Who can contend with God? No one, Job answers (9:3). But the problem is that God is contending with (prosecuting) Job (10:2).
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!”
Job’s “response” to Bildad’s speech (8:2-21) comes in two sections. In the first, Job addresses Bildad’s point about the correlation between righteousness and prosperity or between wickedness and loss (9:2-24). In the second section, Job confronts God (9:25-10:22). In the first section, Job recognizes that no one can “contend with him” (9:3), no one can be “in the right” with God (9:2; cf. 4:17; 8:3). In the second section, Job questions why God “contend[s] against him” (10:3). In the former, Job addresses his friends, but in the latter he addresses God directly.
God is Beyond Our Reckoning
Some don’t like to listen to such lamenting, confrontational speeches. 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.
While some have seen a bit of satirical irony in this praise hymn (Gordis refers to as a hymn to the “King of Chaos”), I think we miss the point if we do not recognize that this same language is present in the Psalms. It is part of the liturgy of Israel. The God who removes mountains, shakes the earth and commands the sun is the God Israel worships. This not a subtle attack on God but a recognition that God is sovereign over chaos as well as order, and that God can bring chaos when he so chooses. The hymn reflects both order and chaos as God tramples the waves of the chaotic Sea (9:8) and arranges (orders) the constellations (9:9). The point is that God is beyond capturing; God cannot be boxed in, even with nice theological rules such as Bildad has imagined. God’s work is “beyond understanding” (9:10). God is active–he moves and passes by Job unseen–and no one can call him to account for his actions. “Who will say to him, ‘What are you doing’?” (Job 9:12).
Job, then, applies this to his own circumstance. Twice he begins sections with “though I am innocent…” (NRSV; 9:15, 20-21)–even affirming his blamelessness (same word as in 1:1, 8, 2:3; 4:6; 8:20), only to recognize that God has crushed him (9:17) and destroyed him along with the wicked (9:22), even for no reason or without cause (same word as in Job 2:3). God is responsible, despite his innocence and integrity, for his calamity…the “calamity of the innocent” (9:23). God “destroys both the blameless and the wicked.” (9:22), and whatever befalls humanity–including disasters that bring death or the rule of wickedness in the world–is subject to God’s sovereign will. “If it is not he,” Job asks, “who is it?”
Job knows it is futile to argue with God (9:3, 14-15). But 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 (9:19) 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.
Who can know what God is doing? No human being can. Who can fathom the work of God in creation? No one. But this does not mitigate the anguish and bitterness that fills the soul as the innocent and blameless experience the terrors of the Almighty. Humanity can make no claim on God–God does not have to answer Job’s appeal for vindication. At most, humanity can only appeal for “mercy” (9:15, NRSV).
Nevertheless, I Will Say to God….
Nevertheless, Job appeals for vindication. He approaches God with a plea (even demand?), a prayer and a faint hope.
Hope or not, Job must speak. Job could “forget [his] complaint” and “change my expression and smile,” but this would not change his feelings. He won’t fake rejoicing before the God who knows he is faking. “I still dread,” Job says, “all my sufferings” (9:27-28). 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 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)? Job’s hymnic praise in Job 10:8-12 is reminiscent of Psalm 139.
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. He has not changed from Job 3–he still wonders why God keeps him alive.
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.
Consequently, Job simply wants his “comfort,” that is, he wants to die. Job has not changed his mind. But here he recognizes that death is not so much rest but “gloom,” “darkness,” and “chaos.” It is rest from the suffering, but it is also an entrance into nothingness, a place where there is no light (10:20-22).
You are powerful, God. You created me. You loved me. But I am suffering. You did it. 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 (Job 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.
Job knows it is hopeless to seek vindication from God–Job cannot coerce it from God’s hand, but nevertheless he seeks it, prays for it and ultimately hopes in it. Perhaps, maybe…indeed, by faith, Jesus is God’s response to Job’s yearning–and ours as well.