Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Job 30: A Curious Twist of Justice

This essay is #34 of an ongoing series on the book of Job. Click here to start at the beginning.

Job

Job's words in chapter 29, reveal a good man who became accustomed to being the center of community life. He took delight in the silence of others waiting for him to speak. He enjoyed the pleasure on people's faces when he chose to smile at them. You might now find yourself liking Job less or feeling less sorry for him. That is what you are supposed to be feeling, because it lays the ground work for the revelation about the Lord and His purposes in Job's life.

One of the reasons that Job cited for the honor given him by the community was the compassion that he showed to the poor. In his words from yesterday:

As soon as the ear heard these things, it blessed me, and when the eye saw them, it bore witness to me, for I rescued the poor who cried out for help, and the orphan who had no one to assist him; the blessing of the dying man descended on me, and I made the widow’s heart rejoice; I put on righteousness and it clothed me, my just dealing was like a robe and a turban; I was eyes for the blind and feet for the lame; I was a father to the needy, and I investigated the case of the person I did not know; I broke the fangs of the wicked, and made him drop his prey from his teeth. (Job 29:11-17)

Job was the champion of the poor. But it is interesting that when we get to Job chapter 30, we must realize that there was a limit to Job's compassion. There were some people that Job found contemptible::

But now they mock me, those who are younger than I, whose fathers I disdained too much to put with my sheep dogs. Moreover, the strength of their hands— what use was it to me? Men whose strength had perished; gaunt with want and hunger, they would gnaw the parched land, in former time desolate and waste. By the brush they would gather herbs from the salt marshes, and the root of the broom tree was their bread. They were banished from the community— people shouted at them like they would at thieves— so that they had to live in the dry stream beds, in the holes of the ground, and among the rocks. They brayed like animals among the bushes and were huddled together under the nettles. Sons of senseless and nameless people, they were driven out of the land with whips. (Job 30:1-8)

Job refers now to being mocked by people that he and others had driven from the land with whips. In reading this, we must remember that Job was declared in the book's beginning to be upright, blameless, and God fearing. We must, therefore, conclude that this was an unusual group of people for whom a lack of compassion is warranted. Nevertheless, I find the admission troubling. Job "disdained" them. He had no use for them. It did not bother him that they gleaned in salt marshes--what grows well in salt?--and lived in what must have been horrible poverty. Job is aware, but has no compassion for their suffering. Perhaps these people, who bray like animals, are among the insane or demonized or addicted. They seem to be beyond hope, at least in Job's eyes.

And it is interesting to now see that Job's troubles, which have come from the Lord's hand, have reversed their positions. Job is now the object of disdain from these very people:

And now I have become their taunt song; I have become a byword among them. They detest me and maintain their distance; they do not hesitate to spit in my face. Because God has untied my tent cord and afflicted me, people throw off all restraint in my presence. On my right the young rabble rise up; they drive me from place to place, and build up siege ramps against me. They destroy my path; they succeed in destroying me without anyone helping them. They come in as through a wide breach; amid the crash they come rolling in. Terrors are turned loose on me; they drive away my honor like the wind, and like a cloud my deliverance has passed away. (Job 30:9-15)

Job, once the center of community life, is now relegated to the edge of edges. He has become the outcast of outcasts. 

The more I think about this, the more inclined I am to think that we are to recognize Job's hypocrisy without nullifying the Lord's own assessment that there was no one like Job on the face of the earth: upright, blameless, fearing God, and turning away from evil. Assuming that these people driven from the community were the insane, demonized, and addicted, what can we conclude?

  • Such people have burdened society for thousands of years. This is not to say that they do not deserve compassion, but it recognizes the fact that they drain energy and resources from the community. I have worked in homeless shelters and I have sat down and talked with many people who are there because they are alcoholics or are addicted to drugs. Short of the power of God to deliver them from their physical bondage, their life will be homeless. They are not sober long enough to provide for themselves.
  • In a less mechanized age, such as Job's, the drain from such people is more acute. Let's talk clothing, for example. In Job's day the home had to begin with flax or wool, spin the thread and weave the cloth before they could cut the pieces and hand sew the garment. The very things that are incidentally ours today, i.e. food and clothing, were the very things that occupied most of the labor in everyone's working day. They did not have an abundance to share, even in the good years.
  • Even today, we debate the line between compassion and society's larger well being. We debate about providing clean needles to drug addicts. Clean needles mean that an addict is less likely to contract needle born diseases, but it also removes a deterrent that might help the addict cross the line and seek recovery. Condoms reduce teen pregnancy and abortion and sexually transmitted diseases, but they also remove those consequences as deterrents. I can argue that there are pains and consequences that societies must leave in place for the greater good of the whole. Clean needles and condoms, although they reduce suffering, work against those the things on which great societies exist: a diligent population that serve each other and strong marriages and homes. Is it possible or impossible to accomplish both? We do not yet know.
  • Since we have neither solved these issues and continue to debate the line, we cannot judge Job's culture and the line that they drew.

Nevertheless, this section of the book of Job demands that we see the cracks in Job's arguments. That is why we recoil when he tells us how people swooned over his smile. We are to see and question the hardness of Job over these people and ask if there is not room for a heart that mourns a bit more over their situation. Indeed, it would seem that the Lord has turned the tables between them and Job for just such a purpose, although the point is never explicitly made.

Next: Job complains again to God

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

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