Job 39:1-30 – Questions without Answers

God responds to Job out of the whirlwind by William Blake (1757-1827)

When do mountain goats
    and deer give birth?
Have you been there
    when their young are born?
How long are they pregnant
    before they deliver?
Soon their young grow strong
and then leave
    to be on their own.

Who set wild donkeys free?
I alone help them survive
    in salty desert sand.
They stay far from crowded cities
    and refuse to be tamed.
Instead, they roam the hills,
    searching for pastureland.

Would a wild ox agree
to live in your barn
    and labor for you?
Could you force him to plow
or to drag a heavy log
    to smooth out the soil?
Can you depend on him
to use his great strength
    and do your heavy work?
Can you trust him
    to harvest your grain
or take it to your barn
    from the threshing place?

An ostrich proudly
    flaps her wings,
but not because
    she loves her young.
She abandons her eggs
and lets the dusty ground
    keep them warm.
And she doesn’t seem to worry
that the feet of an animal
    could crush them all.
She treats her eggs as though
    they were not her own,
unconcerned that her work
    might be for nothing.
I myself made her foolish
    and without common sense.
But once she starts running,
she laughs at a rider
    on the fastest horse.

Did you give horses their strength
and the flowing hair
    along their necks?
Did you make them able
    to jump like grasshoppers
or to frighten people
    with their snorting?

Before horses are ridden
    into battle,
they paw at the ground,
    proud of their strength.
Laughing at fear, they rush
    toward the fighting,
while the weapons of their riders
    rattle and flash in the sun.
Unable to stand still,
they gallop eagerly into battle
    when trumpets blast.
Stirred by the distant smells
and sounds of war,
they snort
    in reply to the trumpet.

Did you teach hawks to fly south
    for the winter?
Did you train eagles to build
    their nests on rocky cliffs,
where they can look down
    to spot their next meal?
Then their young gather to feast
    wherever the victim lies. (Contemporary English Version)

God has a way of asking questions for which he already has answers to.

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. Turns out that those with understanding need to become stupid before they can truly be wise. 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 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. 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. And what is so remarkable about God’s speech is that for four chapters God gives no answers (Job 38:1-41:34). It is all questions. God said, “Brace yourself like a man; I will question you and you shall answer me” (Job 38:3).

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.

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.

It just might be that, even if God directly answered all our questions, we still would not understand what the heck is happening to us.

Most likely, God protects us from knowing things that might bring irreparable damage to our human psyches. Yet, 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.

Anytime we try to pin God down to nice, neat, understandable categories, he typically colors outside our human contrived lines and demonstrates he cannot be contained in our ramshackle box.

God is unbound by any human knowledge, understanding, ideas, or plans. God will do what God will do. God will be who God 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 8:1-22 – Face the Pain

Job Speaks with His Friends by Gustave Doré (1832-1883)

Are you finally through with your windy speech?
God never twists justice;
    he never fails to do what is right.
Your children must have sinned against God,
    and so he punished them as they deserved.
But turn now and plead with Almighty God;
    if you are so honest and pure,
    then God will come and help you
    and restore your household as your reward.
All the wealth you lost will be nothing
    compared with what God will give you then.

Look for a moment at ancient wisdom;
    consider the truths our ancestors learned.
Our life is short; we know nothing at all;
    we pass like shadows across the earth.
But let the ancient wise people teach you;
    listen to what they had to say:

“Reeds can’t grow where there is no water;
    they are never found outside a swamp.
If the water dries up, they are the first to wither,
    while still too small to be cut and used.
Godless people are like those reeds;
    their hope is gone, once God is forgotten.
They trust a thread—a spider’s web.
    If they lean on a web, will it hold them up?
    If they grab for a thread, will it help them stand?”

Evil people sprout like weeds in the sun,
    like weeds that spread all through the garden.
Their roots wrap around the stones
    and hold fast to every rock.
But then pull them up—
    no one will ever know they were there.
Yes, that’s all the joy evil people have;
    others now come and take their places.

But God will never abandon the faithful
    or ever give help to evil people.
He will let you laugh and shout again,
    but he will bring disgrace on those who hate you,
    and the homes of the wicked will vanish. (Good News Translation)

These are the words of Bildad, a “friend” of Job. The guy just couldn’t take it anymore. As Job expressed his deep grief, Bildad grew perturbed. Whereas Job needed to be heard, to tell his story with others who would offer listening ears of empathy, Bildad was uncomfortable with all this grief junk and felt he needed to rebuke Job…. Oy vey.

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. The friends, however, lived in a black and white world of either/or – either you confess your sin, or you don’t – as if all suffering is connected to personal sin. Bildad’s left-brained linear explanation was expressed this way: God will not reject a blameless man.

For Bildad, personal suffering equals personal sin and God’s disfavor. Bildad could only see a sequential 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. Although Bildad saw the suffering, he 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 finding 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. Suffering, however, will not last forever; it will eventually pass. And God’s way will always prevail, in the end. So, we must continually keep in mind that permanent faith transcends temporary pain.

There are four types of pain we experience in this life:

  1. Spiritual pain that arises from within us in our connection, or lack thereof, with the divine.
  2. Emotional pain that arises from our relationship with others.
  3. Physical pain that arises from our bodies and from natural forces on this earth.
  4. Mental pain that arises from cognitive disorders, childhood trauma, and all forms of abuse or neglect.

In all pain, the story we tell ourselves about the reason for the hurt is significant. We have a relationship with our pain. If the story we are telling ourselves is that the pain is all in my head, or that others have it worse than me, we are ignoring or stuffing our pain. If the story is that pain is bad and I must rid myself of it, then we will completely miss what our pain is trying to tell us.

Job was trying to come to grips with his pain. He was facing it, talking about it, expressing his wonderings concerning it, and allowing himself to completely feel all of it.

Conversely, Bildad so tightly held onto his own story about what pain and suffering is that he was unable to be the friend Job needed. And, I might add, at the end of the story, God didn’t look with favor on Bildad’s approach.

So, what will you do with your pain?

What is the story you are telling yourself about your pain?

Who do you trust so that you can talk about your pain?

Where is God in your pain?

How is your current relationship to the pain helping or hindering you?

Where will you turn, in the future, when pain comes upon you?

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. Amen.

Job 7:1-21 – Why God?

Why is life so hard?
    Why do we suffer?
We are slaves in search of shade;
we are laborers longing
    for our wages.
God has made my days drag on
    and my nights miserable.
I pray for night to end,
but it stretches out
    while I toss and turn.
My parched skin is covered
    with worms, dirt, and sores,
and my days are running out
quicker than the thread
    of a fast-moving needle.

I beg you, God, don’t forget!
My life is just a breath,
    and trouble lies ahead.
I will vanish from sight,
and no one, including you,
    will ever see me again.
I will disappear in the grave
or vanish from sight
    like a passing cloud.
Never will I return home;
    soon I will be forgotten.

And so, I cry out to you
    in agony and distress.
Am I the sea or a sea monster?
    Is that why you imprison me?
I go to bed, hoping for rest,
but you torture me
    with terrible dreams.
I’d rather choke to death
    than live in this body.
Leave me alone and let me die;
    my life has no meaning.
What makes you so concerned
    about us humans?
Why do you test us
    from sunrise to sunset?
Won’t you look away
just long enough
    for me to swallow?
Why do you watch us so closely?
    What’s it to you, if I sin?
Why am I your target
    and such a heavy burden?
Why do you refuse to forgive?
Soon you won’t find me,
    because I’ll be dead. (Contemporary English Version)

Few people have ever suffered such agonizing loss as the Old Testament character of Job. He literally lost everything but his life. All his children were killed in one horrific event. 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 acutely experienced the spiritual pain of a seemingly distant God. He felt like God’s target, being pierced with sharp arrows, one after the other. It seemed to Job as if God was burdened with his very presence on the earth.

Indeed, when one is in the throes of grief, and there is no response from God, the suffering seems pathetically senseless. 

We are currently living in a world of pandemic. There is social and political unrest everywhere. Hurricanes and natural disasters wreak havoc. Religious persecution is on the rise. It may cause one to wonder where God is, in all this human suffering.

As families grieve the loss of home and property, as mothers lament the loss of sons and daughters, and as communities reel in shock over neighborhood violence, how can the loss of life and safety square with a God who is supposed to be sovereign over all creation?

And then there is the very real psychological suffering of mental illness, brain disorders, and unfeeling friends and family who fail to understand the biology and pathology around it – not to mention the extreme trauma of complicated grief.

“Does God understand? Is God even seeing any of this? Why doesn’t God seem to give a @#$!? Am I so odious to God that he’s left the room?” we might say, either out loud or in the deep hurt of our hearts.

It’s the silence that can hurt 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, as readers, have a big picture perspective of Job’s life. We know the end of the story. We even know why Job suffered, even when he himself never knew. However, even with the understanding we have, there is still a large mystery to the ways and the silence of God.

It is a great temptation for many people 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, God 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.

Job 4:1-21 – Where Is God?

Eliphaz and the other friends of Job, speaking down to him in his suffering, from a fresco in the Cathedral of the Annunciation in Moscow

Job, will you be annoyed if I speak?
    I can’t keep quiet any longer.
You have taught many people
    and given strength to feeble hands.
When someone stumbled, weak and tired,
    your words encouraged him to stand.
Now it’s your turn to be in trouble,
    and you are too stunned to face it.
You worshiped God, and your life was blameless;
    and so you should have confidence and hope.
Think back now. Name a single case
    where someone righteous met with disaster.
I have seen people plow fields of evil
    and plant wickedness like seed;
    now they harvest wickedness and evil.
Like a storm, God destroys them in his anger.
The wicked roar and growl like lions,
    but God silences them and breaks their teeth.
Like lions with nothing to kill and eat,
    they die, and all their children are scattered.

Once a message came quietly,
    so quietly I could hardly hear it.
Like a nightmare it disturbed my sleep.
    I trembled and shuddered;
    my whole body shook with fear.
A light breeze touched my face,
    and my skin crawled with fright.
I could see something standing there;
    I stared, but couldn’t tell what it was.
Then I heard a voice out of the silence:
“Can anyone be righteous in the sight of God
    or be pure before his Creator?
God does not trust his heavenly servants;
    he finds fault even with his angels.
Do you think he will trust a creature of clay,
    a thing of dust that can be crushed like a moth?
We may be alive in the morning,
    but die unnoticed before evening comes.
All that we have is taken away;
    we die, still lacking wisdom.” (Good News Translation)

The Christian spiritual classic, The Dark Night of the Soul, was written nearly five hundred years ago by St. John of the Cross. The gist of John’s observation is that God sometimes takes the Christian through dry times of hiding himself from the believer. 

The pain of wondering where God is and if he will even show up; experiencing unanswered prayer; enduring uncaring and misdirected comments from well-meaning people; all these and more are inevitably part of the Christian spiritual experience. 

The dark night of the soul is not to be confused with personal sinfulness. Its origin is not in self, but God. 

“Silence is God’s first language.”

St. John of the Cross

Whenever one knows with a settled confidence that personal integrity is intact, but trouble abounds, we need not immediately rush to the conclusion that something is wrong with us. It may be the Spirit of God thrusting us into a desert experience to test and approve our faith.

Job’s “friend” Eliphaz offered one of those tired age-old arguments that bad things only happen to bad people. He comes at Job with the inexperience and absurdity of making misguided assumptions. He rhetorically asks: Who that was innocent ever perished?  Where were the upright cut off? 

The conclusion of Eliphaz, therefore, was bound to be off the mark – believing secret sin must surely be the culprit behind Job’s awful misfortune. Certainly, Eliphaz thinks, Job cannot possibly go through such terrible suffering without having done something to anger God.

Times change; the basic nature of people, not so much. In today’s church and world, the same notions still endure. If I had a quarter for every time I heard crazy comments, like the following, I would be a rich man: 

“He’s poor because he is lazy and doesn’t want to work.”

“She keeps having chronic health issues. God is punishing her.”

“The pandemic is God’s judgment on us for not having the Ten Commandments in our courthouses.”

“If you just confess your sin and have faith, you’ll be healed.”

“They’re in big trouble. They obviously did something evil.”

On and on the wrong-headed statements continue, ad nauseum.

The Apostle Peter understood how to view trouble in a healthy way. He said we all suffer – both the good person and the wicked. It’s just a matter of whether we will suffer for doing good and the right thing, or suffer because of saying shallow, illogical, and stupid comments that offend God and hurt others. (1 Peter 3:17-18)

Even Christ suffered. And it wasn’t because of his own sin. It was because of ours. Jesus suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God. 

Jesus suffered; so, the follower of Jesus will suffer. There is a big picture only God sees. Whenever we suffer, there is something going on behind the spiritual scene. We must allow God to do divine work, and then, trust that the Lord bends all human suffering for good and redemptive purposes.

“Where there is no love, pour love in, and you will draw love out.”

St. John of the Cross

So, let’s change the rhetoric. Instead of jumping to judgment, reflexively hop to grace with comments like these:

  • “He has poverty of spirit. He’s blessed and will inherit the kingdom of God.”
  • “She’s in chronic pain. God has allowed her the privilege of suffering in solidarity with her Lord.”
  • “We’re in a pandemic. Here’s a chance for us to live out of the Ten Commandments.”
  • “If we confess the world’s sins of pride, hate, and injustice, perhaps God’s mercy will deliver us.”
  • “We’re in a big pickle. No better time than now to grow in grace.”

Where is God? Beside you, quietly and confidently holding you up in your suffering.

Lord God, I entrust myself to you because you know what you are doing. Thank you for the trials of life which humbles my heart to pray. Do your work in me so that my faith is fortified for a lifetime of service in the church and the world, through Jesus Christ, my Lord. Amen.