Job 38:12-21 – So You Think You Know?

storm

“Have you commanded the morning since your days began, 
    and caused the dawn to know its place, 
so that it might take hold of the skirts of the earth, 
    and the wicked be shaken out of it? 
It is changed like clay under the seal, 
    and it is dyed like a garment. 
Light is withheld from the wicked, 
    and their uplifted arm is broken. 

“Have you entered into the springs of the sea, 
    or walked in the recesses of the deep? 
Have the gates of death been revealed to you, 
    or have you seen the gates of deep darkness? 
Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth? 
    Declare, if you know all this. 

“Where is the way to the dwelling of light, 
    and where is the place of darkness, 
that you may take it to its territory 
    and that you may discern the paths to its home? 
Surely you know, for you were born then, 
    and the number of your days is great! (NRSV) 

The older I get, and the more understanding I gain, the more I realize how little knowledge I truly possess. When I was eighteen years old, I thought I had the world pretty much figured out. Since then, it has all been downhill. With each passing year, my ignorance seems to grow exponentially. I suppose this all really makes some sense when talking about God’s upside-down kingdom. So much more of life is a mystery to us than we realize. 

The more discernment I get, the less, I discover, I know. 

Seems like the biblical character of Job found this out the hard way. If there is any person in Holy Scripture that would be wise and understanding, its him. God speaks highly of Job in the Bible. Regarding the upcoming destruction of Jerusalem, God said, even if these three men—Noah, Daniel and Job—were in it, they could save only themselves by their righteousness, declares the Sovereign Lord” (Ezekiel 14:14). Job is held up as the model of patience under suffering: “As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy” (James 5:11).  

Yet, with all of Job’s integrity, patience, and righteousness his understanding can barely get a movement on the Richter Scale of God’s expansive knowledge. We likely are somewhat familiar with the story of Job. Being a conscientious follower of God, Job is careful to live uprightly. He acknowledges God in all things and worships him alone. Yet, suffering befell him – for no other reason than that God allowed it. Job knew fully well that there was no personal sin behind his awful ordeal of grief and grinding pain. 

So, Job contended with God. For an agonizing thirty-five chapters (Job 3:1-37:24) Job questions God and respectfully takes him to task – as Job’s supposed friends questioned him and assume his guilt. Through it all God is there silent… saying nothing. Then, just when we think God is paying no attention, he suddenly speaks. What is so remarkable about God’s speech is that for the next four chapters (Job 38:1-41:34) he gives no answers. It is all questions. God said,

“Brace yourself like a man; I will question you and you shall answer me” (Job 38:3). 

God Questions Job
God questions Job. From a 12th century Byzantine text.

It becomes abundantly clear after just a few questions that it would be impossible for any human being to even come close to having the understanding to answer anything God asks. And that was the whole point. God is God, and we are not. Our questions, however legitimate, real, and raw they are, come from a very puny perspective. In other words, we just don’t know as much as we think we do. 

To Job’s great credit, he keeps his mouth shut and listens. At the end of the questioning, Job responds in the only wise way one could after such an encounter:

“Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know” (Job 42:3). 

None of this means that, for us, we need to face our hardships and our sufferings with a stoic keep-a-stiff-upper-lip approach. Trapped grief will inevitably come out sideways and only cause more hurt. I believe God allowed Job to express his terrible physical, emotional, and spiritual pain for chapter after chapter because he needed to. Only when God sensed it was the proper timing did he jump in and bring the perspective Job then needed. And even after being challenged by God about his vantage point, Job still did not receive answers as to why he had to endure the awfulness of loss beyond what most of us could comprehend. 

Maybe we lack being able to understand even if God directly answered all our questions. Most likely, God protects us from knowing things that might bring irreparable damage to our human psyches. Again, this is all pure conjecture. Which leaves us with perhaps one of our greatest challenges as human beings: We must eventually come to the place of being comfortable with mystery – and even embracing it.

We simply will not have all things revealed to us that we want to know. And that’s okay.  

There is yet one more comment to observe about God’s questioning of Job. God is sarcastic. Sarcasm often gets a bad rap, much like anger does, because it is so often associated with unacknowledged emotions and/or expressing our feelings in an unhelpful way. Yet, there the sarcasm is, with the God of the universe. I must admit, I take some odd comfort in knowing that God can be snarky at times – in a good way. Anytime we try to pin God down to nice neat understandable categories, he typically colors outside our human contrived lines and demonstrates to us that he cannot be contained in our ramshackle box. I like it that God is playful, wild, and free to be himself – even if there are times it may bug me. 

God is unbound by any human knowledge, understanding, ideas, or plans. God will do what God will do. God will be who he will be. “I AM who I AM,” he once said. Now that’s a God I can put my trust in. 

O Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world, have mercy upon me. 

O Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world, have mercy upon me. 

O Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world, grant me your peace. Amen. 

Job 13:13-19 – Contending with God

Mother Teresa suffering quote

“Keep silent and let me speak;
then let come to me what may.
Why do I put myself in jeopardy
and take my life in my hands?
Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him;
I will surely defend my ways to his face.
 Indeed, this will turn out for my deliverance,
for no godless person would dare come before him!
Listen carefully to what I say;
let my words ring in your ears.
Now that I have prepared my case,
I know I will be vindicated.
Can anyone bring charges against me?
If so, I will be silent and die. (NIV)

The story of the biblical character, Job, is both famous and infamous.  It’s famous among most bible readers because we are privy to why Job endured such terrible suffering and how the story ends.  Conversely, the story is infamous because Job’s “friends” and most everyone else in his day believed that the extremely hard circumstances were proof positive of sin.  Job had the misfortune of being misunderstood and misinterpreted with an evil, infamous, reputation.

Job was understandably desperate.  He hadn’t a clue why he lost his every earthly possession and relationship, not to mention his health.  Job was hurt, angry, and lonely.  In today’s Old Testament text, we observe Job getting ready to have-it-out with God.  It is interesting to me that in such grinding physical, emotional, and spiritual pain as Job experienced, he held to both his own integrity and of confidence in God.

If this story strikes a familiar chord, it may be because this was also Christ’s experience.  Jesus did nothing unethical or immoral to deserve being whipped, beaten, and tortured.  Our Lord, like Job, felt the awful sting of silence stating, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46).  As we fast approach Holy Week, the Lectionary reminds us that there must be suffering before glory, crucifixion before resurrection, agony before victory.

Christ on the Cross
Painting by Hans Mertens

I wonder what humanity would be like if we stopped fighting so hard against suffering and instead leaned into it as a teacher and a means of awareness.  For the Christian, I am curious what the Church everywhere would be like if she embraced suffering as the path of solidarity with Jesus. I wonder what human interactions on the personal, corporate, and global level would look like if people throughout the earth would stare this current pandemic through their spiritual eyes and imagine as Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann does:

“We may imagine God doing a new thing among us. Perhaps we are arriving at a new neighborly normal:

  • Imagine, we are treating prisoners differently, even releasing some who constitute no threat
  • Imagine, we are mobilizing generous financing for needy neighbors who must have resources in order to survive.
  • Imagine, we are finding generous provisions for students and their debts.

The new thing God is making possible is a world of generous, neighborly compassion.”

When we are stripped of wealth, cut-off from others, and do not know how to make sense of the suffering around us and in our own lives – it is in such a time that we are invited to consider a few observations from the story of Job:

  1. Much, if not most, of life is a mystery – including God. We are neither all-knowing nor all powerful.  Our nation’s perceived power and intellectual savvy expose deep fissures of pride and hubris.  Events like pandemics reveal that there is so much we don’t know and must learn.  We will likely never get all the answers we want when tragedy hits and lives are turned upside-down.
  2. Confronting and contending with God is okay, perhaps even encouraged. Unlike the human creature, the Creator God is big enough to take and absorb whatever anger, rage, disappointment, discouragement, depression, fist-shaking, and expletives we throw at him.
  3. Suffering does not mean that God has forgotten us. We may not understand why or even what we go through.  We will, however, never go through it alone.  God is often silent; yet, never aloof.  God maintains both his transcendence high above us and his immanence close to us at the same time, all the time.  In the Christian tradition, this is why the Holy Spirit was given – to be the continuing presence of Jesus on this earth.

My prayer for you today is that your suffering will not be wasted – that God will bend each adverse situation toward your good and the good of others.

Soli Deo Gloria

Click How Deep the Father’s Love for Us sung and mixed by David Wesley as we anticipate the suffering of Christ on our behalf in this next Holy Week.

Job 8:1-22

            There are various kinds of suffering, and the biblical character of Job experienced them all.  One of the most severe kinds of hurt, and the one that gets far more attention than any other in the book of Job, are the short-sighted rebukes from Job’s “friends.”  God had a severe mercy for Job.  But the friends lived in a black and white world.  Bildad expressed: “God will not reject a blameless man.”
 
            For Bildad, personal suffering equals personal sin and God’s disfavor, period.  Bildad could only see a linear connection, a direct line from sin to calamity.  It was simply out of his equation to think otherwise.  Since Bildad saw suffering as the direct result of sin, his remedy was to exhort toward confession of sin.  The problem with this view is that we, as the readers, already know this to be a patently false understanding of Job’s suffering.  Bildad saw the suffering, but did not discern the unseen dimension of good and evil contending behind-the-scenes between God and Satan.
 
            It is only normal to wonder if we have sinned against God whenever we find ourselves in the crucible of suffering.  But if we have done patient work to determine there is no personal reason for the pain, perhaps there is something going on that is much bigger than us.  Our task, like Job’s, is to entrust ourselves to God.  We might chafe at such counsel because we like to fix things that hurt.  But suffering will not last forever; it will eventually pass.  And God will always have his way in the end.  We must continually keep in mind that permanent faith transcends temporary pain.
 

 

            Loving God, take pity on my life as I seek to embrace you in both good times and bad.  I belong to you, therefore, I will not forsake you no matter how much I do not understand the suffering.  In Jesus’ name I pray.  Amen.

Job 7:1-21


            Few people have ever suffered such agonizing loss as the Old Testament character of Job.  He literally lost everything but his life.  All his kids were killed, and he was so racked with physical pain and ill health that even his closest friends barely recognized him.  Yet the most severe suffering of all came from the grinding silence of God about the whole affair.  Job felt the spiritual pain of a seemingly distant God:  “Why have you made me your mark?  Why have I become a burden to you?”
             Indeed, when one is in the throes of grief, and God does not respond, the suffering seems pathetically senseless.  As I write this, another spate of shootings have this week rocked American towns in the West and Mid-West.  Where is God in all this?  As families grieve and communities reel in shock, how can the loss of life and safety square with a God who is Sovereign over all creation?
             It’s the silence that often hurts so badly.  Groans, laments, and anguish seem to fly up and away with no easy answers and no immediate relief.  Yet, God hears.  God sees.  And God knows.  We have a big picture perspective of the book of Job.  We know the end of the story.  We even know why Job suffered, even when he himself never knew.  But even with such an understanding, there is still a large mystery to the ways and the silence of God.
             It is a great temptation for many Christians to give neatly wrapped answers to life’s most difficult realities.  But the book of Job does not allow for it.  What we have is a man who never understood all that happened in his life, yet held onto his integrity and his faith in the God he never fully understood.  After all, if we understood all there is to understand about God, he would not be God at all.
             Invisible God, you are not only unseen physically, but many times spiritually and emotionally unseen, as well.  Open the eyes of my heart so that I might catch but a glimpse of your working.  Even though I am but a child and know so little, yet I trust in your steadfast love even in the most difficult experiences of life.  Amen.