vast tour of creation, dazzling him with cosmic wonders, both earthly and heavenly. Blake’s painting below – entitled “When the Morning Stars Sang Together” – is an illustration set at the very start of this divine speech:
“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone
when the morning stars sang together
and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?” (Job 38.4-7)
In this painting, Blake shows Job, his wife, and his friends, huddled beneath the feet of an energetic deity, who sits above them, orchestrating day and night with verve and enthusiasm, hands waving like a maestro conducting a symphony of cosmic creativity. You get the sense that God really is having a great time. To God’s right, the sun rides by on majestic horses; to the left, the moon scurries off, urging on its serpentine mounts, while above, the stars “sing together,” and the heavenly beings – who look a little like showgirls from an old Buzby Berkley extravaganza – perform a perfectly choreorgraphed dance of joy. With his beautiful detail and glorious use of colour, Blake captures perfectly the sheer wonderment that we are meant to feel when we read this opening to the divine speech – even Job, in the midst of all his suffering, appears to have momentarily forgotten his woes to gaze, with astonishment, at this most creative and vivifying deity.