Sunday, August 27, 2006

The Victory of Job (Job 42)


The poem ends with Job’s confession that God alone is wise, that he had spoken of mysteries he did not understand, and that, upon seeing God’s glory, he is content with his smallness and his dust and ashes. Job’s friends are no doubt content – his foolhardy notion of putting himself in the right and challenging God has landed him with a rebuke. The curtain falls, and it’s all over but the epilogue.

But then God speaks to Eliphaz:
My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. Now therefore take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and offer up a burnt offering for yourselves. And my servant Job shall pray for you, for I will accept his prayer not to deal with you according to your folly. For you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.
This is indeed the God of Jacob. How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! Upon humbling Job for his attempt to put Him in the wrong, God then takes his side against those who would defend God from Job. Job is the one who has spoken the truth, while his comforters’ arguments are dismissed as folly. What on Earth is going on? What are we to make of this?

Though Job and his friends don’t realize it, God has been the optimist from the beginning. He is the one who affirmed Job’s righteousness against Satan’s incredulity – he even staked His reputation on it. The evil God brought against Job was to justify both Job and Himself. So Job was right that God was his assailant, and also right that God would vindicate him in the end. Job’s mistake was to infer injustice on God’s part. God’s assaults against Job were just indeed: He afflicted Job because of his righteousness for the purpose of his justification!

Job’s friends condemned Job, and, in so doing, condemned God’s anointed. Their accusations that Job must be wicked, in this light, come from the mouth of Satan himself. Bildad asked “how can he who is born of woman be pure?” but God’s response is “what God has made clean, do not call common.”

But I have a lingering question. Although we can see that Job’s friends were in the wrong, how on Earth were they supposed to know? Though the truth that they asserted was not the deep truth that God was revealing, they had no way of knowing this. Their theology was sound, and Job’s assertions of his innocence could easily have been pride and self-righteousness. How can we avoid doing the same thing?

Comments:
Good thoughts. And good question.

I think Job's friends end up being blessed, in being part of this story and ordeal. They surely meant well. God saw their hearts. And gave them needed correction. And ends up giving us all, something that is enduring, and endearing (really) to this day.
 

I don't know, Ted - I find this all a little more frightening. I see far too much similarity between Job's friends and those who sat at the foot of the cross and mocked Christ.

He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him;
let him rescue him, for he delights in him!


The horror is that we can find ourselves in such a position, blaspheming the Holy Spirit by calling the work of the Spirit the result of wickedness, while thinking ourselves defending God and having sound theology. This is terrifying!

Perhaps we can only throw ourselves at the mercy of God, and pray that he reveals his intentions to us clearly so that we are serving Him and His purposes and not fighting against them. God save us from the inclinations of our hearts!
 

There is mercy and priestly intercession here:

"My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. Now therefore take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and offer up a burnt offering for yourselves. And my servant Job shall pray for you, for I will accept his prayer not to deal with you according to your folly. For you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has."

Christ called Peter Satan once. But still kept him in the inner circle. Unlike Judas. There is an ever present paradox of holy dread marking the whole book of Job.
 

Wonders... and Mark,

I like the sythesis in your comments. It does put a good check into us, that we would better look at ourselves when we are trying to help someone. That we would avoid their error altogether.

But I do see Job's friends more in line with a failing Peter, than a jeering crowd at the cross.

Good post and comments. Thanks.
 

I think part of the point of God's taking Job's friends to task was that their theology was unsound. They had fundamentally and terribly misrepresented God and His actions. The book of Job is all about dealing with the issue of bad things happening to good people. Job's friends are adamant that this never happens and judge Job harshly based only on his condition. It's the equivalent of going to a hospital and speaking to a lung cancer patient, saying to them, "Well, I feel really bad for you, but we all know that God only gives cancer to people who smoke, so you really brought this on yourself."

Men at ease have contempt for misfortune. Perhaps the lesson of Job's friends is that we not judge our neighbor... no matter how we may feel the evidence of sin is weighed against him. Judgment is for God alone.
 

Hi Matthias,

I think you may be right about witholding judgment, but then there are times where we need, and are indeed called, to judge. Discerning these things takes great wisdom, which I would distinguish from sound theology.

Anyway, I agree with your conclusion, but reject your premise. I really do think the theology of Job's friends was sound - I argued this in a previous post. I really don't see how one can condemn what the friends say without condemning the book of Proverbs and most of the Old Testament witness associating God's blessing with prosperity and affirming his Earthly judgment of the wicked. The theology is sound - it is just shallow and incomplete.

It's like C. S. Lewis' deep magic from the dawn of time. The deep magic was true, but there was deeper magic still. Job's friends grasp the deep magic, while Job is pointing towards (though not grasping himself) the deeper magic.
 

The more I think about my lung cancer analogy, the more I think it aptly fits the situation. Parts of the Bible indeed indicate blessings on those who follow God's commandments and curses on those who disobey them. But, while those who smoke are likely to get lung cancer, those who get lung cancer do not necessarily smoke. And arguing with lung cancer patients about whether or not they are smokers is a pretty asinine way of acting towards them. That we sympathize with Job's friends on this account goes a long way toward showing how seductive this line of thinking is.
 

I share the concern you express in your post. At different points, I can relate to every speaker in this story. It doesn't leave me comfortable, if comfort depends on getting it right the first time.

I'm thankful for the conclusion of the book, though. It affirms the power of forgiveness. Everyone in the story has blown it at some point, but all are reconciled, with God himself as the mediator. No one is "cast into the outer darkness."
 

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