In my first post, I enumerated Eliphaz’s pastoral mistakes (Job 4-5) and Job’s response to his “friend.” In this post Bildad responds to Job’s rejection of Eliphaz’s counsel (Job 8 ) and Job reacts to Bildad (Job 9-10).
Whatever God does is just. God destroyed your life. Therefore, you deserved it.
With shocking pastoral insensitivity Bildad uses Job’s children as a case in point (8:4).
When your children sinned against him, he gave them over to the penalty of their sin.
As readers we know that the sins of the children had nothing–in terms of the prologue’s narrative–to do with their deaths. Yet, Bildad clearly sees the “justice” of God. It has to make sense to him; there must be a rational explanation for the death of children. That round peg has to fit into the square hole we have been given.
Yet, Bildad, like Eliphaz before him, holds out some hope for Job.
If….if….if…you will do better, Job; if you will become more righteous; if you will repent; “if you will look to God and plead with the Almighty,” “if you are pure and upright,” then God, “even now,” will “restore you to your rightful place.” “Your beginnings,” Bildad promises, “will seem humble, so prosperous will your future be” (Job 8:5-7). Since God does not “reject a blameless man or strengthen the hands of evildoers” (an interesting statement in light of the narrator’s words that God put Job into the accuser’s hands in 1:12; 2:6; he strengthed the hands that attacked Job!), Job could possibly expect–if he repents–“laughter” and “joy” once again while the “tents of the wicked” disappear (Job 8:20-22).
Between the two exhortations to repent (8:5-7 and 8:20-22), our friendly theologian–based on the wisdom of the ages–points to the fragility of those who “forget God” (8:13). They are fragile because they trust in what is fragile. They whither and die like rootless plants.
So, there are two choices; there are only two scenarios. Bildad confirms God’s quid pro quo arrangement with humanity and encourages Job to embrace the profit of righteous living. Life is about equity and fairness–God will treat us just as we deserve. If we sin, he will condemn us. If we are pure, he will bless us. It is simple, right?
Job does not think so.
His response to Bildad is not direct. As I read him, he basically replies to Bildad’s first question. It is enough to set Job on fire–“How long will you say such things? Your words are a blustering wind” (8:2). Job’s response is….”I know, I know, how can I dispute with God? But I will dispute anyway; my soul must speak!”
Some don’t like to listen to such speech. They think it is demeaning to God, undermines faith, or is an expression of arrogance. Does questioning God–asking him “why” or complaining about how he has decided to conduct the world–mean we no longer believe in God’s transcendence, power or sovereignty? It doesn’t for Job. He begins his response to Bildad with an extended rehearsal of divine sovereignty over creation (9:4-13). He confeses God’s wisdom and power (9:4). His language sounds very similar to what Yahweh himself will say to Job in chapters 38-41.
On the one hand, Job knows it is futile to argue with God (9:3, 14-15). On the other hand, he must speak and declare his feelings (10:1). This is the tension of a lamenter. We know God is great but we still feel what we feel. To stuff our feelings will damage the soul, to numb our feelings denies what is real, and to escape our feelings is an illusion. We must speak!
We recognize that even if we were “blameless” (in the sense of integrity–as God declared Job to be in 1:1 and 2:3), we still do not have a case before God (9:19-20). His power and justice overwhelm us and we know we cannot stand in his presence on our own two feet. But attempting to justify God–from the perspective of lament–is futile since he “destroys the blameless and the wicked,” and “if it is not he, then who is it?” (9:22, 24). Surely God will always be right! Who can dispute that? God is in control and responsible for his world! To deny that is to remove God from his sovereign perch as Creator. God is the one with whom we must dispute. And we know we can’t win.
Nevertheless, we speak. I could “forget my complaint” and “change my expression and smile,” but this would not change my feelings. “I still dread,” Job says, “all my sufferings” (9:27-28). No! Job will speak to God; he will not forget his complaint. He will question him….about why he “smile[s] on the schemes of the wicked”….why he “search[es] out my faults and probe[s] after my sin”…why he “oppress[es] me” (Job 10:3-6).
The lamenter will do both–recognize God’s power but complain about his use of it or neglect of it.
It doesn’t make any sense! Did not God create me? Job asks. Did not God’s own “hands”–the hands that gave the accuser the power to destroy him in chapters 1-2–create Job (10:8)? Did not God tenderly knit Job together in the womb, give him life, show him kindness and watch over him in his providence (10:10-12)?
The God who cared for Job is the God who unleashed trying, if not hostile, powers against him. “Why then did you bring me out of the womb?” Job asks (10:18). Let me die, he pleads; let the misery end.
And the misery is compounded by God’s own plan. Is this “what you concealed in your heart,” O God? “I know,” Job says, that this was in your mind” all along (10:15). You set me up! You showered me with blessings and then you took them away. What kind of trickery is this? It feels like God has betrayed us. We got sucker punched.
You are powerful, God. You created me. You loved me. But I am suffering. This doesn’t make any sense.
Job does have a glimmer of hope, however. Perhaps it is better to say it is a yearning, even a request, or a wish. Maybe that is all it is. He speaks (9:33-35):
If only there were someone to arbitrate between us, to lay his hand upon us both, someone to remove God’s rod from me, so that his terror would frighten me no more. Then I would speak up without fear of him, but as it now stands with me, I cannot.
Job needs someone who will give him the boldness to stand in God’s presence and speak his heart. He needs someone who will mediate, who will place a hand on both himself and God. What Job does not realize is that God is that person. God will come to Job in compasionate care and Job will no longer need to speak. Indeed, he will find comfort (42:6).
Historically, Christians have seen Christological meaning in Job’s wish. Perhaps. Surely Job did not know and he probably does not intend some kind of reconciling mediator. Rather, he wants someone to mediate the conversation; someone to guarentee fairness in the court of justice, someone to embolden him.
But as I meditate on this yearning, it is a wish, a hope, experienced in Jesus. It is not that Jesus removed the terrors of the Father, but that the Father and Son compassionately came near to us. The Father who loved us sent his Son, and this is how we know love. This is how we know the Father is for us because he gave his Son for our sakes. And thus we boldly go to the throne of grace rather than to the bar of justice.
In the light of Jesus, fairness is not our ultimate concern (it wasn’t for Jesus!) though the questions raise their ugly heads from time to time (even for Jesus!). In the light of Jesus, we know the Father’s love, the grace of his Messiah and the fellowship of the Spirit. This comforts us–not the answers to the questions, but the presence of loving communion, the experience of love itself….with God, with others…and, yes, even learning to love ourselves as God loves himself.