To forgive God is, for many–if not most, a necessary bridge to praising him. But it is a difficult idea to grab hold of–how does one forgive God? What does that mean? And, indeed, it sounds blasphemous….as if God has done something wrong that needs forgiveness. And who are we to forgive God anyway? We are the creatures, he is the creator; we are the clay, he is the potter.
Bear with me for a few posts on this topic…it is one with which I struggle, and I struggle to forgive my God. Walk with me for a few days, meditate with me and pray with me.
I will begin with Job whom, I believe, learned to “forgive” God.
Yahweh gave and Yahweh took away; blessed be the name of Yahweh.
Shall we accept good from God and not trouble?
Job 1:21; 2:10
Job’s initial response to his tragic suffering is noble, laudable, and….practically unbelieveable! How can he bless Yahweh in the face of such loss–prosperity, servants, health, and–most of all–his children!?
This has led many to think that these are mere cliches on his lips; superficial expressions of piety that arise more out of his ritualistic (even legalistic, according to some) way of being religious. It is all he knows to do in the face of the tragedy…repeat the phrases…repeat the prayers….hang on to the ritual as a way of believing.
I can appreciate that take on these words. Indeed, there is some value to hanging on to the ritual in difficult times. The ritual provides stability, a connection with past believers. But I don’t think this is true for Job in the prologue. Job–from beginning of the prologue to the end of the epilogue–is righteous, a person who fears God and shuns evil. His faith is not shallow. In fact, he is the one whom God offers as a cosmic test that there is such thing as faith in the universe God created and has permitted to fall into trouble. He is a true believer.
I have known people who have responded to tragedy with just such faith, particularly in the initial moments–me included for some of my circumstances. I suppose we could say that they, too, are leaning on proverbial straws, but not necessarily.
It may be that a life of faith prepares one–to a certain extent–for tragic experiences. Perhaps living with God day-to-day enables a faith response to tragedy in those initial moments. I have seen mature believers face tragic news, dangerous surgeries and life-threatening situations with great faith, piety and–yes, even–hope.
I will speak out in the anguish of my spirit; I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.
I will give free reign to my complaint and speak out in the bitterness of my soul.
God has denied me justice and made me taste the bitterness of soul.
God has wronged me…though I cry “I have been wronged,” I get no response….his anger burns against me; he counts me among his enemies
Job 7:11; 10:1; 27:2; 19:6, 7, 11.
But sometimes when believers sit in their grief and begin to feel the fullness of their loss other emotions emerge and begin to dominate.
Job sat in silence with his friends and then let our a heart-wrenching lament where he wished he had never been born and recognizes that what he had feared most had actually happened to him! He confessed that he felt hopeless.
The friends were stunned. Where was that “blessed be the name of the Lord” Job they knew? They told him shut up until he was willing to repent.
Job, however, could not remain silent. He had to speak. He had to speak out his anguish, his bitterness. He complained about the unfairness, the injustice, the meaninglessness of it all. He assaulted God with words and felt God’s hostility in his very bones.
Job was embittered. God had wronged him. He had treated him unfairly. He thought God was his friend, but he turned out to be an enemy. He felt betrayed.
Job resented God. He resented his fate. He resented how the children of the wicked dance about their tents while his are gone. He resented how the wicked prosper and go to the grave in ease while he lives in a garbage dump. He resented that his relatives and friends, who once sucked up to him, now avoid him.
He resented everything, and Yahweh was responsible!
But….then something happened….
I melt before you and am consoled over my dust and ashes.
They comforted and consoled him over all the trouble that Yahweh had brought upon him.
Job 42:6, 11b
Or, I should say, someone happened. God showed up. He came near. He spoke. God did not abandon Job; he did not beat him up or slay him. He spoke with him; he reminded him. He cared for him.
And Job let go….he let go of the resentment. He forgave God; Job released God from Job’s own human, fallible and self-consumed judgment.
Job 42:6 is probably the worst translated text in all the Bible. Most translations make it look like that Job recanted his earlier complaints, or that he repented of his sinful words, or that he now did penance for his sins. But that makes the friends right, and clearly the friends are wrong! God sides with Job, not the friends.
I prefer my translation. (I know you are probably surprised by that!)
Job melts before God; he humbles himself. He lets go. He does not regret the laments or the words. He lets go of the bitterness, resentment and anger.
“Repent”–not at all! Rather, the Hebrew word is the same word translated five verses later (v.11b) as “consoled,” and was used earlier in Job 2:11 describing what how the friends intended to help Job, and how they failed as “miserable comforters” in Job 16:1. Just as Job is consoled by his family and friends over the trouble the Lord had brought on him in 42:11, he was first consoled over the dust and ashes of his life by his encounter with Yahweh (42:6). Having let go, he experiences a comfort in the midst of his mourning and grief, his dust and ashes.
The divine-human encounter, when God whisphered grace in his ear, enabled Job to let go. Divine presence comforts like nothing else can.
Comfort came to Job when he let go of the bitterness, the resentment; when he let go of his presumed right to judge God. Job was comforted when he forgave God by accepting Yahweh’s sovereignty and trusting his purposes.
More to come…..