Friday, January 29, 2010


In the prologue to the play J.B. by Archibald MacLeish, two aged characters, Mr. Zuss and Nickles, discuss a play about Job and who would play the main character.
Mr. Zuss: “Oh, there’s always someone playing Job.”
“All we have to do is start.
Job will join us … Job will be there.”
Nickles: “I know. I know. I know. I’ve seen him.
Job is everywhere we go.
His children dead, his work for nothing,
Counting his losses, scraping his boils,
Discussing himself with his friends and physicians,
Questioning everything – the times, the stars,
His own soul, God’s providence …”

At the College of Biblical Studies in Houston, TX, I taught an evening class entitled, Job: The problem of faith, suffering and evil. I taught it a number of times and in every class, most of the students were middle-aged or older. One of the optional topics for the term paper was, “Have you, or has someone you know, ‘played the part of Job’?” The students were to tell the story, including not only the suffering part, but the resolution – how God was perceived, etc.

This was a favorite topic; every paper was about the student’s personal experiences. I read about physical, mental and emotional problems, about physical, mental and emotional abuse, about the loss of loved ones, whether through death or alienation. One theme I found in some (though not all) was that there seemed to be no resolution. I suspect that may have been why those folks were taking the class.

The book of Job is very much like those papers. Though many of our questions are answered in the book, many are not. And even more questions are raised by the book. We’d like to think of the Bible as just containing neat little answers to all of life’s questions, but it doesn’t always do that. It does, however, provide guidelines, though we often have to dig hard to find them.

Job’s speeches throughout the dialog with his friends appear random when we first read them, but as he listens to their harangues, his own concepts seem to take form. He cannot simply attempt to refute their bad theology and interpretation of his problems; he is forced to develop a theology of his own, which he does. However, he does not lay his thoughts out in clear logical fashion; rather he moves back and forth, sometimes even contradicting previous statements. But he does make progress.

Job, like his three friends, is ignorant of the heavenly wager. He also buys into their “prosperity theology” – at least at first – and would even buy into their syllogism, except for one fact: he knows that he has not sinned. He agrees with his friends that God punishes sinners, but believes that God is punishing him and he’s not a sinner. Therefore God is either acting unjustly or unknowingly, though it’s not clear whether the first alternative ever occurred to Job. So then, while God is all powerful He is not (in Job’s thinking) all knowing.

The following is my brief attempt to systematize Job’s thoughts:

1. He feels he is innocent and longs for release through death.
“Oh, that my request would be granted
And that God would grant my desire
And that God would be willing to crush me
And let go His hand and cut me off!
Then this would be my consolation
As I writhe in unsparing pain
That I didn’t deny the words of the Holy One” (6:8-10).

2. God is punishing Him unjustly. Frequently he turns from his friends and speaks directly to God.
“Have I sinned? What have I done to You
Watcher of men?
Why do You make me Your target,
So I am a burden to myself?
Why don’t You pardon my transgression
And pardon my iniquity?
For now I’ll lie down in dust;
You’ll seek me but I won’t be!” (7:20, 21).

3. Perhaps if God had all the facts, He’d quit punishing Job, so Job demands a hearing before Him, even though he knows he’d probably lose. But there’s a glimmer of hope.
“If one wanted a trial with Him,
He wouldn’t answer one charge in a thousand” (9.3)
“How then can I answer Him,
And choose my words before Him?
For though I am right, I could not speak out;
I would have to plead for mercy from my Judge” (9:14, 15).
“But I would speak to the Almighty,
I want to argue my case with God” (13:3).
“Though He slay me,
I’ll still trust Him –
But I’ll argue my case before Him!” (13:15).

4. Job feels he needs an Arbitrator between himself and God. He uses five different Hebrew words.
“There is no umpire (MOKEYAH) between us,
To lay his hand on us both” (9:33).
“Surely now my witness (‘EDI) is in heaven,
And my advocate (SAHADI) is on high.
My friend is my intercessor (MELISAY)
My eye weeps to God,
Let him arbitrate (YAKAH) between a man and God,
As between a man and his neighbor” (16:19-21).

5. Yet Job fears dying before he can present his case.
“For a few years will pass
And I will go the way of no return!” (16:22).

6. Then Job wrestles with the possibility of life beyond the grave and comes to an amazing conclusion. There is! And not only that, Job has a Redeemer, a Vindicator, one who can rescue him from his helpless condition.
“For there is hope for a tree
If it is cut down it will renew itself
Its shoots will not fail” (14:7).
“But man dies and lies prostrate;
Man expires and where is he?” (14:10).
“So man lies down and does not rise.
Until the heavens are no more,
He will not awake or arouse from his sleep” (14:12).
“If a man dies will he live again?
All the days of my struggle I will wait
Until my change comes.
You will call and I will answer …” (14:14, 15).
“Where then is my hope?
And who will see hope for me?
Will it go down to Sheol?
Shall we go down together to the dust?” (17:15, 16).
“But I know that my Redeemer lives.
In the end He will arise from the dust!
Even after my skin is destroyed
I will behold God while in my flesh.
Whom I myself will behold,
And my eyes will see, and not another!” (19:25-27).

Job has wrestled through and come to a resolution. He knows he does have an Advocate and that he will be vindicated in the afterlife. We’re not told how he reaches this conclusion. Is it through direct revelation? Or is it that his sense of God and justice forces him to it? I believe it is the latter. If he believes that God is a just God, if he believes that life is full of injustices, he is forced to see justice as being dealt in the afterlife.

Job continues ranting after this. He doesn’t wrap it all up neatly for us. The book continues in a messy fashion. But the concepts Job develops find clearer expression in the New Testament. There is an Advocate! There is a Redeemer! He is One who can “lay His hand on us both,” One who is both God and Man, One who has died to redeem us: Jesus!

“There is one God, one Mediator also between God and men, himself Man: Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all …” (1Timothy 2:5, 6).

Bill Ball

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