Job’s confusing catastrophe teaches us we’re asking the wrong question

800px-Job_and_his_friends

“… Job was a godly man.  Both the author and the Lord himself make that clear up front (1:1, 8; 2:3).  In fact, it was Job’s faithfulness to God that got him into trouble (1:8; 2:3).  So the entire book must be read with Job’s integrity in mind.  Even in his extreme suffering, Job never gave in and turned against God (2:9-10).

Job’s three friends were, at first, appalled by the catastrophic destruction of his life.  They came together to comfort him.  They wept.  They sat speechless.  They didn’t know what to say (2:11-13).

But after a while, they thought of plenty to say.  Chapter after chapter, they went on and on needling him with insinuations of the deep dark secrets that must be there, to account for what had happened to him….

Job’s friends lived in a psychological world of crime-and-punishment.  They probably subscribed to the doctrine of justification by faith alone.  They were good theologians.  Paul quotes one of them approvingly in 1 Corinthians 3:19.  But the gospel had not yet softened their inmost moral instincts.  So functionally, without realizing it, they reverted to justification by works alone.  Job had to be guilty at some level, and was now getting his comeuppance.  It never occurred to his accusers that maybe these events in Job’s life were part of a great battle being fought in the heavenlies.

Apparently, Job’s untidy realities were threatening their tidy notions, and they transferred their anxieties to Job as their scapegoat.  After all, if God could body-slam Job for no visible reason, what might that imply for them too?  But if they could successfully find fault with Job, then their glib moralism could continue undisturbed, they could go on feeling good about themselves, feeling in control, and they wouldn’t need to trust God with some extremely difficult mysteries in life.  These three men needed Job to be in the wrong somehow, in order to justify themselves.”

… if they could successfully find fault with Job, then their glib moralism could continue undisturbed, they could go on feeling good about themselves, feeling in control, and they wouldn’t need to trust God with some extremely difficult mysteries in life.

“To his credit, Job never caved to his accusers.  He was not claiming to be a sinless man.  He was only insisting that he had committed no sin that could explain the destruction of his life.  His friends kept insisting there was no other way to explain it all.  The friendship imploded….

Chapter 42 resolves the story.  In verses 1-6, Job has his own moment with God, when he bows more deeply than ever before.  He stops hoping for an explanation from God.  He reproaches himself even for expecting it… So God accomplishes a work of renewal in Job’s heart.  But God does not say to him, “Job, you know very well why I did all this.  You sinned here, and here, and here.  Remember?”  God never joins with Job’s accusers….

In verses 7-9, God confronts Job’s friends.  Surprisingly, God does not say to them, “You have not spoken of Job what is right.”  God says, “You have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.”  The debate was really about God all along.  The real question was not, What kind of person is Job?  The real question was, What kind of person is God?”

Hear that again:

The debate was really about God all along.  The real question was not, What kind of person is Job?  The real question was, What kind of person is God?

“… So God turns the tables on them.  He commands them to take a sacrifice to Job, who will act as their priest and pray for them…  Now we realize how important it was for Job’s three friends that he not surrender and agree to their accusations.  When their day of reckoning came, they needed a true friend to stand in for them and pray for them…

So they humbled themselves and came to Job, and the Lord accepted Job’s prayer for them… I am guessing their hearts changed.  I have a hunch that, for the rest of their lives, they were more cautious, more restrained, more self-aware, as they formed opinions about suffering people….

Georges_de_La_Tour_044The book of Job warns every one of us to be aware of our sinful inclination toward opinionated grandiosity… We see people suffering.  We are tempted to blame, to stigmatize, to accuse.  When that judgmentalism pours out of us in words against them, we risk sinning as Job’s friends did — speaking against God himself, oblivious to the real battle above.

When we ourselves are the ones suffering, and our friends betray us, our suffering intensifies with the added burdens of isolation and shame and loneliness.  The Lord then calls us to forgive them, even as we ourselves have been forgiven for our many betrayals of the Lord (Colossians 3:13).  Not that this forgiveness is easy.  But it is the Lord’s call upon us.  This deep forgiveness is internal to ourselves, way down deep, whether or not our tormentors admit any wrong….

The book of Job is intended to create among us a gospel culture of humble restraint, a readiness to trust and to comfort when we cannot understand why a friend’s life has just imploded… In it all, the primary question is always, What is God really like?  Am I being fair, not only to this other sinner and sufferer, but to the Lord himself?  Am I representing him truly?  Or by my mercilessness am I becoming the photographic negative of Jesus?…” (Ray Ortlund, Job, broken friendships and reconciliation, The Gospel Coalition, July 27, 2015)

For Ray Ortlund’s full piece: Job, broken friendships and reconciliation

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Paintings: Job and his friends, by Ilya Repin, 1869, and Job Mocked by his Wife, by Georges de La Tour (1625-50)

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About Jill

I'm a wife, mom to three beautiful children, and currently work at two jobs for which I'm very grateful -- part-time at my kids' school, and as children's ministry director at Redeemer PCA in Athens, GA, a place our family treasures as our church home. It's been thirty years since the Lord saved me, and to this day I'm astounded at His steadfast love shed upon unfaithful me. My hope would be that I might speak and write in ways God would use to soften hearts toward Him, that we would together be enamored by the glorious beauty of Jesus and awakened to His love unimagined. Thanks so much for reading!
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