Religion & Spirituality:Christianity
Job - Why God? - Part 4
In these chapters Job says some truly astonishing things that we may otherwise overlook. To give you an idea of what is to come these are: in chapters 16 and 17 he reckons that he has been attacked by God, which leads to him saying that he has been abused by God; and then after a further statement from Bildad in chapter 18, which implies that he, Job, must be a wicked man, Job says in chapter 19 that although God is against him he has a strong hope that he will be able to state his case before the heavenly court and he hopes to be supported by an effective advocate. Who exactly that advocate will be is not clear to him – though perhaps it is to us!
First, the relatively easy passage, Job 16:1–5, where Job is asking himself how he would do if he was trying to comfort a friend who was suffering as he is suffering. Here it is.
If someone else is suffering it is so easy to stack up a heap of conventional phrases such as ‘you will soon feel better’ even when we know that our friend is dying, or, when we visit someone in hospital ‘cheer up, I’ve brought you some grapes’ which we then proceed to eat while our friend cannot face food of any sort, and so on.
Answer: up to you, of course. Paul never actually lists comforting as a gift. He does tell the Christians in Corinth that we should all be good at comforting because we claim as our Father God the ‘Father of compassion and God of all comfort’, but I do think some people are given a very real gift to say the right and helpful thing more than others do when faced with suffering. Some people are more adept at saying the wrong thing, than the right and helpful thing when someone is having a very hard time. If you are a gifted comforter make sure you use your gift as much as possible.
Now we come to the difficult passage 16:6 – 17. Job says his God is his enemy, his attacker and that there is such a thing as divine violence and abuse. Here it is.
Is it really so, or is Job just lashing out with words in his frustration and bitterness at what has happened to him, and his, for no reason he can begin to understand. I have been fortunate enough to live a peaceful life without any major traumas but many of you listening or reading this may well be shut in, unable to get out much because of some major trauma in your life or struggling in other ways, so I must be careful what I say from a position of inexperience. There are other statements like this in scripture. The Psalmist says ‘Your arrows have pierced me, and your hand has come down on me’, but then goes on to say ‘because of my sin’. Lamentations chapter 3 talks at length of the violence of God but the writer cannot believe that will go on for ever because ‘of his unfailing love’ and traces the problem back to sin. Job never does that. There will eventually be comfort for Job when we get to the last chapter of the book. But there was no comfort for The Jewish members of God’s ancient people who died in the holocaust less than 100 years ago.
There are, I think, 3 lessons here.
Jesus taught us to think of God as our loving heavenly Father, contrasting sharply with the most obvious OT picture of a creator/ruler/judge, even though there God is also a covenant God of steadfast love and faithfulness. Job evidently thought mainly of the creator/ruler/judge God and could not resolve the apparent conflict between that God and the covenant God. Neither will we ever be able to do so. We have to live with that conflict, holding to both images, not despairing because we cannot resolve the paradox, continuing to honour and trust the Lord and drawing strength from both Biblical pictures. Only that way will we be able to live with the complexities of life that we cannot fully understand or resolve.
Job is very ready to give up. He says this in the vivid pictures of chapter 17.
Next Bildad speaks up in chapter 18. He makes a fundamental mistake. He thinks the line between good and evil passes between people with some on one side some on the other. But in the real world it is not so. The line between good and evil runs through all of us; some of you, some of me, is on one side, some on the other. We are, like all the human race, made in the image of God, but on the other hand have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. But Bildad is sure that Job is entirely the wrong side of the line between good and evil. He doesn’t quite say so but it is very clear that that is what he thinks is why Job has had such a tough time.
And so to the famous chapter 19: famous because of one phrase ‘I know that my redeemer lives’ and one song in Handel’s Messiah. But is it really a statement about Jesus? We need to look at it carefully. I will read the first 6 verses where Job continues to react against his so ineffective comforters.
At this point I am going to switch from the NIV that I have been using as the version you are most likely to have to the Contemporary English Version, the successor to the Good News Version, because the argument is easier to follow in that. In the next 16 verses he describes his plight in some vivid images. He is trapped in a hunter’s net; a landslide blocks his way; he is caught in the dark; he loses his high place in society; he is uprooted like an old tree; he is besieged in his tent. Worse than all that he has lost all his closest relationships with family, household and friends. It is a sorry story, which I now read, 6-22.
Yet, all is not lost. In a surprising and memorable passage Job now turns to God. These are verses 23, 24.
He wants what he says to be recorded, not in a computer memory, which can be so easily erased, but engraved in rock with the letters filled with lead so they can be read forever. At least, that is what he hopes for. The CEV has ‘I wish’ and the NIV has ‘Oh that”. He has no certainty.
Then he makes his great pronouncement; here it is 25 – 27. It is all about his goel, as the original word is, translated as redeemer or saviour, his kinsman-redeemer, who will come to his rescue. Even after all his bitter and angry statements railing against God he knows that only God, or some delegate of his, will be adequate to come to his rescue. The OT goel was a close kinsman, an elder brother or a senior uncle or some other close and senior family member, whose responsibility it was to avenge a wrong, buy back a field that was in danger of being lost to the family estate or marry a widow to continue the family (as Boaz, the best known goel, did for Ruth). Experts argue about whom Job was thinking of when he wrote that. We don’t have to argue about who our goel is, it is Jesus.
It is rather surprising that the goel does not appear in the NT. The writer to the Hebrews perhaps get closest when he says Jesus was ‘not ashamed to call us brothers and sisters’ but he then goes on to talk about him as our high priest and not as our goel. However we can say with certainty that he is our kinsman for Gal 4: 7 says ‘you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir’. He is, as it were, our elder brother. And he is our redeemer as Peter says in his 1: 18, 19 ‘it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ’. So he is our goel, our kinsman-redeemer.
For Job it was a just a hope, an ‘I wish’ but for us it is a certainty ‘God made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved. …it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God ‘.
Sometimes it doesn’t feel like that. We are all capable of sliding into a dark, damp ditch of despair, perhaps not as deep and dark as the one poor old Job had got into, but just as real to us. But we have a better promise and a clearer hope than he ever had. Brother, sister, have courage.
It is Free