Posts Tagged ‘Suffering’

Job Part 2

June 23rd, 2014
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 I want to share this presentation by Christine Hayes from Yale. It is a very good summary of Job’s struggle with God.

Chapter 6. Poetic Speech Cycles in the Book of Job

Here are Job’s unsavory accusations against God. Here we have a most impatient and furious Job who will charge God with gross mismanagement of the world and eventually deny the existence of a moral order altogether. So reading the Book of Job is a fascinating exercise because the two types of material in the book, the prose frame and the poetic dialogue in the middle, they appear to be in tension. And yet interwoven, as they are now, they work together and the one shapes our reading of the other.

Our reception of the accusations of Job’s friends in the poetic dialogue — our reception of those words is determined by the prose framework’s assertion that Job is innocent. That’s a non-negotiable narrative fact and because of the fact of Job’s righteousness, we know Job’s friends are lying when they say Job must be suffering for some hidden sin. And we know that Job’s self-defense, that he hasn’t deserved the suffering is correct.

We’re going to rehearse some of the arguments that are advanced in the central core, the poetic core of the book, and here I think a helpful guide through the arguments — there are lots of commentaries on the Book of Job, but one commentary that I think is helpful in just sort of working through some of the arguments of the interlocutors is the analysis of Edwin Good.

Although Job doesn’t exactly curse God in his first speech, he does curse the day of his birth. And in a passage that alludes repeatedly to creation, Job essentially curses all that God has accomplished as creator of the cosmos. He wishes he were dead, and at this point he doesn’t even ask why this has happened to him, he only asks why he should be alive when he prefers death.

Eliphaz’s reply is long and elaborate. He seems to offer comfort. He seems to offer comfort, until he injects a new element in the discussion and that’s the element of justice. Job hasn’t mentioned the issue of justice up to this point, but Eliphaz says, “Think now, what innocent man ever perished? / Where have the upright been destroyed? / As I have seen, those who plow evil / And sow mischief reap them,” chapter 4:7-8.

So Eliphaz is handing Job the standard line of biblical Wisdom literature as exemplified by something like the book of Proverbs, belief in a system of divine retributive justice — that retribution is just. By definition there can be no undeserved suffering. The implication is that Job has deserved this suffering — a thought that apparently hadn’t occurred to Job — and the question of undeserved suffering is now going to dominate the rest of the discussion.

Job’s second speech is very disorderly. It’s full of wildly contradictory images that may reflect the shock and the pain and the rage that now overwhelm him. He seems to be haunted by Eliphaz’s connection of his suffering with some sin and so he turns to address God directly. He admits he’s not perfect but surely, he objects, he doesn’t deserve such affliction.

In chapter 8 we have Bildad’s speech and it’s tactless and unkind. He says, “Will God pervert the right? / Will the Almighty pervert justice? / If your sons sinned against Him, / He dispatched them for their transgressions,” 8:3-4 [JPS translation]. In other words, God is perfectly just and ultimately all get what they deserve. Indeed, your children, Job, must have died because they sinned, so just search for God and ask for mercy.

The friends’ speeches lead Job to the conclusion that God must be indifferent to moral status. God doesn’t follow the rules that he demands of human beings. This is chapter 9:22, “He finishes off both perfect and wicked.” When Job complains, “He wounds me much for nothing,” chapter 9:17, he’s echoing God’s own words to the satan in the prologue. Remember when God says to the satan you have “incited me to destroy him for nothing,” and we suspect by this verbal coincidence that Job is right.

Legal terms dominate, as Job calls for the charges against him to be published, and then he hurls countercharges in a suit against God. Charges of unworthy conduct, of spurning his creatures while smiling on the wicked, on scrutinizing Job even though he knows Job to be innocent, and this too is a subversion of a common prophetic literary genre that we’ve seen: the riv or the covenant lawsuit in which God through his prophets charges Israel with flagrant violation of the terms of the covenant and warns of inevitable punishment.

Here, in Job, it’s a man who arraigns God and yet, Job asserts, since God is God and not a human adversary, there’s really no fair way for the lawsuit between them to be tried or arbitrated. “Man cannot win a suit against God,” chapter 9:2. Job is powerless in the face of this injustice.

These ideas all find expression in Job 10:1-7 [JPS translation]:

I am disgusted with life;
I will give rein to my complaint,
Speak in the bitterness of my soul.
I say to God, “Do not condemn men;
Let me know what You charge me with.
Does it benefit You to defraud,
To despise the toil of Your hands,
While smiling on the counsel of the wicked?
Do You have the eyes of flesh?
Is Your vision that of mere men?
Are Your days the days of a mortal?
Are Your years the years of a man,
That You seek my iniquity
And search out my sin?
You know that I am not guilty,
And that there is none to deliver from Your hand…

Job repeats his wish to die, this time less because of his suffering and more because his worldview has collapsed. He sees that divine power is utterly divorced from justice and that’s a second fundamental biblical assumption subverted.

But Job’s words only seem to egg his interlocutors on. Eliphaz had implied that Job was a sinner. Bildad had baldly asserted that his sons had died for their sins and now Zophar’s going to claim that actually Job is suffering less then he deserves. And Job isn’t persuaded. He isn’t persuaded that he has sinned or more precisely, that he has sinned in proportion to the punishment he is now suffering. God is simply unjust. The Job of this poetic dialogue portion of the book is hardly patient or pious. He is angry, he is violent, he argues, he complains and vehemently insists upon his innocence.

In the fourth speech by Job — now this is the speech that opens the second cycle of speeches — Job appeals to creation. God’s controlling power is arbitrary and unprincipled. He interferes with the natural order, he interferes with the human order, and this is itself a subversion of the Genesis portrait of creation as a process whose goal and crown is humankind. Again, Job demands a trial. He demands a trial in the widely quoted and mistranslated verse — this is Job 13:15: “He may well slay me. I may have no hope — but I must argue my case before Him.” In other words, Job knows that he can’t win but he still wants his day in court. He wants to make his accusation of God’s mismanagement. He wants to voice his protest even though he knows it will gain him nothing.

In a pun on his name, Iyyov, Job asks God, “Why do You hide Your face, / And treat me like an enemy?” ,treat me like anoyev, chapter 13:24; JPS translation]. In his second speech Job fully expects to be murdered, not executed, but murdered by God and hopes only that the evidence of his murder will not be concealed he says in 16:18, “Earth, do not cover my blood” [JPS translation].

Job’s third speech reiterates this desire, the desire that the wrong against him not be forgotten. “Would that my words were written, would that they were engraved in an inscription, with an iron stylus and lead, forever in rock they were incised,” 19:23-24.

Job’s three speeches in the second cycle become increasingly emotional and for their part the speeches of his friends in this cycle become increasingly cruel. Their insistence that suffering is always a sure sign of sin seems to justify hostility towards and contempt for Job. He’s now depicted as universally mocked and humiliated and despised and abused. One cannot help but see in this characterization of Job’s so-called friends, an incisive commentary on the callous human propensity to blame the victim, and to do so lest our tidy and comfortable picture of a moral universe in which the righteous do not suffer, should come apart at the seams as Job’s has.

Job opens the third cycle of speeches urging his friends to look, to really see his situation, because if they did they would be appalled. Job’s situation looked at honestly requires the admission that God has done this for no reason and that the friends’ understanding of the world is a lie. Job asserts baldly: there is no distributive justice, there’s no coherent or orderly system of morality in this life or any other. There is no principle of afterlife, after all, in the Hebrew Bible.

Chapter 21:7-26 [JPS translation]:

Why do the wicked live on,
Prosper and grow wealthy?
Their children are with them always,
And they see their children’s children.
Their homes are secure, without fear;
They do not feel the rod of God.
…their children skip about.
They sing to the music of timbrel and lute,
And revel to the tune of the pipe;
They spend their days in happiness,
And go down to Sheol in peace.
…How seldom does the lamp of the wicked fail,
Does the calamity they deserve befall them?
…[You say,] “God is reserving his punishment for his sons”;
Let it be paid back to Him that He may feel it,
…One man dies in robust health,
All tranquil and untroubled;
His pails are full of milk;
The marrow of his bones is juicy.
Another dies embittered,
Never having tasted happiness.
They both lie in the dust
And are covered with worms.
But the friends can’t look honestly at Job; they can’t allow that, indeed, a righteous man suffers horribly.

By the end of the third cycle Job is ready and eager for his trial, but he can’t find God. Job’s final speech in the third cycle focuses on this theme of divine absence. God is irresponsibly absent from the world and the result is human wickedness. So from the idea that God is morally neutral or indifferent, Job has moved to the implicit charge that God is responsible for wickedness. He rewards wickedness; he causes wickedness by his absence, his failure to govern properly. He is both corrupt and a corrupter of others. “If it is not so, he says, who will prove me a liar and bring my words to nought.”

Yet, even in the depths of his anguish, and even though he is now convinced that God does not enforce a moral law in the universe, Job clings to one value: righteousness is a virtue in and of itself, and even if it brings no reward Job will not give up his righteousness. Face to face with the shocking insight that good and evil are met with indifference by God, that righteousness brings no reward and wickedness no punishment, Job although bitter, refuses to succumb to a moral nihilism. Chapter 27:2-6:

By God who has deprived me of justice!
By Shaddai who has embittered my life!
As long as there is life in me,
And God’s breath is in my nostrils,
My lips will speak no wrong,
Nor my tongue utter deceit.
Far be it for me to say that you are right;
Until I die I will maintain my integrity.
I persist in my righteousness and will not yield;
I shall be free of reproach as long as I live.

These last lines recall the words of God and the satan in the prelude. The satan had said that a man will not hold on to virtue or to righteousness in the face of suffering. He’ll give everything away for his life. So this narrative set-up guides or influences our interpretation of Job’s statement here. Although he is losing his life, Job says he will not give anything away but he holds onto, he maintains his integrity just as God had scolded the satan in chapter 2:3 which reads, “Still he holds onto his integrity. You have incited me to destroy him for nothing.”

So in his darkest, most bitter hour with all hope of reward gone, Job clings to the one thing he has — his own righteousness. In fact, when all hope of just reward is gone then righteousness becomes an intrinsic value. Yehezkel Kaufman writes of this moment, “the poet raises Job to the bleak summit of righteousness bereft of hope, bereft of faith in divine justice” [see note 4].

Or in the words of another scholar, Moshe Greenberg, we see here

..the sheer heroism of a naked man, forsaken by his God and his friends and bereft of a clue to understand his suffering, still maintaining faith in the value of his virtue and in the absolute duty of man to be virtuous. The universe has turned its back on him. We may add he believes God has turned his back on him — yet Job persists in the affirmation of his own worth and the transcendent worth of unrewarded good [Greenberg 1987, 285].

So in a way then, for all their differences in style and manner, the patient Job of the legend and the raging Job of the poetic dialogue, are basically the same man. Each ultimately remains firm in his moral character, clinging to righteousness because of its intrinsic value and not because it will be rewarded. Indeed, Job knows bitterly that it will not.

At the end of his outburst, Job sues God. He issues Him a summons and he demands that God reveal to him the reason for his suffering. Job pronounces a series of curses to clear himself from the accusations against him, specifying the sins he has not committed and ending, as he began, in chapter 3, with a curse on the day of his birth.

We expect to hear from God now but instead we hear from an unannounced stranger, Elihu. I’m going to have to give Elihu short shrift. He’s the only one of the four interlocutors to refer to Job by name, address Job by name. He repeats many of the trite assertions of Job’s friends. He does hint, however, that not all suffering is punitive. He also hints that contemplation of nature’s elements can open the mind to a new awareness of God and in these two respects, Elihu’s speech moves us towards God’s answer from the storm.

To watch a video of  Michael Card – Why (with lyrics)please click here.

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Message for the Day

Job – unanswered questions

June 17th, 2014
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Job is a book that I find very humbling. I have referred to one of my first visits in Melbourne involving the book of Job. I learnt from the book very early in my ministry not to beGod’s defender. He can take care of himself. He doesn’t need my empty musings. There is also a lot of insight in to comforting someone and how not to.

 In fact it is very instructive to read the book right through underlining key thoughts. The next two sermons hopefully will give an overview for personal study. It is regarded by many as the oldest book of the OT – set in the patriarchal times.

 When we get in to theological argument about God and why there is suffering and in justice in the world we too often think we have the answers or at least our answers are better than someone elses.

 Last week I referred to Martin Luther’s struggles with his own suffering and the church’s fears and persecutions of his time. The hidden God is also a theme in the book of Job.

 Let’s revisit some of this.

 God does many things beyond his self-disclosure in his Word. We have to accept that.

 We have to let God be God – only he knows the way to all wisdom. There are secrets that belong to him.

 I think theological dogmatism which goes outside clear revelation can be dangerous.

 Luther believed that to search out the unknown God beyond his revelation is to fall into the same sin as Lucifer, Adam and Eve; therefore all speculation regarding his undisclosed nature must cease.

 So in one sense we won’t have answers to all our questions. In fact God doesn’t answer all our questions. We will see at another time this is a major lesson in the book of Job.

 However, I would say that confident voices who claim to have the answers always attract larger followings than those that express uncertainty or even ignorance.

 He who knows not and knows not he knows not, he is a fool—shun him;
He who knows not and knows he knows not, he is simple—teach him;
He who knows and knows not he knows, he is asleep—wake him;
He who knows and knows he knows, he is wise—follow him!

 But to me the most dangerous is:

 He who thinks he knows and knows not he knows not – he is a con man who will deceive you. That’s the person who confidently give an answer to all in his dogmatic ignorance.


If I don’t know I don’t know
                                     I think I know

This is a dangerous complex we can fall in to: we have the biblical answers to all questions about life.

 And let’s be frank it is very reassuring to hear a confident voice say they have the answers to our questions.

 There are a number of aspects of the book of Job we could look at. People have written books based on the insights from the natural world for example. I was listening to a discussion on this on the radio as I drove back from Bathurst Job12:7-10 entitled Ask the Beasts

 7 But ask now the beasts, and they shall teach thee; and the fowls of the air, and they shall tell thee:

8 Or speak to the earth, and it shall teach thee: and the fishes of the sea shall declare unto thee.

9 Who knoweth not in all these that the hand of the Lord hath wrought this?

10 In whose hand is the soul of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind.(KJV)

These verses were used to show theology should deal with the whole natural order and we should see God’s plan more profoundly including all of creation. But that is another subject which can lead to all sorts of controversies. But it illustrates the people continue to learn from this book.

 We need to establish first that Job was a righteous man.


 Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.”

 God is boasting about one of these mortal humans to Satan or the Adversary( Prosecuting Attorney).

 The adversary challenges Job’s motives for doing good. Is this Satan as we know it or an angel appointed to challenge. There are different opinions on this.

 The important thing is that God is very impressed with Job. This is established at the very beginning. So we have no doubt about how God views Job.

 Job 2:3

 Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil. And he still maintains his integrity, though you incited me against him to ruin him without any reason.”(NIV)

 And there is no justified reason in Job’s life for what happens to Job. Anyone who says so is not telling the truth.

 And even after the very dramatic exchanges in the book we hear

 Job 42:7

 7 After the Lord had said these things to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has.

 It is interesting to read the plausibility and even orthodoxy of Job’s friends. It is a fascinating read and we do we sense at some time that all of us would have said some of the things Job’s friends said.

 They were stuck in a Torah paradigm as mentioned by Michael Card in this clip:

 Michael Card: Lamenting is Worship! part 1. To watch please click here.

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Message for the Day

The Garden of Gethsemane

April 14th, 2014
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I want to go back to the garden of Gethsemane for the purpose of understanding more about Jesus’ suffering in his humanity and what that means for us today.

 The Synoptic Gospels have preserved for us, the agony and prayer of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.

 Mark 14:32-36

 32 They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.”

 Just be with me. Waiting for me. A simple request.

 33 He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled.

 34 “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.

 The anguish is now deeper. So they receive a simple request. Just stay and keep watch.

 35 Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him.

 He moves deeper in to the garden, further away to be alone with his Father. There are times it is only you and God. No one else can truly understand the internal turmoil. This aloneness can be overwhelming.

 Jesus , an innocent man, is about to to fulfill in the most absolute way, what Job struggled with. A innocent man suffering with God’s permission.

 The moving events in the Garden of Gethsemane dramatically and poignantly disclosed the human nature of Christ. The sacrifice he was to endure for the salvation of the world was imminent. Death, with all its brutal force and fury, stared directly at him. Its terrible burden and fear – the calamitous results of the ancestral sin – caused him intense sorrow and pain.

 This is a spiritual horror. This is entering in to the ugliness and darkness of the world and becoming sin for us. The one who always walked in the light – who is the light of the world –was to become the darkness of the world before his Father.

 As Son of Man he carried our burden. Pride brought sin into the world, humility and sacrificial love overomes it. Sin enslaves us, the forgiveness of God releases us in to freedom.

 Sin is unfaithful, unpredictable filled with changeability and broken promises. ,But God is faithful, who can be trusted, with in whom there is no darkness or turning, and whose promise are always yes to us in Jesus.

 The true image of God was to become sin for us. He found himself in a moment of decision. In his agony he prayed to his Father,

 36 “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.

 His prayer revealed the depths of his agony and sorrow. It revealed as well his “incomparable spiritual strength (and) immovable desire and decision . . . to bring about the will of the Father.’

 Jesus offered His unconditional love and trust to the Father. He reached the extreme limits of self denial “not what I will” – in order to accomplish His Father’s will.

 His voluntary acceptance of death was not some kind of stoic passivity and resignation but an act of absolute love and obedience. In that moment of decision, when he declared his acceptance of death to be in agreement with the Father’s will, he broke the power of the fear of death with all its attending uncertainties, anxieties and limitations.

 This I believe is the faith of Jesus believers receive when they face death.

 Over and over again ordinary Christians, just like you and I, who had no great courage in every day life, receive something that even surprises themselves. They are safe in their Father’s arms.

 It reminds me of a story I have shared before:

 It was getting near home time and a storm had begun. One little lass had a long way to go down dark lanes. I worried for her and asked if I should go with her. She refused my help with a smile. “There was no need, she would be all right, she was not afraid.”

It was only at the last minute that I could relax, for her father arrived to take her home. She came over to me “ I knew Daddy was coming for me and he has brought me a new coat.” I watched them as they walked out the door together; she looked so radiant.

 Much later I realised what a marvellous picture this was of the Christian facing death. We cannot avoid the storm or the dark, but we are not alone and we shall be given a ‘new coat’. We may not know what lies ahead, but we know Who.

(D.Adam, The Cry of the Deer, SPK,1987 , p.41)

 I have seen many Christians experience this story. As their body began to break down – — they can look at you and know that they know the faithfulness of their Father, that just as he raised Jesus from the dead and clothed him with a glorious spiritual body, that he would do the same for them.

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