Faithful Lament: Job’s Response to Suffering

I have uploaded to my General Materials page two items related to the biblical book entitled “Job.” I gave a series of lectures at Lipscomb University entitled Faithful Lament: Job’s Response to Suffering and the handouts for those lectures are now available. I have also provided the powerpoint presentation that accompanied the lectures.

The first lecture is structural in nature. I suggest that the Prologue and Epilogue are hermeneutical perspectives for the readers–they offer perspectives for reading the dialogues and monologues (Job 3-42:6). For example, they establish that Job is righteous (innocent suffering), what Job says is “right” as opposed to the friends, and that the suffering of Job functions as a cosmic test of whether any human can actually serve (love) God for nothing other than relationship with God. The prologue reminds us that we should read Job’s words sympathetically and the epilogue offers a kind of eschatological understanding of God’s grace to the suffering and his ultimate reversal of suffering itself.

Lecture two outlines the laments contained in the book of Job. There are many and they form the main point of the dialogue as well as Job’s monologue. The substance of the book is Job’s struggle with faith in the midst of a chaotic and unjust world. The question “why” looms large in Job, but more important is the question whether Job will continue to trust the God whom he thinks unfair.

Lecture three suggests that the Yahweh speeches are more about reminding Job of what Job already knows–God is transcendent, worthy of praise, and he runs his world with wisdom and care. He does what humans cannot do–he sovereignly reigns over the evil in the world. But the critical point, I think, is that Job receives this encounter with Yahweh in humility and finds comfort in the encounter. Unlike most Christian translations, I understand Job 42:6 as “comforted” (or his change from lament to comfort) rather than “repented.”

It seems to me that if “repent” is the correct translation then the friends were right. “Job,” the friends said, “if you repent, God will give it all back to you.” The friends stress that God’s grace to his people is a quid pro quo: I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine. Instead, I would suggest that the lament of the dialogues finds resolution in the encounter with Yahweh. Job is comforted before God restores his wealth and happiness.

Lament, I believe, ultimately finds its answer in divine encounter. God comforts his people through his presence and through the presence of his people with his people. God gives hope through the power of his Spirit (Romans 15:14). There is no formula; there are no magic words. There is ultimately only the presence of God through encounter and in community with his people.

7 Responses to “Faithful Lament: Job’s Response to Suffering”

  1.   Keith Brenton Says:

    Job is given the most awesome gift before the doubling of his material blessings: an insight into the fathomless loving nature of God; who answers by asking tough questions, yet never abandons His faith in His servant, Job.

  2.   preacherman Says:

    Wonderful post brother.
    Keep it up!
    In Him,
    Kinney Mabry
    Preacherman! 🙂

  3.   John Mark Hicks Says:

    It is important to see that God invested himself in Job–he trusted Job would bear witness to the kind of faith that God desired from his creation. It was not a perfect or sinless faith, but it was a faith that sought God rather than cursed him.

    I agree that the real gift to Job from God was his presence and not his material blessings. And Job accepted and enjoyed God’s gift before he received those material blessings which took time to materialize. Prior to them and during them, Job found comfort.

  4.   Bobby Valentine Says:

    Reading from Philly … hope to get the material on Job soon.

    Bobby V

  5.   Q Says:

    This post comes at a very poignant time for me. Thank you (again) for sharing your words and wisdom.

  6.   John Alan Turner Says:

    John Mark,
    Have you ever read Ellen Davis’ GETTING INVOLVED WITH GOD? She has some really helpful things to say about God’s questions for Job. Here’s a quote:

    “God’s questions indicate something important about the kind of person he is — the kind of person who creates in such a way that the morning stars sing together and angles shout for joy.”

    She goes on to suggest that God is trying to get Job to see that God does what he does because of who he is rather than as a way of gaining anything. Because of his aseity, God doesn’t take a utilitarian view of creation and is unconcerned about how a thing will benefit himself.

    This frees him to be gratuitously good and ridiculously generous.

  7.   John Mark Hicks Says:

    Thanks for the heads up, John Alan. I have not read Davis but I shall.

    God’s questions have the result of saying: “I know what I am doing and my actions arise out of who I am. Trust me.”

    I don’t think Job learns anything new in the speeches but is reminded of what he already knew. Job 12, for example, contains much of what is said in the Yahweh Speeches. But in the midst of pain and hurt, the fog clouds our vision and we need reminders. More than that, we need encounter.

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