Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Book of Job, Session Three

Bible Study @ Calvary Presbyterian Church, Hawthorne, CA
Winter Semester … The Sorrow and Hope of Job

Tuesday Jan 15
Saturday Jan 19
Job 1-7
Jan 22
Jan 26
Job 8-14
Jan 29
Feb 2
Job 15-21
Feb 5
Feb 9
Job 22-28
Feb 12
Feb 16
Job 29-35
Feb 19
Feb 23
Job 36-42

Job is a study in suffering, and how the sufferer responds - no punches are pulled in the description of Job’s losses and ailments. It’s a terrible thing that has happened to him, and Job descends into the pit of despair and anger. He comes to the end of his rope. There is nothing more to lose for Job, and his bitterness grows.

Job is a study in relationships - Job’s friends come to comfort him, and do so with considerable respect, waiting just the right time, seven days, in complete silence, offering Job their presence and not burdening him with words, at least, not yet.

We learn a lot about human nature, not only from the portrait painted of Job, but that of his comfortable friends, comfortable in their material status and spiritual understanding. Ultimately, they believe comfort will come to Job if Job accepts their world-view of divine reward and punishment, a world of retribution, a world of easy answers.

Job’s discomfort becomes their discomfort, and the friends are determined, so we learn, to lay it all out for Job, to explain to Job why he’s suffering, and, in a nutshell, he’s suffering because he’s a sinner - evidently he or his children, or both, have failed God and so must suffer the consequences.

Job stands firm on his righteousness … he’s been a good man, and he’s been faithful to God. He’s been an outstanding member of the community, he’s helped friend and neighbor. He’s done well materially and didn’t forget God.

Job readily admits that he’s not perfect, but contends that his punishment is over the top, way beyond whatever sins he may have committed. In other words, the punishment doesn’t fit the crime, and that’s the issue for Job.

Job questions the character of God - Job understands that God is powerful; no doubt about that. But what Job DOES question is God’s decency, God’s justice, kindness and love. 
At this point in the Book of Job, it’s a wrestling match … Job’s three friends laying out their case and pressing Job to admit his error.

And Job, even in his despair and sorrow, remaining steadfast in his contention that something is wrong with God. The God of power, if that’s what it is, has laid waste to Job’s life for no reason whatsoever. And if Job can find the God of righteousness, Job will be vindicated.

Job’s friends, and Job himself, become increasingly irritated with one another. The relationship, if you will, goes nowhere fast.

In chapter 15, Eliphaz weighs in again and goes after Job with a vengeance - his patience with Job is wearing thin in the face of Job’s determined self-defense. As far as Eliphaz is concerned, Job’s refusal to learn from others who are older and wiser is absolute folly. 

1Then Eliphaz the Temanite answered:
2      “Should the wise answer with windy knowledge,     
      and fill themselves with the east wind?
3      Should they argue in unprofitable talk,
      or in words with which they can do no good?
4      But you are doing away with the fear of God,
      and hindering meditation before God.
5      For your iniquity teaches your mouth,
      and you choose the tongue of the crafty.

Having dismissed Job’s contentions as nothing more than hot air, Eliphaz continues with the attack:

 17      “I will show you; listen to me;
      what I have seen I will declare—
18      what sages have told,
      and their ancestors have not hidden,
19      to whom alone the land was given,
      and no stranger passed among them.
20      The wicked writhe in pain all their days,
      through all the years that are laid up for the ruthless.

The author lays out for us one of the great challenges of religion - going with an idea and using that idea against another person when that person, for whatever reason, can’t abide by the answer. 

The author wants the reader to understand that the 3 friends who come to "comfort" Job in his distress have a theological agenda to lay out for Job, and as the story unfolds, their determination to impose on Job their theological take grows increasingly bitter, as Job, on the other hand, refuses their simple answers and conventional wisdom.

Simple answers have done great damage, and all the religions of the world are tempted by the simple answer. Christianity, as well, has been crippled by the desire for simple answers, which provide the "comfortable" with an artificial sense of security. But such answers always fail huge numbers of people, and when people refuse the answer, those with the answers grow increasingly agitated and aggressive. Their comfort zone is threatened by those who refuse the simple answer they offer.

Fundamentalist/Evangelical religion is rife with this: “Believe as we tell you, and you will be saved. Raise a question about it, and you’ll end up in hell. Pure, plain and simple.” Remember what was offered last week: There is cruelty in simple answers. There is humility in complexity. In humility, there is compassion.

The wicked suffer, so if Job is suffering, he must be wicked … such is the logic of the three friends. As logic goes, it fails; A never implies B. Job is suffering (A), sinners suffer (the idea), so Job must be a sinner (B).

Job replies (16-17) … 

He, too, could offer this kind of empty advice:
1      Then Job answered:
2      “I have heard many such things;
      miserable comforters are you all.
3      Have windy words no limit?
      Or what provokes you that you keep on talking?
4      I also could talk as you do,
      if you were in my place;
      I could join words together against you,
      and shake my head at you.
5      I could encourage you with my mouth,
      and the solace of my lips would assuage your pain.

Vs. 5 is dripping with sarcasm: I could encourage you just like you’re encouraging me, and the solace of my lips would assuage your pain just like your words are easing mine - NOT!

They each call one another windbags - going on and on, without saying anything of value, as far as the other is concerned. In Job’s eyes, his friends are cruel; in their eyes, Job is stubborn and vain.

Job goes on: God has utterly laid waste to his life … God, in some act of wanton cruelty, has stripped away everything and left Job suffering in body and soul. 

Job has lost everything:

7      Surely now God has worn me out;
      he has made desolate all my company.
8      And he has shriveled me up,
      which is a witness against me;
      my leanness has risen up against me,
      and it testifies to my face.
9      He has torn me in his wrath, and hated me;
      he has gnashed his teeth at me;
      my adversary sharpens his eyes against me.
10      They have gaped at me with their mouths;
      they have struck me insolently on the cheek;
      they mass themselves together against me.
11      God gives me up to the ungodly,
      and casts me into the hands of the wicked.
12      I was at ease, and he broke me in two;
      he seized me by the neck and dashed me to pieces;
      he set me up as his target;

But in spite of his agony, Job reaffirms his righteousness, and contends that there must yet be justice in the world. There is, there must be, a God of righteousness, as strong as the God of might, and while the God of might has proved his mightiness against Job, Job will as of yet be proved right, if only he can gain a hearing from the God of righteousness.

16      My face is red with weeping,
      and deep darkness is on my eyelids,
17      though there is no violence in my hands,
      and my prayer is pure.
18      “O earth, do not cover my blood;
      let my outcry find no resting place.
19      Even now, in fact, my witness is in heaven,
      and he that vouches for me is on high.
20      My friends scorn me;
      my eye pours out tears to God,
21      that he would maintain the right of a mortal with God,
      as one does for a neighbor.
22      For when a few years have come,
      I shall go the way from which I shall not return.

Chapter 17 …

Job is broken, and has no regard for his friends whom he calls “mockers,” and warms them - their betrayal of Job will leave a terrible legacy for their children. Their hardness of heart, harshness of spirit - they denounce for reward - could that reward be some anticipated “moral victory” - not financial gain, but the pleasure of trouncing someone, proving them wrong, embarrassing and discrediting them?

The friends have, indeed, declared war against Job. But Job fights back, declaring that God must have closed their minds to understanding, so God will not let them triumph.

 1      My spirit is broken, my days are extinct,
      the grave is ready for me.
2      Surely there are mockers around me,
      and my eye dwells on their provocation.
3      “Lay down a pledge for me with yourself;
      who is there that will give surety for me?
4      Since you have closed their minds to understanding,
      therefore you will not let them triumph.
5      Those who denounce friends for reward—
      the eyes of their children will fail.

It’s all done for Job - he’s more than eager to die:

11      My days are past, my plans are broken off,
      the desires of my heart.
12      They make night into day;
      ‘The light,’ they say, ‘is near to the darkness.’ 
13      If I look for Sheol as my house,
      if I spread my couch in darkness,
14      if I say to the Pit, ‘You are my father,’
      and to the worm, ‘My mother,’ or ‘My sister,’
15      where then is my hope?
      Who will see my hope?
16      Will it go down to the bars of Sheol?
      Shall we descend together into the dust?”

Chapter 18, Bildad, round two.

Bildad keenly feels that he and his friends have been insulted by Job. In an effort to demolish Job’s argument, Bildad describes most eloquently the fate of the sinner - everything they cherish will be destroyed. For Bildad and the friends, there’s no listening to Job’s sorrow and agony. They have a point to make, and by God, they’re going to do it, no matter what.

Chapter 19, Job’s response.

Bitterly, Job expresses his contempt for the friends who have scorned him and ignore his misery.

If Job has sinned, yes, it’s his sin, but it would seem that God is the one who has brought all of this calamity upon Job:

1      Then Job answered:
2      “How long will you torment me,
      and break me in pieces with words?
3      These ten times you have cast reproach upon me;
      are you not ashamed to wrong me?
4      And even if it is true that I have erred,
      my error remains with me.
5      If indeed you magnify yourselves against me,
      and make my humiliation an argument against me,
6      know then that God has put me in the wrong,
      and closed his net around me.

Yet Job stands firm and wants his words inscribed in stone:

23      “O that my words were written down!
      O that they were inscribed in a book!
24      O that with an iron pen and with lead
      they were engraved on a rock forever!

But is there still some shred of hope in Job?

 25      For I know that my Redeemer lives,
      and that at the last he will stand upon the earth; 
26      and after my skin has been thus destroyed,
      then in my flesh I shall see God,
27      whom I shall see on my side, 
      and my eyes shall behold, and not another.

With a reminder to his friends: be very careful in the ease with which you condemn me.

      My heart faints within me!
28      If you say, ‘How we will persecute him!’
      and, ‘The root of the matter is found in him’;
29      be afraid of the sword,
      for wrath brings the punishment of the sword,
      so that you may know there is a judgment.”

Chapter 20 - Zophar.

A few more hammer-blows against Job.

All of the friends are now fully incensed: Job is not only wrong, but he ignores the wise counsel of his friends. Zophar describes the short-lived prosperity of the wicked.

How easily the friends indulge in descriptions of human suffering … 

I am reminded of an incident that occurred in my first or second year of seminary - I was assigned to teach a Bible Class on Wednesday evenings. At one point, I raised doubts about hell - at least about hell being co-eternal with heaven. I think we were studying the Gospel of Mark. A gentleman stood up and began to expostulate on the gory details of hell and the suffering of the wicked therein. The man turned red and grew increasingly vehement as he described the fire and pain, in lurid detail, of hell. 

I’ve never forgotten that moment. To this day, I believe the man loved hell more than he did heaven, convinced that others would be there, of course, and he would escape because he believed in Jesus, or something like that.

Job’s friends loved Job’s suffering, for it proved to them what they believed, and their beliefs were of greater importance than Job’s suffering.

Which reminds me of another incident related to me, with tears, by a widow. Her husband was stricken cancer at a time when they were members of a very conservative church and prayer group, with Pentecostal leanings. They prayed for his healing, and “claimed” the healing, “in Jesus’ name.” The man died suddenly one night, and an autopsy indicated a hemorrhage.

A friend called to offer consolation, and when told that it was a hemorrhage that ended his life, the friend exclaimed, “O good, he was healed of the cancer. The cancer didn’t take him.”

The woman left the church and the prayer group and for years remained away from the church. The cruelty of simple answers was more than she could handle.

For her friends in the prayer group, their beliefs about healing were more important than offering consolation to a grieving widow. It was more important that their “powerful prayers” indeed had led to the man’s healing from the cancer (which wasn’t the case) and that his death was caused by another matter.

Chapter 21 - The wicked often go unpunished.

Job lays into his friends and demolishes their arguments. There is not an even sense of justice in this world. Plenty of evildoers get away with it, and live happy lives, going to their grave quite content, and given a funeral full of pomp and praise.

28      For you say, ‘Where is the house of the prince?
      Where is the tent in which the wicked lived?’
29      Have you not asked those who travel the roads,
      and do you not accept their testimony,
30      that the wicked are spared in the day of calamity,
      and are rescued in the day of wrath?
31      Who declares their way to their face,
      and who repays them for what they have done?
32      When they are carried to the grave,
      a watch is kept over their tomb.
33      The clods of the valley are sweet to them;
      everyone will follow after,
      and those who went before are innumerable.
34      How then will you comfort me with empty nothings?
      There is nothing left of your answers but falsehood.”

So where are we?

Pretty much a draw so far.

The battle goes on, between Job and his friends.

The friends contend that Job deserves his suffering; the punishment fits the crime. If only Job would admit the crime, God would relieve his suffering.

Job defends his integrity. Sure, who isn’t a sinner, but this punishment doesn’t fit the crime at all. If I’ve done something to deserve THIS, please, someone, anyone, God, tell me what it is.

How will this be resolved?

To be continued ...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

love your commentary...you just keep getting better and better.