I can’t believe that I’m doing this. I mean, how foolish is it for an “armchair theologian” to attempt to say something meaningful and intelligent about the Book of Job on his first day back at the blog in nearly a week? It’s not like Job isn’t one of the most difficult books in the Bible for the “professionals” to get a grip on; at least that’s what I’ve read repeatedly over this past week. Anyway, it’s what’s been on my mind so here goes.
Dave Carlson of Fresh Read has recently been looking at the book of Job. While visiting over there, I invited Dave to take a look at something that I wrote about the vindication of God as a theme in Job. After reading it, he left the following comment:
“I am not sure the Lord feels the need to vindicate himself-perhaps that is why some critics of the ‘God Speeches’ don’t feel satisfied.”
His comment set off a series of thoughts that went something like this: Since God feels no need for vindication (assuming that’s true, which is a thread to follow another day), why is His vindication in the text? Why is the vindication of God important? And to whom is it important? For nearly a week, I’ve been reading, thinking and writing my way through these questions. Since I have a self-imposed deadline to write on Thursday of each week, here’s what I’ve come up with this far.
The vindication of God is important to Job because it is his vindication as well. This is essentially what I said in the post which Dave read and commented upon. (Wonders for Oyarsa appears to agree with me, for what it’s worth 😉 .) God says Job is “blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil”. Satan says Job is not. He accuses God of buying Job off with blessings and safety. He says that Job will turn from God if these things are taken away. The trial begins but in the end Job remains righteous and God is proved right. Job, like God, also claims that he is innocent of sin. His friends see his suffering, believing that only the guilty suffer as punishment from God, and accuse him of lying. Job maintains his integrity and refuses to sin against God. When God shows up, He approves of Job as one who has “spoken of me what is right” and makes Job a mediator (or even a priest) between Him and the three “friends”. Job’s righteousness both vindicates God and is vindicated by God.
In his essay “The Cohesive Issue of mishpat in Job” , Carl Schultz says that divine justice is the central theme of the book and I followed his argument easily enough. However, as I thought about it more, it occurred to me that the questions accompanying divine justice are the questions of earth, not heaven. Why do the innocent suffer? How can a just God so cruelly afflict His creature, whom He says is “blameless”? Where is justice when the wicked live well and the righteous suffer and are killed? These are Job’s questions from his earth-bound perspective. They are the questions of earth, and certainly they are important questions. However, the text does not answer them, not really. When God speaks with Job at the end of the story, He doesn’t explain why Job suffered and He does not offer any defense of or insight into His justice. Instead, the only questions that are answered in the story are the questions of heaven. The questions of heaven are: Who is right about Job’s character, God or Satan? Who knows the heart of Job specifically (and men generally) better? Which of these two are more credible? Who can be trusted? The affliction of Job is permitted in order to answer these questions and it is their answers which demonstrate why the vindication of God is important to the reader.
God’s vindication is important to the reader because it shows that He is worthy of trust. If Job sins in his affliction, God is proved wrong and Satan is proved right. God may be powerful, but He is shown to be self-deceived about His own creation. God’s credibility is compromised. How can the “sons of God” trust His wisdom and judgment ever after? So, God initiates a public trial of his credibility for the benefit of His creation, both those inside the story and those outside reading the story.
Job trusted in God. In the beginning, he believed as his friends did; that God is just and that He inflicts suffering on the wicked for their sins. By permitting Satan to bring horrible suffering upon Job, who knew his own innocence, God created the circumstances in which Job’s trust in Him would be tested. Job’s choice was to either trust in his own limited and uninformed understanding of his circumstances or in the omniscient sovereignty and justice of the Lord. The reader of Job is faced with this same choice.
In a sense, I think that the choice for the reader is complicated by his knowledge of the back story. Job doesn’t know what’s going on in the heavens. He doesn’t know that His suffering is actually a result of God’s praise of him before the heavenly court and Satan, rather than God’s condemnation of Him for some secret sin. But the reader knows and, like Job, his trust in the Lord is assaulted. While Satan may bring the accusation and commit the crimes, it is clear that God is responsible. He staged the drama and He never once rebuked Job for giving Him the credit for the action of the story. As a result, Satan is given an opportunity to raise in the mind of the reader the same questions raised in heaven in the first chapter: Can you trust a God who is more concerned with His own credibility than He is with the life of Job; a man that God Himself says is righteous and fears Him? How can you believe in such a “monster…who is more interested in the wager than Job?” How can God be trusted?
The answer is found in Job.