Thursday, August 24, 2006

God's Answer (Job 38-41)

As Job predicted, once God enters the scene the debate is over. God does not endeavor to answer questions, but to ask a few of his own. As G. K. Chesterton pointed out in his Introduction to the Book of Job, God asks Job “who are you?” and Job can only reply “I don’t know.”

But the revelation is far richer than God simply putting Job in his place. Remember that Job began his complaint by cursing the day of his birth in language mirroring that of the account of creation. “Let there be darkness” rather than “let there be light.” It is this anti-creational element that Elihu warned would lead him to choose iniquity rather than affliction. Job had said:
Let those curse it who curse the day,
who are ready to rouse up Leviathan.
I’m going to go out on a bit of a limb here, and presume a few things about Leviathan. In the beginning of creation, the Earth is without form and void, with nothing but the tumultuous chaos of the sea. In the end of Revelation, we read that there was a new heaven and new Earth “and the sea was no more.” I think Leviathan, the mightiest of all sea monsters, is the embodiment of the unbridled chaos that is to be replaced with the order of God’s completed creation.

So for Job to talk about rousing up Leviathan is to invoke chaos to swallow up creation. It is to long for death, rather than life. Job never curses God, but he does come close to Ivan in the Brothers Karamazov, who said, “I reject His world.” God’s response is simply, “tell me a bit about this world of mine which you reject.”
Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?

when the morning stars sang together
and all the sons of God shouted for joy?

Where is the way to the dwelling of light,
and where is the place of darkness,

You know, for you were born then,
and the number of your days is great!
It is a good, if incomplete, answer to the question of suffering. I may ask, “why would a good God create a world with so much suffering,” but I may then be asked, “how would you create a world with less?” What goes into creating a world? What considerations must one take into balance? We are not qualified to evaluate our universe against others we know not of.

God’s questions are also revelation, albeit revelation of mystery. Every question points to another glorious aspect of creation. Every question implies that there is an answer more beautiful and elaborate than we could ever imagine. It is in this context that God brings out Leviathan in all his terror and might, and yet still within God’s ultimate power and control.

God rebukes Job, not for sinning or acting in any way less than blameless, but for despairing. God does not answer his questions, but assures him at least that the questions do have answers. Job answers the Lord:
I know that you can do all things,
and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.

Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.

I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
but now my eye sees you;
therefore I despise myself,
and am comforted in dust and ashes.
In the end Job repents, not of sin, but of despondency. He is reconciled to his suffering, not as God's judgment, nor his discipline, nor even his warning, but as God's will.

"We are not qualified to evaluate our universe against others we know not of."

Hmmm. . . Not sure about that. We do "know" of another world. The perfect, the ideal, as "heaven". Christ has revealed it through the gospel. It is the kingdom life we "see" in His teachings. It is the root of the ontological argument. However, if you mean that since even our idea of perfection is diluted and distorted by the fall, then I agree. Good thoughts you have here.

Thanks for the fresh perspective.

Oh boy...

I don't know how far you're interested in going here, Mark, but I'll presume since you commented that you're not opposed to a little friendly theological sparring. Let's see if I can solidify my own position a bit, and then you can show me where you think I'm off base.

I would contend that our word "heaven" is a little muddled - taking various different things in the Bible and assuming they are the same thing. First we have "the heavens" which means the sky (reminding us of that which is infinitely higher than man). We also have the term "heaven" which is often used interchangeably for "God" (kingdom of God, kingdom of Heaven) denoting God's sphere of existence. Finally, we have the phrase "new heavens and new Earth", meaning the new or completed creation.

What I take issue with here is the notion that heavenly reality should be seen as a better world that we should want to leave the current one and go to. That is true in a sense, but I don't think in the sense of "different universes." Rather, this universe, the heavens and the Earth, is God's good creation which he will bring to full culmination through the lordship of Jesus Christ. This may indeed involve a destruction and remaking (as it did in Christ's body) but there is continuity between the new and old creation. The final picture in Revelation is the New Jerusalem coming down from heaven (the presence of God) to Earth so that the distinction between God's sphere of existence and ours blurs and fades away.

That future glory shouldn't be seen as something to contrast to our current universe (though the contrast to the current state of the universe is startling), as much as a glimpse of what God actually intends to do with his created world in the end.

I have always adored the book of Job for its deep simplicity. While so many don't see the point to the book or see it as God being a big jerk and not answering Job's questions, I see it as God giving the only answer that is appropriate: "I am God. You are not." Just as Paul said when recounting some of those who were questioning God: "But, indeed, who are you, O man, to reply against God?"

Also, not to turn this into a Chesterton-fest, but it is interesting that the "I reject this world" theme is one that Chesterton touches on in his writings on suicide and how Christianity stands violently opposed to suicide for the very reason that it is an absolute rejection of everything God has made.

I definately agree, Matthias, that "I am God, you are not" is a key conclusion of the book of Job. I don't know about simplicity though - because this isn't the only message. The fact that there are several elements held in mystical tension is one reason why many people have so much trouble with the book.

For instance, it is Job's comforters first and foremost who say "who are you, O man, to answer back to God?" God reinforces this with his booming reply. And yet, God quickly turns around and says to His defenders "you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has." I'll touch more on this in the next post.

Figuring out the point of the book (if there indeed is a single "main" point) is awfully tricky!

Very interesting. This book has really more and more amazed me, as I've grown older.

Your thoughts here are interesting. God getting after Job for his despondency, rather than his sin. I'll have to think more on that, but there surely is truth here you are pointing to.

I can see that the rejection of life, and even of our lives, is in a true sense a rejection of God's gift, and in a true sense a protest against God. Even kind of a rejection of him, since denial of life means one wants out completely.

I look forward to reading your last post. And thanks.

Okay, now that we’re done with Job, I’ll go ahead and vent my only frustration with this book that I do indeed love a good deal (we are most frustrated with those we love most, after all).

I will preface my frustration with an admission that it probably comes from my desire to ask the book a different question than it answers, and thus perhaps I like Job must be forced to put away my unanswered questions as having been the wrong questions to begin with. That being said, I move on.

You said, “God rebukes Job, not for sinning or acting in any way less than blameless, but for despairing,” and “In the end Job repents, not of sin, but of despondency.” My gut reaction to this conclusion, which seems to be the only possible conclusion to the book, is “What does that mean to a person in the midst of suffering?” It is very easy to tell someone not to despair, but could Job have done anything else? If he could have avoided despair and didn’t, wouldn’t it seem that he had sinned; and if he couldn’t have avoided it, why would God rebuke him for it? I have turned this question over in my head for years and have never known what to do with it.

Perhaps the answer is simply that Job is not a book on “How to suffer in a righteous way,” as indeed the Bible is not a “How to” book at all. But as the Church is full of “comforters” like Job’s friends, I find the question haunting.


I don't know that I'm quite done with Job. :-) I still have to answer the scripture question that I set out with.

As far as the answer to your question, I do think there is a great deal of wisdom on "how to suffer in a righteous way" in Job. Though Job is rebuked in the end for despair, I have no hesitation in making him a model for our immitation:

I will give free utterance to my complaint;
I will speak in the bitterness of my soul.

In the end, the knowledge Job gained in his encounter with God isn't something you can learn just by reading it. Indeed, there is really nothing said by God or Elihu that Job hadn't already said himself. It was just, if you'll excuse the expression, "head knowledge" and not "heart knowledge." And it was his agonized cry to God that got him there.

As for Job's comforters, I think many comforters today could learn even from them:

And when they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him. And they raised their voices and wept, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads toward heaven. And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.

But the biggest message that the book of Job has for the Christian who suffers points beyond Job to the one he typifies. More on that, shortly.

But the biggest message that the book of Job has for the Christian who suffers points beyond Job to the one he typifies.

I agree with this one. It seems to me that the book of Job points to Jesus Christ who suffered though not guilty. Don't forget that while He was hanging od the cross the crowd was saying basically one thing: if he is righteous why then is he on the cross which is a sign of divine condemnation. This is the same point of Job's friends - you suffer therefore you must have sinned. But one day Christ will come and this book shows that One can suffer though not because of His sin. And we know it was because of ours.
Also, it seems to me that God doesn't answer Job's question whether Job is guilty or not because that may not be the main issue of the book. When you consider first two chapters maybe the point is that there are issues much bigger than Job and his suffering. Satan wasn't accusing so much Job as he did God. The main character of the book is not so much Job as it is God and Him being God. So in God's answer Job faced the greatness of God and was satisfied.

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