Wednesday, August 13, 2003

Job 9: Job Responds to Bildad (2)

In response to Bildad, Job began to raise the hard and real issues of suffering.

This post is part of an ongoing series on the book of Job. Click here to start at the beginning. At the end of each post you will find a link to the next.

Job explores the nature of suffering

Bildad's speech showed a man locked into a religious view of the world that was unable to recognize and accommodate a reality that lay outside its domain. Job, on the other hand, was forced to deal with that reality. And thus we should note the progression of his speeches from 1) Lament to 2) Appeal to 3) Facing facts. Job began with an irrational wish for the night of his conception to never have been. In his response to Bildad, he placed the nature of God and the conundrum of suffering alongside his own situation:

Then Job answered: “Truly, I know that this is so. But how can a human be just before God? If someone wishes to contend with him, he cannot answer him one time in a thousand. He is wise in heart and mighty in strength— who has resisted him and remained safe? He who removes mountains suddenly, who overturns them in his anger; he who shakes the earth out of its place so that its pillars tremble; he who commands the sun and it does not shine and seals up the stars; he alone spreads out the heavens, and treads upon the waves of the sea; he makes the Bear, Orion, and the Pleiades, and the constellations of the south; he does great and unsearchable things, and wonderful things without number. 

If he passes by me, I cannot see him, if he goes by, I cannot perceive him. If he snatches away, who can turn him back? Who dares to say to him, ‘What are you doing?’ God does not restrain his anger; under him the helpers of Rahab lie crushed. (Job 9:1-13, The Net Bible)

Job here affirmed God's wisdom and strength and that was an essential affirmation. If God were too weak to spare Job, then Job's suffering had no theological issue. It was this very capacity of the Lord to command that was the base for Job's confusion and need for answers. 

"If he passes by me, I cannot see him." Job was irritated when he spoke these words. God could come and go as He pleased. He could do what He wanted, and no one could rightfully protest. At times, Job had felt God's presence. Now if God were there, he did not show Himself.

"Under him the helpers of Rahab lie crushed." Rahab is another designation of the great sea monster, or Leviathan. In the book of Job, and in other scriptures, Rahab/Leviathan are a metaphor for evil borrowed from the mythology of the surrounding culture. The direct meaning of Job's reference to the helpers of Rahab were that God's anger does move against evil. However, Job was being, I suspect, somewhat ironic with this image. If God's anger targeted evil, why did it also target Job? With this imagery, Job transitioned to his next thought:

How much less, then, can I answer him and choose my words to argue with him! Although I am innocent, I could not answer him; I could only plead with my judge for mercy. If I summoned him, and he answered me, I would not believe that he would be listening to my voice— he who crushes me with a tempest, and multiplies my wounds for no reason. He does not allow me to recover my breath, for he fills me with bitterness. If it is a matter of strength, most certainly he is the strong one! And if it is a matter of justice, he will say, ‘Who will summon me?’ Although I am innocent, my mouth would condemn me; although I am blameless, it would declare me perverse. I am blameless. I do not know myself. I despise my life. (Job 9:14-21)

Job was not really addressing his friends here. These words marked the beginning of his struggle with God and suffering. Part of Job's struggle was now facing the possibility that God might not be good. The best contemporary example of a similar struggle is C. S. Lewis' A Grief Observed. When Lewis lost his wife, he chronicled his grief in a diary that he later published. At one point he wrote:

Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him. The conclusion I dread is not, "So there's no God after all," but "So this is what God's really like. Deceive yourself no longer." [Lewis, C. S. A Grief Observed (HarperSanFransisco, 1961) p. 18, 19]

To Job's frustration, God held all the cards.

“It is all one! That is why I say, ‘He destroys the blameless and the guilty.’ If a scourge brings sudden death, he mocks at the despair of the innocent. If a land has been given into the hand of a wicked man, he covers the faces of its judges; if it is not he, then who is it? (Job 9:22-24)

"If it is not he, then who is it?" This marked a point of revelation for Job, and he would press this, along with other ideas, in his future dialogs with his three friends until he had silenced them. There is a sense where Job was correct in this assessment, as we clearly saw in Job chapter 1 & 2 where the Lord does take credit for what has happened to Job. But there is the other sense where Job was plain wrong. Like C. S. Lewis, he was saying, "So this is what God's really like." Job was facing the issue of God's power and goodness. Was He all powerful and not good? Was He good, but not all powerful?

As Job continued this speech, He again moved to address God.

Monday: Job's second prayer.

<>< Test everything. Cling to what is good. ><>


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