In a time when gods seemed unreachable, the ancient storyteller depicts a story that brings the Divine down to earth. The gods too distant for contact and too selfish for trust are defrocked as this story brings to new light the character of God, sovereign and reachable.
One of God’s “sons” comes and forms a bet, a wager, with God Himself. The listeners of the story are unsurprised by a man’s life whimsically tossed about as massive egos match their strengths at the expense of a frail human’s weakness. What else do gods do but arbitrarily wound and bless based on their supernatural fancy? From the perspective of anyone listening at the time, this was the normal angle on the supernatural. Divinely manipulated circumstances defined existence. Hard labor and effort, forethought and strategy were often met with some incompliant deity who wrested control of a person’s life by hurricane, famine, war or sickness. The best one could hope for was to manipulate the deities temporarily with some sacrificial gift, meaninglessly offered to appease their anger and ego. The effect of these small sacrifices seemed to last weeks and months but never for long. Gods were dangerous and distant, possibly manipulated but never befriended.
Job is different; this man whose life was seemingly a lottery for the whimsical deities of his day, attacks! He launches himself in heart and rhetoric against the image of God that ruled his day. In a discussion with good friends which lasts longer than most of us wish to read, Job holds forth. He defends himself and, read from the correct angle, he defends God as well. He states the facts as he sees them—God is not whimsical as his contemporaries have said, possibly unjust but not whimsical. The choice in Job’s capable mind is between an impersonal God who doesn’t care at all or a God who has somehow made a mistake. Better a mistaken God who can be reached then a God who does not care. And to prove his point, he assails God with words poetic and beautiful but also indicting and angry. Page after page, he speaks with the goal of eliciting a response.
The reader who follows the story beyond the story is aware that what is subtly occurring is essentially God’s vindication. A God who can be accused and who may answer accusation is no longer the arbitrary, whimsical, uncaring deity whom people can manipulate. Job’s accusations and the lack of a crushing, divine response re-characterize God; maybe He is different than previously thought. He is approachable and principled basing his decisions on much more than whimsy. In this case however, says Job, He’s mistaken and Job sets out to remind Him of his divine responsibilities. God, says Job, would never allow anyone to lose everything for mere entertainment value. There must be a greater point and if God is who Job thinks He is, He will answer the call and answer.
And so, Job debates back and forth, each of his friends certain in their inaccuracy, but no one truly aware, that God is good and God is watching. The debate rages with God the mistaken becoming God the wrongly accused, whose character is just, but whose judgment in this moment is uncharacteristically flawed…
…Until the end. God arrives assuring the reader of today that God truly is who Job thought He was: caring and good and most importantly… present. All of us who dare read this book wish for this story to end in justice and it does but not before a final point is made…God is good and Job knows it the minute He is present. Even if Job’s questions had no answer, God himself is the answer. God is caring, the doubts of his accuser and inaccuracy of his defenders notwithstanding. He isn’t whimsical; He is beyond. He isn’t distant; He is available. In the enormously fearful Presence of the Almighty, Job comes to clarity. God is present and that is enough. In person it becomes clear that even his less-than-explained judgments are impossibly right and good.
Job is the book that rescues us from believing that we have the right idea about God. How many times have we imagined God as crazily judgmental or lightly merciful, somehow thinking that our smallest failures or obediences sway his eternal understanding and character? It is easy for us to make the same mistake as the ancients, to recreate our Great God in a lesser image than the One who actually is. We somehow think that we can manipulate with sacrifices rather than approach as friends. Friends get angry yet are available for a row. Friends are honest and are available to bring the truth. Friends accuse and forgive, painful as it may seem. Friends explain and reveal bringing themselves into the light. How many times, in the critical moment, the proverbial “dark night of the soul,” have we failed to turn in fervent searching or accusation to the One who would befriend us? In these moments we fail in the precise area Job succeeded for we lack his best virtue: courageous faith.
We imagine God to be unreachable and we deceive ourselves into thinking our failure to approach him honestly is actually respectful submission. Friends line up to offer false theologies about God being right and good and us being the failed followers. We are tempted to submit thinking we are a few personal adjustments away from this distant God allowing us the begrudging respect of leaving us alone uninhibited in our life’s pursuits. For all we want of God is perceived equity and fairness, the opportunity to live as we wish. And so God-mistaken, and God-accused—Job’s version of God—remains neglected and becomes God untouched and unsought. His personality un-encountered and presence unrequested. God who has submitted so often to human questioning, God whose power is too great to be lessened by honest pursuit, gets left behind as we lack the courage to honestly approach.