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Why? And other unanswered questions...(1): Betrayal of God

. 9 min read

Christ Church, Mountain Top
to Worship, Job 3, selections
2 Samuel 6.1-19
Job 1.1-5, 2.1-10
start with some ANSWERED questions first!
      Why ask “Why?” As human beings we are
designed to ask, “Why?” I have often heard pious folks, when facing some big
sufferings, remark, “Well, we shouldn’t ask ‘Why?’” They are hoping that I, as
their pastor, will invite them to ask questions and place that in the context
of prayer and connection with God, and I do. But the logic of the remark is
problematic: Is God is threatened by our puny questions? Are we such a challenge
to God that God prefers us to be silent? Is asking the question a lack of
faith? In the section before us today, Job himself does not question, though,
by the end of the book, he raises every possible question. Even in this text,
however, the book itself raises the questions for us. If we are to read it on
face value, the reason Job suffers is because God and “the Satan” have a bet
going and Job is the test case. For me, at least, that is a very unsatisfactory
      Why preach Job? It is such a downer! It is
not! … To elaborate further, a story. “I don’t want to go in there with those
happy people.” She was mad at God, mad at church people for being happy, mad at
her family for being church people that day. At that moment, for her, her pain
and suffering was the only story worth telling. We are not a place for plastic
people. Here at Christ Church, we talk about growing in a spirituality that is
“giving, faithful, and real.” There’s a little thing that I like to call “real
life,” and it involves suffering. With apologies to Pharrell Williams, making
it through real life successfully is not about being happy, if we are to
understand “happy” as a plastic emotion. It is about resilience and discovering
a joy beneath and through the pain. By the end of the book, Job has discovered
a dignity and glory in being human that goes far beyond the circumstances of
life, a blessing that is much more than the pain free and wealthy life he has
when the story begins.

5th … “Decomposing” – Job deconstructing conventional wisdom & itself
what an amazing story! Job has everything, Job loses everything. We skipped
that part of the reading – but he loses his sheep, camels, oxen, donkeys, and
children – all in the same day. If you flip to the end of the book, Job gets
everything back, doubled (42.10-17). He had seven thousand sheep here in the
beginning. At the end, he has 14 thousand. He starts with 3000 camels, finishes
with 6000. 500 yoke of oxen, to 1000. 500 donkeys, to 1000. Except for children.
They don’t double – children are irreplaceable, and though the text does not
state this explicitly, children are immortal – but Job does have 7 more sons
and 3 more daughters. (You have to wonder how his wife managed to bear 20
      Job has everything, Job loses
everything, Job gains back double. And, somehow, God is to blame for both
blessing and pain. Really disturbing, the way it plays out behind the scenes.
And an amazing story. In fact, the story shows up in several other ancient
cultures, in Egypt and Canaan and Babylon. Those stories follow a similar plot
– a good man loses everything, then gets it back, and the god, or gods, are to
blame. Those stories, however, do not include what we have in the Bible, the
almost 40 chapters of poetry that reflects on the nature and cause of
      Most academics have concluded that
the writer of the biblical Job used a preexisting folk tale to create this
great classic. Whether or not that is so, it remains God’s book. Because of
this, we should not simply explain away or remove the disturbing elements of
the text. They exist to force us to ask, out loud, the questions that sometimes
we just need to ask: Is Job a test-case for a god running a science experiment
on human loyalty? Is Job an unwitting pawn in a wager between God and Satan?
Well, no. But haven’t we all wondered those things at some point in our lives?
      From the very beginning, the unknown
author of Job raises the most difficult questions about human suffering and
lets them sit there, unanswered. Some of these issues become clearer as we work
through the entire book, some do not. But the writer manages to address much
deeper and more difficult questions that we often fail to ask. For now, he’s
just setting the hook, drawing us in to the conversation that will play out
over the next 40 chapters of beautiful and daunting poetry.

The beauty of this book is in its language. And, it is
important to note some of the most interesting features in this portion of the
      First, “the
 Most of our English translations read “Satan”,
with a capital “S”, like a proper name. The Hebrew, however, reads
literally, “the Satan”, as a title or a job function: “The
Prosecutor”. The Hebrew root is used many times in the Old Testament for human
adversaries, or for human adversarial behavior (e.g., Ps 38.20, 1Sam 29.4;
Clines, I:20). It is not clear from the text that this is a
reference to the enemy of God and the enemy of our souls known in later
writings as Satan or the Devil. Whatever way we read it, it is clear in the
story that God is in charge, that God sets the rules and limits under which the
Satan operates.
      “Fence” (see
Clines I:101). In 1.9-10, the Satan tells God, “Does Job fear
God for nothing? Have you not put a fence around him . . . on every side?”
The assumption is that God has erected a protective barrier around Job, his
family, his possessions. Then, when Job curses the day of his birth, he asks,
“Why is light given to one who cannot see the way, whom God has fenced
in?” (3.23). Now Job is confronted not with a protective barrier but with
a prison of pain. Evil has broken in, and Job cannot escape. In the first case,
God is described as responsible for Job’s good fortune, and in the latter, God
is responsible for Job’s pain.
      “Evil”. Job is
introduced repeatedly as a man who “feared God and turned away from
evil” (1.1, 1.8, 2.3). One dimension of the meaning is ethical: Job fears,
respects, honors God and avoids sin. A second dimension of the meaning is
material: “evil” also refers to bad things that happen in life.
Indeed, Job has been sheltered – by God’s fence – from evil things. Amazingly, this
man who shuns evil remarks to his wife, “Shall we receive the good at the
hand of God and not receive the evil?” (2.10). The Hebrew root is the
same, though the English translations differ. In both cases, the word
“evil” is used, once to refer primarily to ethical evil and the other
to refer to situational or material evil. This use of the Hebrew term
“evil” raises the question of God’s responsibility: If we may receive
“evil” from God, is God then the cause of evil? David Penchansky’s
study on Job is provocatively titled, The Betrayal of God. Like
the book of Job itself, he leaves the question hanging there: Is God the
betrayer or the betrayed?
      “Curse”. Job
offers sacrifices on his children’s behalf, just in case they have “cursed
God in their hearts” (1.5). The Satan believes that if God’s goodness is
withdrawn, and if Job experiences evil, Job will “curse you to your
face” (1.11, 2.5). Instead, Job says, “The LORD gave, and the LORD
has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” (1.21). Job’s wife urges
him, “Do you still persist in your integrity? Curse God, and die”
(2.9). In the Hebrew text, these references to “bless” and “curse” are all the
SAME word! If you have ever spent time in the South, you may have heard the
expression “bless” or “bless out”, as in, “I really
blessed him out”. Or, in response to a rude remark, “Well, bless you
too.” There is a separate Hebrew word for curse (see 3.1), but it is not
used in these first two chapters. The writer uses the expression, together with
the literal meaning, in a skillful attempt to inject ambiguity – a common
dimension of our experience of suffering – and to highlight a critical
question: When I suffer, how shall I suffer? (See Clines, I:xxxviii.)
Shall I bless, or shall I curse?

So many of these ambiguities in this prologue of Job come together in the
advice of the character with the fewest words in the entire book, Job’s wife.
“Do you still persist in your integrity? Curse God, and die” (2.9;
see Clines, I:50-53). Job tells her that she is being foolish, but,
as things progress, he seems to follow her advice – the spirit of it, though
not the letter. He doesn’t curse God, but he curses the day of his birth and he
begins to blame God for what happens to him.
      In the conventional wisdom of the
time, God is expected to provide justice in this age that is reflective of and
proportional to the actions of human beings. This “retributive
justice” expects that if we do evil, evil will happen to us. If we do lots
of evil, lots of evil will happen to us. What God provides, by way of justice,
is both reflective of and proportional to our actions. Whether it is the
conventional wisdom of the time, or the karma of today, we struggle in those
moments when there seems to be no correlation between what is happening to us and
what we have done. We struggle when we have no one to blame, no one to blame
but God. And, we ask, “If being good doesn’t do us any good, then why bother?”
      Then, we come to the advice of Job’s
wife. “Curse God”, she says. And, she sounds just like the Satan,
“He will curse you to your face.” “Do you still persist in your
integrity”, she says. And she sounds just like God, “He still
persists in his integrity” (2.3). She understands that, by the
conventional wisdom of the time, you can’t hold to your integrity and bless
God. Because if you are innocent, then God has really messed up. Why bless him?
If you hold to your integrity – which she does not dispute – then curse God. On
the other hand, if you are going to bless God, then admit your own evil, confess
your sin, and get on with life.
      The concept of retributive justice,
however, just doesn’t hold up under that little thing we call “real life”. We
experience too much suffering that seems random, or even mean-spirited, to
conclude that there is always a direct relationship between how we behave and
how we are blessed. And the book of Job thoroughly desconstructs the
assumptions of retribution.

So many of these different themes in the prologue of Job come together in the
advice of Job’s wife. “Do you still persist in your integrity? Curse God,
and die” (2.9). As it turns out, she gives the best advice in the book.
She honors her husband and his integrity. And she directs him to God. Neither
she nor Job know what is going on behind the scenes. What she does know is that
isolating yourself from God when you are in pain is a recipe for destruction.
Instead, take it to God – whether you bring the current patience of Job or the
coming protest of Job.
      I’ve watched people in pain shut
down, close themselves off, embrace bitterness. If they have been hurt by a
friend, the friendship is over. They close the door on reconciliation, even if
the friend initiates with confession and repentance. If they have been hurt by
God, they close the door on that relationship. They neither bless nor curse
God. Job’s wife prevents that path. It is so easy to become self-absorbed in
our pain. We’ll be patient for a while – it is heroic, and it feels heroic. But
if the pain lasts longer than the heroic impulse, our hearts become cold and
hard when we are focused on ourselves – my integrity, my pain, my heroism, my
endurance, my overcoming. “Curse God.” Even if that is all you have
to say, say it. Get down to business with God.
      You may bring patience: “The
LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD”
(1.21). You may bring protest: “Why is light given those in misery, and
life to the bitter of soul?” (3:20). Either way, Job’s wife says, get down
to business with God.

Resources for the series:
David J. A. Clines, Job (Word
Biblical Commentary, three volumes).
Robert Gordis, The Book of God and Man.
Edwin M. Meeks, In Turns of Tempest.
David Penchansky, The Betrayal of God
Janzen, Job (Interpretation Biblical Commentary)
and others