Sunday, August 13, 2006

Protecting God From Liability (Job 8-18)

Job’s friends are indignant that he refuses to acknowledge any fault on his part. How can he assert his innocence when God is afflicting him?
Does God pervert justice?
Or does the Almighty pervert the right?
If your children have sinned against him,
he has delivered them into the hand of their transgression.

For you say, ‘My doctrine is pure,
and I am clean in God's eyes.’
But oh, that God would speak
and open his lips to you,
and that he would tell you the secrets of wisdom!
Job’s response is fascinating:
If it is a contest of strength, behold, he is mighty!
If it is a matter of justice, who can summon him?
Though I am in the right, my own mouth would condemn me;
though I am blameless, he would prove me perverse.

Let him take his rod away from me,
and let not dread of him terrify me.
Then I would speak without fear of him,
for I am not so in myself.
From the outset he realizes that an argument with God is futile. God can crush Job without batting an eyelash, and could control Job’s own mind if he wanted to. It’s a paradox: Job is appealing to God’s justice to hold back his wrath and power enough to listen to Job’s complaints of God’s injustice.
Behold, I have prepared my case;
I know that I shall be in the right.
Who is there who will contend with me?
For then I would be silent and die.

Only grant me two things,
then I will not hide myself from your face:
withdraw your hand far from me,
and let not dread of you terrify me.
Then call, and I will answer;
or let me speak, and you reply to me.
Job’s entire position defies logic. He maintains simultaneously that God is sovereign over all things, that he himself is righteous and undeserving of suffering, that his own sufferings were yet given by God, and that God (in his wisdom and justice) will be swayed by the rightness of Job’s position.

Job’s friends reject this line of reasoning for clear cut answers. If God is sovereign and just, than they know Job must be in the wrong. It is here that Job turns to his friends and offers perhaps the most interesting argument in this book:
Hear now my argument
and listen to the pleadings of my lips.
Will you speak falsely for God
and speak deceitfully for him?

Will you show partiality toward him?
Will you plead the case for God?
Will it be well with you when he searches you out?
Or can you deceive him, as one deceives a man?

He will surely rebuke you
if in secret you show partiality.
Will not his majesty terrify you,
and the dread of him fall upon you?
Your maxims are proverbs of ashes;
your defenses are defenses of clay.
In other words, God will not be impressed with their well-meaning defenses of His character if, in so doing, they defend injustice. Better to dance in the paradoxes of mystery then embrace a logic that calls evil good. Denying the reality of evil is no true theodicy.

"Better to dance in the paradoxes of mystery then embrace a logic that calls evil good."

That line is absolutely beautiful.

I just happened to read a passage in Malachi that made me think of the discussion of Job:

"Your words have been hard against me, says the LORD. But you say, 'How have we spoken against you?' You have said, 'It is vain to serve God. What is the profit of our keeping his charge or of walking as in mourning before the LORD of hosts? And now we call the arrogant blessed. Evildoers not only prosper but they put God to the test and they escape.'"

I found it interesting because, at first glance, Judah's complaint here sounds like Job... and David and Ecclesiastes and Jeremiah... yet God who commended Job seems to be scolding his people here. I'm speculating that the difference is in what you were talking about here: a willingness to wrestle in the paradoxes of God. In the passage in Malachi there is no wrestling, but rather a declaration.

It seems that in order to really wrestle with how the justice of God could allow an observed injustice, one must have some measure of faith in the justice of God to begin with. There is nothing that necessitates God being just anymore than a programmer would be obligated to operate under the rules he creates for his software. If one complains that God seems unjust, he is asserting that God should be just; and if he is asserting that God should be just, he is assuming that God has chosen to subject himself to justice. Thus to wrestle with God's apparent injustice is to declare his justice.

I realize that I am years late to the discussion, but here's my 2 cents:

When I was four years old, I got lost at a water park. Reportedly, when my mom realized this and started to freak out, my dad said, "God is sovereign." Which only freaked her out more, because isn't "God is sovereign" code for, "Hey, don't worry if our son is dead?"

My take on the incident is that my dad was technically correct, but in the same way that Job's friends were. Remember the incident of the blind man healed by Christ. Why was he born blind? So that Christ could heal him. Why did Jesus weep at Lazarus' tomb, if He knew that he would be resurrected shortly?

Yes, it all works out in the end (Romans 8:28 and all that), but in the end is in the end, and God has deigned to come down from the end and into the present, and in the present, God weeps with us, hence the name "Emmanuel." God is sovereign, but not yet satisfied. Just as we don't understand the leviathan or the behemoth, we don't know precisely how God is going to work things out. But we do know that we must trust Him to work things out. But we also know that there is a time for mourning, and a time when those who mourn will be comforted.

So yeah, it's a paradox, more or less is what I'm getting at.

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