Why? And other unanswered questions ... (3): Then, Now, If

. 6 min read

Christ Church, Mountain Top
to Worship, Job 28, selections
John 6.1-21
Job 29-31, selections
            Job, “fears
God and shuns evil”
            Day 1
            Day 2
friends, 7 days
            Why do
bad things happen to good people?
just don’t!
friends’ conclusion – there’s something wrong with you
gift of Job’s words for our prayers
Today’s text:
Clines: “nostalgic”, “bitter”, “aggressive”
(vol 18A, 1011)
            Then –
first persons story-telling (unique)
was in my prime
delivered the poor
            Now –
direct address to God (prayer!) as adversary
            If – a
series of oaths, curses included
arbitration by the friends
God on charges, summoning God to court

“Then”. Among
the treasured memories of Job is his honor. He is even honored by the poor, or
at least he thinks he is. “The blessing of the wretched came upon me”
(29.13). A rich man does not frequently have the respect and admiration of
“the wretched”. More often than not, the assumption is that he has
enriched himself at the expense of the poor. Job offers himself as an
exception: “I broke the fangs of the unrighteous” (29.17).

Job also remembers how his presence would silence the men of the town. He’d
come to the gate to take his seat and the younger men would withdraw and the
older men would hush their voices. Job would speak on an important question,
and when he was done talking, no one had anything else to say, nothing to add,
no question to ask, no contradiction to raise (29.8, 29.21-22). One wonders how
much of Job’s nostalgia fits the realm of fantasy. No one ever contradicted
you? Really? Or, a bit more cynical perhaps, one might wonder if Job is so
comfortable with his honor that he has become authoritarian – perhaps in ways
entirely acceptable in his culture, but certainly not in ours (see Clines, 993,
995, 1038).

“Now”. “But now they make sport of me” (30.1).
“And now they mock me in song” (30.9). “And now my soul is
poured out within me” (30.16). Now, his honor is undone and he is
ridiculed even by the young. God has become his adversary. “With violence
he seizes my garment; he grasps me by the collar. . . . He has cast me into the
mire, and I have been reduced to dust and ashes” (30.18-19, see Janzen).
It is a fight scene. Perhaps you have been in one.

Then comes the amazing direct address to God as adversary: “I cry to you
and you do not answer me; I stand, and you merely look at me. You have turned
cruel to me; with the might of your hand you persecute me. …”

“If”. Job rehearses a comprehensive catalog of sin and
includes sins of the mind and heart, sins of the inner life. Job speaks of
lust, deceit, envy, adultery, rejecting the cause of his slaves, refusing to
care for the poor, trusting in wealth, worshiping created things rather than
the Creator, rejoicing at the misfortune of his enemies, denying hospitality to
strangers, concealing his own sin, failing to honor the land itself. Of proper
treatment of slaves, he makes the stunning observation, “Did not he who
made me in the womb make them?” (31.15).

For every sin he lists, he declares his innocence with an oath and a curse if
he is perjuring himself. “If I have raised my hand against the orphan,
because I saw I had supporters at the gate” – that is, if I ever took
advantage of the weak just because the balance of power was with me – “then
let my shoulder blade fall from my shoulder and let my arm be broken from its
socket” (31.21-22). In a number of cases, no specific curse is listed. It
is assumed in the structure of the speech, a cascading series of “negative
confession”, of “oaths of innocence” that climax in verse 35:

is my signature!
Let the Almighty answer me!
O that I had the indictment written by my adversary!

Bruce Almighty, the file drawer

No wonder “these three men [Job’s friends] ceased to answer Job”
      Lightning bolt

gifts from this part of the story:
      The gift of Job’s words for our prayers
      The gift of self-examination
            Job’s righteousness
                  Contaminated (and ignorant,
even the friends)
                  Equality – but slaves, but
silence of others when he speaks
                  Sexual purity –
“then let my wife grind for another, let other men kneel over her”
             Blind spots (Bronco & the wagon)
                  Humility: Sinful people may be
righteous in ways we are not
                  Entitlement (from
                        Want good things to happen
to good people
                        And want to be the good

oath of innocence was not just a legal document, a summons to God Almighty. It
was also a beautiful, if flawed, expression of hope that retributive justice
will actually work in his case. All the curses? They are nothing but
retribution for evil. Since he is innocent, he wants retribution for good. He
deserves it! That’s entitlement. And when we focus on entitlement, whether with
the vocabulary of retributive justice or some other form, we miss out on grace,
on the gift of God.

I am left breathless at the end of Job’s speech. What will happen next? I
assume that one of two things may happen. God might show up and crush him
utterly. After all, he’s hoped to get it over with (6.9) and he fully expects
to die: “I know that you will bring me to death” (30.23). Maybe this
is his desperate plea to end it all, since he refuses to do the deed on his

OR – God might ignore him completely, treat Job like a nothing, not even a
minor irritant. If that happens, Job continues to suffer and God just doesn’t
show up.

What in fact happens is just what I do NOT expect. God shows up, takes job
seriously, and responds to the summons. Now, God does not answer Job’s charges,
at least not directly. God does not explain what has happened. But God does not
show up to crush him, and God does not ignore him and leave him alone in his
pain. Instead, God honors the audacity of a pain-stricken man a bit obsessed
with his own goodness.

That is grace. And, that’s what we’ll be dealing with next week!