In this session we’re focusing on Job 31:35-37; 38:1-11
But let’s recap. Job is righteous, religious and rich- the very epitome of a success story- but that effortless prosperity raises the Satan’s hackles and he sets out to discover whether or not Job’s piety is offered freely to God or for some reward. In a horrendous test, Job is reduced to total loss, total poverty, and complete spiritual confusion. His friends arrive to comfort him but stay to confront. They assume some guilty secret has come home to roost because -as they insist- those who do evil deeds always receive their just rewards from God.
Far from acquiescing to his fate, Job begins to question its justice. The friends may have expected a quick and dismissive death, but instead they receive the torrential fury of a man convinced that God is not what they (and he, and we) think.
Something is definitely amiss in this neat world of reward and punishment, and Job refuses to be silent in the face of such obvious injustice.
At Job 9:22-23, Job is constrained to shout, “God destroys both righteous and wicked,” and even “mocks at the calamity of the innocent.” He concludes (Job 9:24) by announcing, “The earth has been handed over to the wicked; God covers the faces of the judges: if it is not God, then who is it?”
By this reading, God is both tyrant and sadist, mismanaging a chaotic universe.
The friends are shocked, and attempt to belittle, accuse, and obliterate Job. Underneath is the subtext that if their theology is astray, with what can it be replaced?
Ever thought that about your own neat little package of beliefs?
The “friends” symbolise the long ongoing story of fellow-believers who claim much and know little, failing in both their theological depth and in their counselling breadth. Think of the religious leaders who confronted Jesus on an issue where theology and ethical practice connected. He answered: “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God.” (Matthew 22:29) The same critique is going on here.
But here’s the thing: if they are indeed wrong about their claims, and their final disappearance from the drama suggests that, then is Job proved right? What sort of theology can we glean from his fury? How can this tirade come to a conclusion? In Chapter 31, Job makes an astonishing plea:
“Oh, that I had someone to hear me!
I sign now my defence—let the Almighty answer me;
let my accuser put his indictment in writing.
36 Surely I would wear it on my shoulder,
I would put it on like a crown.
37 I would give him an account of my every step;
I would present it to him as to a ruler.” (Job 31:35-37)
And we come – by chapter 38- to God’s response, and to what must be the “point” of the whole book. But that point is not immediately obvious. Job wants answers about the universe’s justice, or lack of it, and God talks on (and on) about creation: the sea, the dawn, the earth, etc. As the speech progresses, God speaks of the wild creatures of the world, even the ostrich, whose foolishness knows no bounds, but whose speed is wondrous.
What are we to make of all this? Job wants justice, and God says, “Have a look at the stupid but fast ostrich!” The incongruity seems to add confusion rather than clarity.
But eventually, as you read, over time, something very important begins to dawn.
It is that both Job and his friends were wrong about God. God is simply not in the business of rewarding and punishing human beings in some quantitative arithmetic. God’s revelation to Job (and to us) is that the universe is far bigger, far stranger, and far more mysterious than we can imagine. A longer look at the ostrich and the sea and the eagle would help us to begin to see that.
We would also learn that we are not in creation’s centre either. The world is not our oyster, but it is God’s oyster, the God who “brings rain on a land where no one lives, on a desert, empty of human life” (Job 38:26). Why would God do this?
Because God is God, and we humans do not determine how God will act, nor are we always the reason for God’s actions. In the end, God is holy and other and the world is God’s, not ours. Job needed that revelation, and so do we.
So God reveals himself in that whirlwind tour of the cosmos, displaying creation in all its wildness and beauty.
And we have to acknowledge that humanity is hardly mentioned in these passages, that there’s more to consider (Job 38:25-27; 40:15)! God seems to take delight in exactly those creatures and places over which humanity has no control. The Sea, the wild animals, Leviathan — these all have an intrinsic value that has nothing to do with their usefulness for humanity.
This vision, of course, has major implications in our ecologically-minded age.
Also, God gives a place in creation to forces of wildness, including the Sea (the ancient symbol of chaos), but God also places boundaries on them (Job 38:8-11). The world is not allowed to descend into chaos, but neither is it rigidly controlled by its Creator. God gives his creatures the freedom to be who they were created to be, and that freedom is a great gift to human and animal alike. In this vision of creation, the world is not an entirely safe place for human beings, but it is a world of order and of beauty, and its Creator delights in it.
Even, -and this is the mystery that needs a lot more analysis than is possible here- the Problem of Evil itself, personified in Leviathan (Job 41). There are powers that are unleashed on the earth that are simply beyond our control. Our attempts to control those forces are as ludicrous as catching a crocodile with a fish hook.
So where do you fit into all this, Job?
God does not address Job’s suffering directly, but in this vision of creation, Job’s vision is expanded. He is invited to take his eyes off himself and his suffering, and to see the world around him.
As Augustine out it: “If you have understood, then what you have understood is not God.”