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Living the Questions (on Job)

Terrorist attackers wreak havoc in Pakistan. The third earthquake in a month hits Indonesia. A child is killed by a hit and run driver who has been drag racing. What would we say if we were their friends, or their family, or their religious leader?

Life just seems so unjust–And It is!!! I’ve come to find a lot of meaning in Scott Peck’s comment in The Road Less Travelled; that we create a lot of pain and resentment by our expectation that life should be easy; by not accepting that life is difficult and unfair. I hear people all the time asking: How can there be a God, when all this suffering is in the world? what have I done to deserve this? Why is God not rescuing me, and answering my prayer when I call out for help? When I meet people who have written God off, this is often where faith has been abandoned.

Job is one place in scripture where some of these themes are wrestled with. The book, is the cry of confused outrage from the heart of a people in the pain of exile. Job represents that faithful remnant of Israel, who had tried to serve God faithfully. They had kept their end of the deal they thought, and yet found themselves defeated and overrun by enemies. The book dared to face some of the confusing and anguishing questions that come from deep, unjust suffering. Was God just playing a game with them?

How well do you know the story of Job?

It is a frankly outrageous tale, kind of like a Greek tragedy to disorient the perspectives of those who heard it. In a “Once Upon a time” beginning, Job’s perfect, upright character becomes the occasion for a disagreement between God and satan. It is important not to mix this satan figure up with the Christian figure of the devil or anything like that. In fact, “Satan” is part of God’s court. -one of the heavenly beings- a kind of prosecuting attorney . The idea of Satan being the exact opposite of God is nowhere in Hebrew Scripture. Rabbi Adam Morris writes. . . ”In Judaism the idea of the devil or some evil, horned, pointy tailed red skinned guy who is continually trying to mess up the world and the people in it… is well, not a Jewish idea. So you may ask, how does he end up being in the Jewish bible? Well, there is the idea in Judaism of a whole group of special divine beings who are not human and they are not God. In many cases these creatures are called angels. In Jewish tradition these angels are seen in different places, given different characters and traits. One of the most famous of these is an angel named… you guessed it, Satan. The word, Satan, means “one who disturbs” or “adversary.” Satan was a figure who, in the course of Jewish tradition, likes to disturb things, shake them up… be adversarial or contrary (not unlike a sarcastic teenager at his or her best!). This attitude is what may fit so well into the story of Job…

Satan helps the reader ask one of the most basic questions human beings have ever asked…. Is there any order to the way people’s lives go? Are they punished when they are bad? Are they rewarded when they are good? Why does it seem that really good people have really bad things happen to them and vice versa? The book of Job is all about responding to those BIG questions”

Anyway back to the story-Satan and God hold a little game of heavenly Jeopardy or Let’s Make a Deal—- That’s how ridiculous the setting is! The prosecutor suggests this Job here, is only a “good-time” holy person because God has blessed his life abundantly. “If all the blessings were suddenly destroyed” says satan, “Job would curse God”.

No way, says God. Let’s just see! Now we miss the point if we take this stuff literally! It’s dramatic theatre! to wrestle with ways of understanding God and suffering. So every calamity happens to Job-He loses all his animals and herdsmen, to invaders, to lightning, his children are all killed by a tornado. He is wiped out big time-and to add insult to injury, he hears about all these things in about a five minute period. Along comes Mrs. Job—- As in much of our Bible, the woman is a bit part, a walk-on player. Even so there is profound wisdom in what Mrs Job has to say – She says “Do you still persist in your integrity?” Curse God and die” Maybe she was saying, are you still going to be righteous, you fool! look where it has gotten you!! Or maybe it was her own distraught cry of anguish and anger for it is not just Job who has lost family and livelihood. She has too! And to add even more shades of irony to the scene, the Hebrew word translated as curse here is the word Barekh meaning to bless….So she might be saying Hah! Ok, then, go ahead; Bless God! He’ll probably kill you!” Or again, she might have been saying “If you have your integrity, stand up to God. Demand justice” many layers of possibility in the text.

Whatever it is, Job dismisses it as womens foolishness and this outburst against his wife is the last thing Job says for some time. He apparently does not even acknowledge the presence of the friends who come to comfort him. Job sits in silence for 7 days, but when he finally does speak, his words sound distinctly like those of his wife. His wife’s troubling question becomes his own. No longer the “foolishness of women!!!” And he continues to affirm his own experience that he has not deserved this from God.

Some of the most interesting questions that this book raises come for the friends-Job’s so-called comforters. At first these friends just sat for days without a word…but then they blew it! They opened their mouths!!! They try to explain why he was suffering and what God thinks.

Maybe you’ll recognize some of their lines from your own experience. You must have done something to deserved this.

You should rejoice in your suffering Job because it is God’s way of teaching you something-God’s way of alerting you to hidden faults. Next come the arguments your children/parents sinned, you sinned.

In other words, it was all God’s will for you.. God does this kind of thing. They presume to know how God acts or feel they have to defend or explain for God.

Lots of people still use these kinds of arguments in the face of suffering. When it gets too hot to sit with pain -when the awesomeness of suffering becomes overwhelming, some hide behind easy bumper sticker answers to suffering, This just intensified Job’s pain, and rejected the feelings that are Job’s real response to the situation. They deny the, anger, sorrow, grief, frustration. These friends, coming from their position of privilege, actually believed that people get what they deserve and deserve what they get. They simply cannot see injustice in the world.

But Job stayed with his own experience, and cried out against all the attempts to explain away his anguish. He lives the question- He refuses to buy into personal blame ; and finally, he dares to be real with God. Unlike the comforters who talk about God, but do not enter into relationship with God, Job risks pouring out his anger, and his sense of injustice. He says it like it is before God. And something I had never noticed before, in his powerful speech in his self-defence, he has been shocked out of his complacency-He describes the desperate condition of the very poor, who are without food, shelter, or adequate clothing, exploited by those who hire them, or lend to them, and subject to repeated violence. He draws particular attention to the plight of the widow and the orphan, for, then as now, women and children make up a disproportionate number of the poorest of the poor. His suffering has made him painfully aware of the suffering of others. He stands with the wretched of the earth-rather than looking down with smug paternalist, benevolence as he had before his own misfortune. Job is changed by his suffering.

Job’s crying out is an act of faith, of relationship. Lament is a powerful form of prayer. It trusts God with the raw, real self that we are. It lives the questions before God. You may be surprised to know that in the biblical story, it is those who cry out their doubt, their anguish, their frustration and anger at God; who see the face of God-

BUT often, as in this case, they do not meet the God they were expecting. God completely changes the framework of the struggle. Lifts the encounter to a whole different level. Job’s mounting frustration with God comes because Job had envisioned God in his own image, as divine patriarch and demanded God act like that. The radicalness of the book of Job lies in rejecting Job’s model of God as inadequate. Job’s God has not been big enough. The God who meets Job in chapters 38-40 is not the great patriarch Job had anticipated, or even the God who Job thought was playing Jeopardy with his life. When all speaking has stopped, in the second period of silence in the story – during the calm after the whirlwind, the cosmic God speaks. And

GOD DOESN’T ANSWER ANY OF JOB’S QUESTIONS!!!

After chapters upon chapters of Job demanding a hearing from God and his friends trying to explain his plight, God says to Job… who told you that the world works this way? Why do you assume that you know how things work, about how I work? God answers Job with examples from the chaos of nature in contrast to Job’s metaphor of being accused unjustly in God’s court. Job’s categories have been too narrow, hopelessly human centred. God responds with Cosmos-with Creation “Were you there when the earth was made? Were you around when the morning stars began their song? Have you ever stood before the gates of death? What do you know about mountain goats? Does the eagle soar at your command? Did you watch the birth of the sea when it burst in flood from the womb? when I wrapped it in a blanket of cloud and cradled it in the fog…..and on and on for three of the most poetic, imaginative visions of creation that you will find in the bible-God’s infinite care for all creatures, all nature, the whole of creation.

Instead of the patriarch Judge Job wanted justice from, we are left with a God of the Cosmos, creating power for life, balancing the needs of all creatures, cherishing freedom, full of fierce love and a delight for each thing. This God supports the deep connection between death and life. Job doesn’t get the answers he has been demanding on his own terms. But for Job, even this non-answer answer is enough. God speaks mystery and Job replies with a profound, “Yes.”

When confronted with life’s most profound questions, questions which we can’t begin to define, let alone solve, most of the answers we try to give to suffering are worthless. Perhaps God is suggesting that suffering has nothing to do with one’s guilt or innocence, do not assume that all bad people get punished and all good people get rewarded Suffering, like the morning stars and the gates of death is part of creation. In the mystery of being human, its meaning is more than we can know. But as we live the questions and the experience of suffering, we cam find ourselves embraced by something bigger: the One who loves us and who holds the mystery of our life that is not ours to know.

“Job” the Coles Notes version

Reading the book of Job can be very off-putting, especially once you get into the discussions of the friends. I suggest you read Chapters 1-4,38 & 42. Chapters 3 & 4 of the Dialogue give some sense of the style of the section of long monologues, called “Dialogue”!

One of the other problems is to be confronted by God and Satan planning a wager, in which God permits a person’s family to be killed to test that person’s faithfulness. “To dismiss the book as unworthy would be to miss an important experience. The book of Job is like a parable in that it tells its frankly outrageous tale for the purpose of disorienting and reorienting the perspective of its readers.

“The initial question of the book is an inquiry into the motives of human piety. Through the compelling speeches of Job it becomes an examination of the character of God.”1 And for these reasons it is worth giving it some attention.

Outline of JOB:

Prologue Chapters 1 &2 folk tale

Dialogue Chapters 3-31 Author D

Elihu Chapters 32-35 Author E

God Chapters 38-41 Author D

Epilogue Chapter 42 folk tale

 

 1″The Women’s Bible Commentary”,1992 Westminster/John Knox Press,

Louisville, p131.

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