In many ways, I often dread when the book of Job appears in our readings. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love the book. My challenge is trying to teach from the book in 20 minutes or so. We have some newcomers among us, so some of you may not know that I did my MA thesis and oral defense in religion on the book of Job. Consequently, you might say I have a particular fondness for the book. You might also say that I have way too much information trapped up here in my head that I just need to share with everyone. Truthfully, even before I chose to focus on that book for a thesis, I was always drawn to Job. As a child, I was could somewhat relate, from a child’s perspective at least, to the arguments put forth by Job in response to those tossed out there by his friends. Even 2500 years later or more, we seem to equate health and wealth with blessing and sickness and poverty with accursed by God. As a pastor, however, I would like to think that my appreciation of the book has grown. Many of the questions discussed in the book often flow from your lips as we discuss the many seeming injustices of events in our lives.
I will say, upfront, that if you are looking for specific answers to your questions in this book, you will likely be disappointed. Much of the book leaves unanswered the big questions of our lives. If you are reading the book looking for “how to” answers, you are in the wrong book. If you are reading the book wondering “why,” you might have an expectation about the book that will likely leave you disappointed.
Our reading this week picks right after Job has shaken his fist at his friends and God. For those unfamiliar with the book, Job was the subject of a cosmic discussion between God and Satan. God is bragging about His servant when Satan opines that Job only blesses God because God has so blessed Him in return. In response, God gives Job over to Satan. The idea of our Lord not protecting us against the scheming of the evil one might rightly disturb us, but God tells Satan that Job will not falter. Amazingly, through it all, Job remains faithful. Though he loses his wealth, his family, and his reputation, Job never wavers in His worship and adoration of God. Job does, however, plead his cause wrongly. His friends show up and encourage Job to confess the horrible sin that he has committed against God. Job asserts that he has not sinned against God. Further, he asserts that he wishes he had the opportunity to confront God about this injustice. After some bickering, and Job once again asserting that God has acted unjustly, God enters the discussion.
Who is this who darkens counsel by words without understanding. Put in our language: Who is this idiot that thinks I am asleep at the wheel! Job asserts that his suffering is evidence that God’s attention is elsewhere. If God knew Job and knew what was happening to him, He would immediately step in to protect Job. It seems a reasonable statement. We claim to be children of a holy, righteous, omnipotent, omniscient God. Can He not do anything and everything to protect us? When He fails to act to protect us, do we not feel a bit betrayed? Do we not rail at Him and shake our fists demanding to know where He was? If we are like Job and expect God to admit that He missed one or that He’ll make it all better in a second, we are going to be sorely disappointed.
Similarly, though, if we expect God to explain everything to our satisfaction, we are just as likely to be disappointed. Notice in His demands of Job, He never explains His doings. He asks Job if He was there when He bounded the sea, or when He constructed the world, when the stars started singing, or the clouds were wrapped around the earth. Job responds that he was not. From there, the conversation takes a bit of a surprising journey. We not only expect God to validate His earlier judgment of Job, but we expect Him to take the time and explain the purpose of the suffering. Instead, God reminds Job that he and we lack the perspective to understand the significance of everything that is happening in our lives and in the world around us. Only He has that kind of understanding. And ultimately, though we might not get the answer that we want for ourselves or for Job, it becomes a question of trust. Ultimately, we, like Job, are called to recognize the limits of our understanding and power and to trust that God, who is righteous and faithful, will exercise His for our salvation.
Is God’s answer the one we want? No. Our pains and our sufferings are real, and we demand a real solution to them. When we hurt, we want someone to kiss it and make it better or take out our frustrations on the ones who hurt us. We don’t want to trust. We want action. And yet God, in this amazing book, reminds us that He is always acting. We may not see it, we may not hear it, it may even seem from our perspective that He is losing. But that is a fault of our condition. As simple human beings, as created men and women, we lack the perspective of our Lord. We might trust that He will redeem, but can we ever know?
Unlike Job, you and I do have the benefit of history on our time. While Job looked to a day when he had an advocate to defend him, you and I know that the Advocate has already come. And everything that Job wants in this book, and we desire during those dark moments of our lives, He has already accomplished. God’s final conquering of death, brothers and sisters, is not an unanswered question. It is not a reminder of our ignorance (if we choose not to ask how He could love us that much). It is, ultimately, that single reminder of His power and purpose. Though thing may seem out of control in our lives, God is already there, ready to redeem. That He raised Christ from the dead demonstrates His power, and that He came down in the first place demonstrates His love for us. Ultimately, as God reminds us and Job today, it is a question of trust. But then, when has it never been thus?