Day 153: Job 39-42; The Lord Answers Job

Again today, I think it makes most sense if we also include Job 38 in our discussion for today as it is the beginning of God’s response to Job.  Also today we have come to the end of Job.  We have seen the long dialogue and the questions.  We have learned appropriate ways to respond to God in the different situations that we find ourselves in.  In this we have also seen good ways to support our brothers and sisters, friends and neighbors in their pain and struggle in life by virtue of the example set by Bildad, Eliphaz, and Zophar in how not to be a good friend in time of need.

"The Hands of the Creator" Photo Credit:

“The Hands of the Creator”
Photo Credit:

Today, though, we hear the Lord’s response to Job’s challenge of God.  Again, I see the point made here that God is not worried about our questions.  There is no pressure that God buckles under.  Indeed there is nothing to big or to small for the Lord to contend with, and He makes this abundantly clear in His response: “Who are you… Where were you… Can you do these things?”  God is asserting His God-ness… the fact that He is wholly other… completely and totally above all things.  He asks Job question after question and I can just see Job feeling a little smaller after each one.  God covers everything from the star in the heavens, to what happened at the time of creation, to His strength above and providence toward all creatures.  Without a doubt, when the people of Israel would read this, the narrative of creation in Genesis 1 & 2 would come rushing back into their minds.  Perhaps they would be reminded of the story of Noah and the great flood in Genesis 6-9 or of Moses and the 10 plagues that so vividly displayed God’s power over all creation in Exodus 7-12.

Yet the passage that we encounter today is not simply about God’s power above all things and His ability to do whatever He wants because He is God.  Though we believe this to be true in some respects, we also believe that God cannot and does not act outside of the character of God; a “limitation” (if you can call it that) that God has placed on Himself.  God is the True measure of Love, Grace, Mercy, Holiness, Truth, Justice, etc.  He will not act in any way less than what that is.  However, He is still God and His knowledge and wisdom, the Will of the almighty, it completely beyond our comprehension and God is reminding Job, humanity, and specifically the people of Israel of this very truth.

The Lord Answers Job Out of the Whirlwind Photo Credit:

The Lord Answers Job Out of the Whirlwind
Photo Credit:

Which brings us back to the very people we have been following so closely up until this book.  We may have taken a step back in time, or a side step in the on going narrative of the people of God, yet really… we haven’t… because this message is directed specifically at them.  In many ways Job is representative of the people of Israel, God’s chosen people.  The life of this nation, in many ways, reflects the life of Job.  They were blessed beyond compare, chosen by God to be His people and to be a blessing to the nations.  Yet, like every nation and every person, they encountered some hard times when they seemed to have lost it all.  Really, this happens several times over the course of the history of Israel and each time it does, the people fall victim to the gods of other nations, the “friends” that try to come and offer comfort.  God’s people even begin to question God and turn away from Him, thinking that their ways are better than God’s.  Interesting that God doesn’t show up in a whirlwind and put them in their place as He did with Job.  And yet… in some ways He does.  Perhaps it is not so direct, so obviously right in front of them, but God’s work always seems to bring them back around.  Whether it is slavery in Egypt, Wandering in the wilderness, defeats in battle, or even exile from their land, God always works to bring them back to Himself.

And this… this is the Truth behind the story of Job and the story of the people of Israel.  God has called them, through no merit of their own, and even when they turn away, God is quick to forgive and quick to restore.  We see this here with Job.  He does not remain obstinate and indignant about his current situation, but quickly falls to his knees and admits his own wrong doing.  This is a lesson for the people of Israel and for all who follow God.  The ways of the Lord are above and beyond our comprehension, yet no matter where we find ourselves, no matter what we have done, if we turn to God and repent of our sins, God is quick to forgive and to restore.  Whether we are walking on the path that the Sun is shining down on or the road marked with pain and suffering, we must cling to the hope that we have in God almighty, our ever-present, all powerful God who promises time and again that He will never leave us and He will never forsake us.

Day 152: Job 35-38; Enter Elihu

Today we pick up in the middle of Elihu‘s speech to Job and his friends, but really today’s post is all about Elihu, from Job 32-37.  Elihu is the contrast, the friend that we all wish that we had.  He is the guy that tells it like it is, who doesn’t shy away from discomfort, but also isn’t afraid to tell the truth.  And so he does here, without hesitation, rebuking Job and Job’s friends Zophar, Bildad, and Eliphaz.  He then speaks the truth of the situation to them all.

First, Elihu speaks to Job’s friends, making known the truth of their words towards Job.  There was no wisdom to be found among them say he, despite their age and experience.  Among their many words to Job, no answer could be found to Job’s cries.

Second, Elihu speaks directly to Job in truth about Job’s situation, one that we all find ourselves in as we discover.  Elihu makes it plain to Job that all of humanity is the same before God, we all stand before him as that which is taking from the clay, from the dust of the earth… creatures before our creator.  Contending with God as though we know better is not right, Elihu says, and we must be careful in what we say.  None of us are blameless before the Almighty and none have knowledge or wisdom above that of God.  Indeed God is in control of all things in life and sustains the world from beginning to end.  From the dust God formed us.  It is He who gives us life.  It is He who sustains us.  It is He who numbers our days.  Nothing happens in this world without the will of God in heaven.  Who are we to stand up and say God is wrong and we are right?

The Wrath of Elihu, from the Butts set. Pen an...

The Wrath of Elihu, from the Butts set. Pen and black ink, gray wash, and watercolour, over traces of graphite (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Finally, this is the answer that Elihu gives to both Job and his friends Zophar, Bildad, and Eliphaz: God is Great and Majestic… God is Justice.  There is really no better way to say it so I will leave today with excerpts from Elihu’s speech.  I think it deserves to be said though, in closing today, that Elihu is different from Eliphaz, Zophar, and Bildad.  He has answered Job and these three friends truthfully.  He has rebuked what needs to be rebuked, and has left the rest up to God.  Elihu doesn’t give quick answers without thought, but speaks the Truth of God’s Will, and leaves the rest to God.

“Of a truth, God will not do wickedly,
and the Almighty will not pervert justice.
Who gave him charge over the earth,
and who laid on him the whole world?
If he should set his heart to it
and gather to himself his spirit and his breath,
all flesh would perish together,
and man would return to dust.”

“Remember to extol his work,
of which men have sung.
All mankind has looked on it;
man beholds it from afar.
Behold, God is great, and we know him not;
the number of his years is unsearchable.”

“Do you know how God lays his command upon them
and causes the lightning of his cloud to shine?
Do you know the balancings of the clouds,
the wondrous works of him who is perfect in knowledge,
you whose garments are hot
when the earth is still because of the south wind?
Can you, like him, spread out the skies,
hard as a cast metal mirror?”

“And now no one looks on the light
when it is bright in the skies,
when the wind has passed and cleared them.
Out of the north comes golden splendor;
God is clothed with awesome majesty.
The Almighty—we cannot find him;
he is great in power;
justice and abundant righteousness he will not violate.
Therefore men fear him;
he does not regard any who are wise in their own conceit.”

Day 151: Job 31-34; Job Challenges God

There is a fine line in Job’s appeal to his own righteousness that he has walked fairly well until now.  Dealing with his friends’ accusations of unrighteousness and speaking that truth about himself is not necessarily a bad thing.  Job has been true to himself and true to God up to this point.  He has maintained his integrity and even stood up for God’s ability to do as God wills in Job’s life.  He has admitted that there is a higher power and a higher wisdom at work and, though Job has done nothing wrong and certainly nothing to deserve what has happened to him, he will trust in God because God is much larger than he.  All this Job has done in the face of pain and suffering, in the face of loneliness and accusations, in the face of encouragement by his wife by his wife to just give up, and in the face of what I’m sure was an overabundance of inner voices that sought to bring him down as well.

Up to today, or arguably yesterday, Job has walked this line very carefully.  His responses to his friends have been true and they have honored God.  However today, unfortunately, Job kind of crosses a line.  Maybe he just couldn’t take it anymore.  Perhaps he reached is breaking point.  More likely though, in this narrative of Job he says these things to prove a point and accent the truth that is and will be communicated through this book.  So what is the line that Job crosses?  To date, Job has maintained his innocence in front of his friends as well as his integrity.  He has not accused anyone else of wrong doing and he has conceded that God is God and no one can understand the ways of God.  Yet today Job, for all intents and purposes, changes his tone a little… he starts questioning God.  We see it right away in Chapter 31:

I have made a covenant with my eyes;
how then could I gaze at a virgin?
What would be my portion from God above
and my heritage from the Almighty on high?
Is not calamity for the unrighteous,
and disaster for the workers of iniquity?
Does not he see my ways
and number all my steps?

You see, Job is appealing to what we are familiar with as the moral codes of Israel; the Law if you will.  For the people of Israel it went something like this: “If you follow the law, I will reward you.”  This was the prevailing opinion of Job’s day too and really of most of the Biblical times.  If you live righteously and follow God you will be blessed.  Job knows this and believes it, and at the end of his discourse he sort of calls God out on it.  He points out several times that what has happened to him is meant for the wicked and the unrighteous.  In a way, he is kind of telling God that He is wrong for doing this.  This, as you can imagine, is where Job crosses the line, and we’ll see two days from now how God responds to this.

Sometimes this section of the book of Job is used to silence to suffering.  When taken out of context, it seems as though Job is just a whiny person who has encountered some bad luck and is blaming God for it.  Yet we know, in the context of the whole narrative of Job, that there is a much deeper story going on here, one that transcends human understanding and yet is still completely intertwined in it.  Be that as it may, there is nothing written here about the suffering not crying out to God.  While no one, really no one, ever said that life would be fair, this is not God’s way of saying that we cannot come to Him with our problems.  It also doesn’t say that we can’t plead our case before the throne of God.  As believers in Christ we know that we “Have a great high priest who has gone before us” and who is “seated at the Right Hand of the Father, interceding for us.”  As I mentioned yesterday, the Psalms are full of laments to God about the situations that the writers were in.  God welcomes us into His presence!  “Come you who are weak and burdened, and I will give you rest…”

There is a line though that we must be careful not to cross… not because we will be struck dead or cast out, but because of the dangerous thinking that comes on the other side.  In all things we need to remember who we are and whose we are.  We are God’s creatures, the creation of a being so much greater than we could possibly even begin to imagine.  It is important for us, as we bring our requests, laments, and burdens to God that we also come in faith and trust knowing that all things work according to the will of God and that they will “work together for good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose.”  “The Lion of Judah neither slumbers nor sleeps,” “He will not let your foot slip.”  “Not even a hair can fall from your head without the will of the Father in heaven.”  God “knows the plans He has for us…” and welcomes our responses, our prayers, our laments, and even our questions.  But we have to trust the answers, trust that God will work His good, pleasing, and perfect will, and trust that his plans are “to prosper us, to give us hope and a future.”  Amen.

Day 150: Job 27-30; Job's Defense

Job has clearly endured a great deal of pain and trauma in his life.  The loss of all his monetary wealth is one thing and the loss of his family and loved ones is completely another thing.  Yet Job has lost most than this, a loss that we have experiences over the past couple of days.  Job has lost the support of his friends and his wife which is pretty much all that he has left on this earth.  You know the saying “when it rains, it pours?”  For Job it would be more along the lines of “when it rains, it hurricanes.”  One could say that no matter what bad day anyone has ever had, Job definitely had it worse.

But even saying that is a way of taking sides with Job’s friends.  They have answered Job in ways that have sought to minimize his pain so that they don’t feel as uncomfortable.  This may or may not be the reason for their answers and accusations of Job, we’ll never truly know, but I think that this does strike a chord with our own hearts and feelings when we encounter those that are struggling.  Telling someone else that they should “buck up” because there are those that have it worse is a way of doing this.  Sadly, we even do this to ourselves, minimizing our own feelings of hurt or sadness because we don’t want to deal with them.  I understand… I’ve been there… its difficult to feel alone and abandoned, defeated and disdained.  No one craves that as an existential reality, but we have all been there and it is a place that we don’t want to return.  So when those feelings begin to seep back into our lives, it rapidly becomes a flood of memories and hurt that we cannot hope to handle.  Clearly, this is not the way that we are supposed to be struggling through our trials and hurts… but how then?

Job shows us the way.  He sets the example for us.

When it seems like all is lost…
When it seems like it couldn’t possibly get worse…
When it seems like there is nothing else to lose…
When it seems like all have turned away…
When it seems like even God has turned His back…
Job still maintains his faith in God almighty.

We see this laid out clearly for us in today’s reading.  Job knows that he has not done anything to deserve this and he even recognizes that God has allowed these things to happen to him.  It seems as though Job understands well that nothing happens outside the will of God as expressed in His ongoing sustaining of the universe.  He isn’t necessarily happy about it, and rightfully so.  As we’ll see in the Psalms in the coming weeks, there are many people who cry out to God in their distress, and that is ok!  We are allowed to lament; God welcomes our cries… He is the ultimate comforter.

Job doesn’t seek an explanation for all that is going on here.  He understands that the wisdom of God is far beyond his comprehension and believes that there is some greater purpose at work here.  He doesn’t listen to his friends’ (Bildad, Eliphaz, and Zophar) explanations either, trying to minimize pain or explain away the actions of God on a whim.  Job stands up in his pain and in his sorrow and say that He will trust the Lord.  It isn’t the easiest decision.  It doesn’t make everything instantly all better.  It won’t even always bring the explanations we are looking for.  But it is the Best decision we can make when we are in pain because it binds us to the One who is in charge of it all (from the stars to the hairs on your head), the One through whom all wisdom flows, and the One who has promised to be with us and never let our foot slip.

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord!

O Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
to the voice of my pleas for mercy!

If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,
O Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness,
that you may be feared.

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
more than watchmen for the morning,
more than watchmen for the morning.

O Israel, hope in the Lord!
For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
and with him is plentiful redemption.
And he will redeem Israel
from all his iniquities.

The Cross in the wreckage of the World Trade Center on 9/11 became a symbol for faith, comfort, and hope amid the tragedy. Photo Credit:

The Cross in the wreckage of the World Trade Center on 9/11 became a symbol for faith, comfort, and hope amid the tragedy.
Photo Credit:

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I take counsel in my soul
and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

Consider and answer me, O Lord my God;
light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,
lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,”
lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.

But I have trusted in your steadfast love;
my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
because he has dealt bountifully with me.

Day 149: Job 22-26; Final Accusations

As we have discussed over the past couple of days, when people encounter others that are dealing with pain and struggles in their life, it can become very uncomfortable for those who mean well trying to be supportive.  Like Job’s friends, we are more than willing to sit and be silent with our friends who are suffering.  We gladly share in their grief offering compassion and love in as many ways as we can.  We can subscribe to the idea of being slow to speak and quick to listen, willingly offering our shoulders for others to cry on.  We even bring meals to our friends who are traveling through the dark valleys of life.  These are all good things, and easy things for us to do.  They show that we care, communicate our good will and intentions, and provide support for those dealing with pain.

Yet what happens when our friends start asking questions about the struggles that they are going through?  Maybe the first two are not so bad.  They might ask “why me?” or say “I wish so-and-so was still with us.”  We can nod or shrug, silently still giving support without engaging the questions that we have no answers to.  These questions are normal for people to ask.  We don’t really think that they are looking for answers, but rather just traveling down the road of grief and trying to make sense of the situation.  But when the questions keep coming, just like most people, we start to get uncomfortable.

People like to have answers, order, and processes.  We are naturally curious about how things work and why they work the way that they do.  Humanity strives for knowledge, and especially in the last 150 years or so, work hard to discover and learn about the world and how it functions.  But these difficult things, they don’t have simple little explanations or solutions; they don’t often fit into our categories or life processes.  There really are no good answers for why someone very close to you died at a young age, or why your family member got cancer, or why that young girl got hit by a train.  No explanations or logic can really figure that out.  And this makes us uncomfortable.

Unfortunately, the questions don’t always stop when we start feeling uncomfortable.  A grieving mother doesn’t look up from  her painfully blank staring to say, “Oh I can see that my grief and questions are making you uncomfortable, I’ll stop.”  No, instead she just continues to ask questions of both men and God.  This is the point at which we feel uncomfortable.  It is here that we tend to shut down, disengage, ignore, or even become angry.  We often end up here, and today we see that clearly Job’s friends are at this same place anymore.

Here we pick up the final accusations of Job’s friends Elephaz and Bildad.  They have gone through a great deal of discourse, talking back and forth, listening to Job’s pleas and questions before God almighty.  They are ok to sit with him, but when the rubber meets the road, they are just as ignorant to the true purposes of God as everyone else in the world.  But rather than returning to a point in which they can be supportive and uplifting, they choose to take out the anger and struggle on Job.  We have read their accusations against Job, they are bitter and unhelpful to this suffering man.

Perhaps it was something in their past that has been brought up while Job sufferings and struggles even for breath after all the calamity that has fallen on him.  Perhaps it is their unfulfilled need to be able to explain the world and put logic to words in these crazy times.  In any case, Job’s friends have listened and been somewhat supportive, but clearly now they have had enough. Rather than saying that they didn’t truly know why all this was happening to Job they have chosen the past of anger and even accusation.  Job doesn’t need someone who questions their every saying, he needs someone who is willing to listen and dwell with him in the dark valley of the shadow of death.  Job needs someone with open ears, not an open mouth.

Today we read the last accusations of Job’s three friends.  As you do, ask yourself which character you can relate with.  Maybe you find death or struggles uncomfortable.  Perhaps you are scared of the questions that might be raised?  Are you quick to cast blame so that you don’t have to process of the emotions or answer the questions that people ask.  As you evaluate yourself, ask yourself… who am I in this story?  Is that who I truly want to be?

Day 148: Job 18-21; The Accusations Continue

If direct accusations aren’t enough in this situation, Job also has to endure the veiled accusations of Bildad and Zophar.  When these two men speak once again, they do not take as direct approach as Eliphaz did, but they do make their voices and their thoughts heard in the face of Job’s despair.  This is where Job’s friends start to get me worked up inside.  Not that I haven’t been feeling for Job all this time, but I think as I read these friends beat around the bush calling Job wicked and evil without actually calling him those things, I end up getting really frustrated with them.  There is nothing I hate worse really than people beating around the bush rather than telling me what they actually want to tell me.  Even if it is bad, I’d rather hear what is on their minds rather than playing all sorts of verbal niceties.

We could go on and continue talked about the differences between Bildad and Zophar in their accusations of Job, attacking his character with their attempted explanations of the situation as we have been, but I think today that I am feeling led to talk more about Job’s reaction in all of this rather than the friends that we have looked at in recent days.  From the very beginning, Job has maintained his integrity.  Through all the trials and struggles of life, He still does not cave to the pressure of His friends, nor does he doubt God’s good will for His life.  Today, in the face of Bildad’s accusation, Job’s reaction is the sound faith that “His Redeemer Lives.”  No matter what Job goes through, that knowledge and belief continues to carry him.  I think that Job sees the truth of the deeper side of the situation, that God has sustained him through this trial and that, even in the suffering, God’s faithfulness continues.  It seems like little consolation for all that Job has been through, but the fact still remains, that God’s providence is still at work in this situation, even if Job doesn’t understand it all.

Sometimes I think that we think that it is a cop out to say that we have hope in God and that should trump all pain and suffering.  In someways, perhaps it is… and in some ways I would completely disagree with this method of trying to comfort someone.  While that statement is entirely true, our hope in God, the faith that we have in Jesus Christ is certainly something that we should hold on to in times of pain and suffering.  God is indeed almighty and loving and we know that He is working for our good, even if we cannot feel it right now.  This is all very true.  I think, however, that we tend to use these truths in the ways that are not meant just for the comfort of others but rather, as we have talked about in these last few days, to quell the discomfort in our own minds.  When we use truth to minimize other people’s pain because we don’t want to deal with it, it doesn’t make it any less true, but it does make the use of it wrong.  God’s Word and the hope that it offers was never meant to be used for selfish purposes.  We want to be able to comfort people in times of trouble, to walk with them through the dark valleys.  We do this because we, like Job, are confident in the hope that we have in Christ.  We know that no power on earth can take us away from that hope, and that it is pervasive in our lives.  We do not use this hope to minimize other people’s pain, but instead to walk with them through the darkness guiding them towards the healing light that is in Christ.

Day 147: Job 13-17; The Accusation of Eliphaz

Job’s faith in all of this is incredibly telling.  I often think to myself when I’m reading through Job that I would never be able to withstand this amount of suffering.  I can’t imagine all of my family being taken from me, everything that I own, and even my health.  I can’t even begin to fathom the pain of dealing with all this and then facing friends that care more about their own personal comfort than that of myself in dealing with all of this suffering.  Yet in the midst of this, Job says very clearly that he will continue to trust in God no matter what happens and what comes from the mouths of his friends.  What an amazing faith in the face of suffering and pain.  Job doesn’t have the answers, he probably doesn’t know all of the right questions, but He knows where is source and his strength comes from.  Job trusts in the almighty and understands, if even a little, that in this time, he NEEDS to hold on to God through faith.  Job knows that he is no different than any other man, that his life is not any better.  He also seems to know that God is good and that there is a purpose, no matter what it is.  He will trust in the Lord because the Lord is God.

It is into this then that Job’s friends begin to speak again.  They follow, in many ways, the course that we normally follow as well.  We first start by trying to offer veiled explanations of things that we don’t understand.  Our hope, as it was likely the hope of Job’s friends, is that will quiet Job’s questions, ones that we really don’t have the answers to, so that we will no longer feel this discomfort.  What comes next then, is not actually helpful for Job, but is meant to again calm the minds and fears of the friends not the one who is suffering.  Job has refused to be quiet in the face of his friends and the suffering that he is going to, so they have chosen to step up their comments as well.

I think that we often struggle to deal with or interact with people that are actively questioning God.  No matter what people are going through, the explanation that God is in control seems so often to be the end of the discussion.  We have been told that we are creations and God is the creator.  Even Job said that in a way that the beginning of this book.  Yet that is not entirely true.  As we will see in the coming Psalms, the Bible is filled with people that cry out to God, bringing their problems and troubles before Him and even questioning why it is that they are going through what they are.  We have lost a bit of this in the Christian faith.  We don’t want to be with people in their problems because we don’t have an answer because, quite possibly, there is no good answer this side of eternity.  Instead we accuse, explain, and speak without knowledge or wisdom, all in the name of God.  The Spirit is described as a counselor and a comforter.  Jesus came not to judge the downtrodden but to help them.  In His name, comfort and hope are offered, not judgment and accusation.

It is ok to ask questions to God, to bring our laments before Him.  God is not afraid of our troubles, He is bigger than our doubts.  While there may be few answers that we find here on earth, we know that our heavenly Father sits enthroned in heaven and that He indeed has a plan for us.  Nothing takes place without the will of the Father.  This can be a comfort to those who are hurting, but it can also lead to a lot of questions, and that it ok.  We don’t need to have all the answers… our place is to be a comfort in time of need, and to point to our hope in the Lord at all times and in all places.

Day 146: Job 9-12; Bildad and Zophar

Today we continue with our exploration of Job’s friends.  Yesterday we saw of two usual reactions that take place when bad things happen to seemingly good people.  We see how people are so quick to offer explanations, thoughts, and opinions about what is going on and why.  We are focusing on these folks instead of Job because of their reactions and how they often reflect what our reactions are.  Job’s reactions in this, his questioning and pleading with God… these are natural emotions and issues to work through.  Anyone that has dealt with pain and/or suffering on a level such as this knows that the questions that Job raises are natural.  The book of Job is a book of contrasts, showing the natural reactions, which God welcomes and is not at all afraid of against the human reactions to discomfort that are both wrong and completely unhelpful.

Flooded I-10/I-610 interchange and surrounding...

Flooded I-10/I-610 interchange and surrounding area of northwest New Orleans and Metairie, Louisiana (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We pick up the story of Job where we left off yesterday, with the respond of Job’s friend Bildad.  Unfortunately, this response is not anything better than that of Eliphaz, whom we spoke of yesterday.  Remember that Eliphaz chose to suggest that Job had done something wrong.  He does so in a non-accusatory tone, suggesting that it is the innocent that prosper, not the wicked.  Eliphaz suggests that Job should seek God and find out what he did wrong, though not directly.  We do this sometimes too don’t we?  Make veiled suggestions without actually accusing someone of something?  It makes us feel like we can explain away the situation, which makes us feel much better.

English: Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka Kansas

English: Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka Kansas (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As the speeches of the friends continue, we encounter Bildad who, like Eliphaz, suggests that there is clearly something that Job has done wrong and he needs to repent.  This is a bit more direct than Eliphaz, but still completely misses the point.  Bildad says that God wouldn’t do such things to someone who was righteous, therefore Job must have done something wrong.  This sounds like a familiar cadence does it not?  When the planes struck the towers on 9/11 certain religious people claimed that this was God punishing them and us for our sins.  The same was true when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans; judgement from God on the sins of that place.  What about the people from Westboro Baptist?  They claim that the deaths of soldiers in the military are the result of God’s judgment on America over the issue of homosexuality.  What a comfort it must be to explain away the pain and sadness, the suffering of people that are no worse than their accusers.

Next we encounter Zophar, whose response to Job’s pain takes a different but still familiar route.  Someone in pain expresses some of the difficulty that they are going through and the response of this friend is “it could be worse.”  Zophar appeals to the truth of the human condition of sin, knowing that there is obviously something that Job did wrong at some point in time.  While this is true of us all and we have indeed sinned, there is no comfort found in suggesting that the darkness could always be a bit darker.  No one find comfort in knowing that their pain is not as bad as it could be, but it sure calms the nerves and the discomfort of those who are attempting to be a support.

Again, both of these responses are veiled and empty.  Rather than being sympathetic to plight of Job in this time of trial and pain, these ‘friends’ of Job offer explanations that are unhelpful of a situation that they cannot explain.  While their responses speak of God and God’s actions as if they understand, the fact is that we don’t understand why there is evil and pain in the world.  We live in a broken world and, though we lived as redeemed people and have seen the beginning of the restoration that has begun in God’s actions and been advanced in the reconciliation brought through Jesus Christ, we also know that we are not there yet.  We live in the reality of the resurrection, the reality that there will be no more pain or death or suffering, yet we also understand that it has not yet been completely realized.  God is at work, this is incredibly true and we see it in the grand scheme of things, even if it is not so evident in the moment, but the world is still broken.  Sometimes we need to just sit in that brokenness, be uncomfortable in the pain, and dwell in the dark places with our loved ones as they journey through times of pain and suffering with them rather than minimize their suffering to quell our discomfort.

Day 145: Job 5-8; Job's Wife and Eliphaz

Yesterday we read the intro to Job.  A man that had everything, who was rich beyond richest of the day, lost all but his life in what seemed like an instant.  What is interesting to me though is Job’s reaction, something that we’ll continue to see throughout this whole book.  Job tears his clothes and begins to mourn, but Scripture also says that Job worships God in that time as well.  While I wouldn’t want to belittle anyone’s suffering or pain, I wonder how many of us would turn to God in “worship” when something bad in our lives happens.  I think that part of this is the idea of a funeral worship service in that we remember the life of the person and thank God for the days they were with us.  This is an important part of mourning, in that we remember that it is ultimately God who has given to us the people in our lives and it is He who sustains us.  Job’s words remind me of a wonderful and popular song by Tree63, “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord.”

Job Mocked by his Wife

Job Mocked by his Wife (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After these events happen and Job has even lost his health his wife enters into the scene and give Job her counsel: “curse God and die.”  While I don’t believe this is meant to be a knock on wives, I do think it is indicative of our first tendency when we face trials and evil like this.  We don’t understand why this is happening and the first voice that shows up is one that screams in our minds about fairness and the apparent contradiction that is placed before us.  “How can a loving God allow these things to happen?  He must not be real or He must hate me.”  It is, sadly, our first instinct… to run.  No one likes to be hurt.  Certainly no one likes to suffer.  But the fact of the matter is that sin, evil, and brokenness are a reality in the world.  Job’s response to his wife is very telling of the conviction of his faith in God: “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?”  I imagine this was not an easy thing for him to say… and it certainly isn’t for us either… but there is truth in his words; a very hard truth.

Иов на гноище. Job. 1547-51. Роспись ю-в. стоп...

Иов на гноище. Job. 1547-51. Роспись ю-в. стопа Благовещенского собора Кремля (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Enter Job’s friends.  For the rest of today and tomorrow we will explore Job’s friends and their responses to Job’s plight.  Initially it seems as though they take the right approach.  They show up and sit with him for SEVEN days without saying a thing!  Wow… 7 days.  Have you ever gone to someone in pain and just sat with them?  Have you ever needed someone to just come and sit with you?  It can be uncomfortable… the silence can be unnerving even… but in this initial reaction, I think Job’s friends get it right.  However, for them and often for us, when Job starts asking questions and despairing out loud, the discomfort takes over and the desire to settle ourselves takes over.  This is what happens with Job’s friends.

Eliphaz listens to Job’s cry, his questioning of the situation, and even his wish that he had never been born, and then he speaks up with words of counsel for Job.  His first response in the ESV Bible is titled “the Innocent Prosper.”  The whole premise for his speech to Job it to point Job away from his “deceit” and towards whatever sin he has done that has brought upon him this punishment.  He works, in many ways, from the idea of a black and while God who only lets good things happen to the good people and bad things happen to the bad people.  Therefore, from the perspective of Eliphaz, Job must have done something wrong.

Sound like a familiar thought?  I know I tend to jump to those thoughts and sometimes even suggestions when it comes to uncomfortable topics like suffering and pain.  Its really easy to explain it away isn’t it?  But I wonder if we (or if Eliphaz) was saying these things for Job’s sake… or for his own?  See, the first thing that we tend to do when we get into an uncomfortable situation is to distance ourselves somehow.  Eliphaz seems to want to answer all of Job’s questions, to explain away his predicament so that the discomfort will go away.  Perhaps you are familiar with this discomfort?  I know that I am quick to answer and slow to listen when it comes to times like this.  But I wonder, if there are times when we need to just be uncomfortable with our friends… if there are times when just sitting in silence, wiping the tears away, and even just listening to the despairing talk of a loved one is all that is necessary.  Perhaps maybe the best answer, is not the one that tries to explain all of the problems away… but is simply a listening ear and a hug?

Day 144: Job 1-4; Intro to Job

After almost 150 days, 144 by my count, we are are stepping into a new genre of Biblical literature.  Since we began our journey through the Bible, we have been reading the books of the law and the books of history.  These books have been composed of primarily narratives that are descriptive of Israel’s history and the stories that connect the Israelites to their ancestors and therefore to God.  Also contained in these books is truth about the nature of God as is observed in His interactions with His people.  God’s interactions, or revelation of Himself, reveals a much deeper reality that exists, the reality of a created order which God has creates and which He sustains day after day, throughout all of time.

The book of Job is the first of the five books classified as “Wisdom Literature.”  These books take us away from the narratives and instead directs our attention towards following God with our whole lives.  Job, a book famous for addressing the problem of evil in the world, is possibly the only exception in this wisdom genre.  It is a story, driven primarily by dialogue, of a man who has it all and then looses it for no apparent reason.  Throughout the story, Job grapples with how to deal with all the tragedy that has come upon his life.  As we’ll see throughout this story, Job’s friends say a lot to try and explain away the things that are going on in Job’s life, but ultimately it is only God who can provide an adequate explanation for His one working and will.

Job doesn’t happen in chronological order with the previous books that deal with Judah’s exile and return.  Actually, the book of Job is undated.  Some think that it was written during the return of the exile as a way of explaining suffering.  Others think that it was written by Moses about a time during the book of Genesis.  In any case, we do not have a date for this book, but the wisdom of the book is insurmountable.

As we begin the book of Job, we encounter a couple of things that could cause us to be uncomfortable.  The first, and most prominent, is indeed the problem of evil in the world, the suffering that Job deals with that reflects the human condition and the suffering that afflicts all of us throughout our lives.  Job encounters in his life, what seems like punishment for something that he has not done.  Again, this is something that is uncomfortable for us because we don’t understand it and cannot readily explain it away.  I encourage you to feel that discomfort… the explore it… and stay in it for our journey through this book.  Rather than offering up a thoughtless explanation, to read and reflect, being open to the message of Job and the Word that God is speaking here.

Another thing that we encounter right off the bat is the scene in heaven that is depicted here.  It offers us a glimpse and perspective on something that we call “The Divine Counsel.”  This is not necessarily something that the Church, especially in the west, is familiar with.  We see a picture of God sitting in heaven among the angels, perhaps very similar to what we would envision in the creation narrative.  What this reveals is the Hebrew idea of a totally theocentric universe, where everything revolves around God and nothing happens without His approval.  Furthermore, we see even more vividly that nothing happens unless God speaks it into existence.  Again, this is very similar to the creation narrative of Genesis, “And God said…”  What is revealed here, in some ways, is the point being made that creation was never done, but it is an on going and continuous process through which God is continually working in and sustaining all of the universe.  In this, we hear the canonical echos of Jesus’ teaching that “not even a hair can fall from our heads without the will of the Father in heaven.

I hope this introduction to Job helps us to gain some perspective on the general setting for what we are about to read.  Job is, in many ways, a difficult book to read because of the reflection it gives us on our own situation, the suffering that we often encounter in life.  I encourage you, as you encounter this book, to not be like Job’s friends and speak a quick word to yourself to settle your uncomfortable feelings, but instead to sit quietly with it and listen for the Word of the Lord, the all sustaining creator, that we may follow the voice of the Shepherd through this dark valley.