D. A. Carson – Job: Mystery and Faith (4) Job and God

I am indebted to Adrian for pointing me to this treaty on Job. Any dedicated believer, who has suffered deeply, or has seen a loved one suffer is fascinated with the mechanics of Job’s dialogue with God in the midst of his own deep suffering and the wisdom, peace, and understanding that can be derived from it. You can read this article in it’s entirety, in pdf form here (18 pages) –

http://s3.amazonaws.com/tgc-documents/carson/2000_Job_mystery_and_faith.pdf

d a carsonD. A. Carson is Research Professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois. He is the author of numerous commentar- ies and monographs, and is one of this country’s foremost New Testament scholars. Among his books are Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility (John Knox Press, 1981; reprint, Baker, 1994) and How Long, O Lord?: Per- spectives on Suffering and Evil (Baker, 1990).

The topic is divided into
  1. READ Job chapters 1 – 3 Job’s Sufferings and Initial Reaction here
  2. READ Job chapters 4 – 31  Job’s Plaintive Outrage and His Miserable Comforters 
  3. READ Job chapter 32 – 37 Job and Elihu
  4. READ Job chapter 38 – 42:6 Job and God (article below)
  5. covers Job chapter 42:7-16 Job’s Happy Ending (coming)

Here are some excerpts from the 4th section:

Job chapter 38 – 42:6 Job and God

Finally God himself speaks, answering Job out of the storm (chaps. 38-41). “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? Brace your- self like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me” (38:2-3). There fol- lows question after question, each designed to remind Job of the kinds of thing he cannot do, and that only God can. “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand” (38:4). “Have you ever given orders to the morning, or shown the dawn its place … ?” (38:12). “Have you entered the store- houses of the snow or seen the storehouses of the hail, which I reserve for times of trouble, for days of war and battle?” (38:22-23). “Can you bind the beautiful Pleiades? Can you loose the cords of Orion? Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons or lead out the Bear with its cubs?” (38:31-32). “Do you hunt the prey for the lioness and satisfy the hunger of the lions when they crouch in their dens or lie in wait in a thicket? Who provides food for the raven when its young cry out to God and wander about for lack of food?” (38:39-41). God then goes on to describe some of the more spectacular features of the mountain goat, the wild donkey, the ox, the ostrich, the horse, the hawk, the eagle. “Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let him who accuses God answer him!” (40:2).

photo genesistomalachi.weebly.com

Job had wanted an interview with the Almighty. He had, as it were, sworn an affidavit demanding that the Almighty appear and put his indictment in writing (31:35). But God’s defense wasn’t quite what Job had in mind. At the first pause, Job answers, “I am unworthy—how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth. I spoke once, but I have no answer—twice, but I will say no more” (40:4-5).

But God hasn’t finished yet. “Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me” (40:7). Then come the most blistering questions: “Would you discredit my justice? Would you condemn me to justify yourself? Do you have an arm like God’s, and can your voice thunder like his? Then adorn your- self with glory and splendor, and clothe yourself in honor and majesty. Unleash the fury of your wrath, look at every proud man and bring him low, look at every proud man and humble him, crush the wicked where they stand. Bury them all in the dust together; shroud their faces in the grave. Then I myself will admit to you that your own right hand can save you” (40:8-14).

It is important to recognize that God does not here charge Job with sins that have brought on his suffering. He does not respond to the “whys” of Job’s suffering, nor does he challenge Job’s defense of his own integrity. The reason he calls Job on the carpet is not because of Job’s justifica- tion of himself, but because of Job’s will- ingness to condemn God in order to justify himself. In other words, God does not here “answer” Job’s questions about the prob- lem of evil and suffering, but he makes it unambiguously clear what answers are not acceptable in God’s universe.

The rest of chapter 40 and all of chap- ter 41 find God asking more rhetorical questions. Can Job capture and subdue the behemoth (40:15ff.) and leviathan (41:1ff.)? These two beasts may be the hip- popotamus and the crocodile, respec- tively, but they probably also represent primordial cosmic powers that sometimes break out against God. The argument, then, is that if Job is to charge God with injustice, he must do so from the secure stance of his own superior justice; and if he cannot subdue these beasts, let alone the cosmic forces they represent, he does not enjoy such a stance, and is therefore displaying extraordinary arrogance to call God’s justice into question.

Job’s response must be quoted in full (42:2-6), along with two or three explana- tory asides: “I know that you can do all things,” Job tells God, “no plan of yours can be thwarted. You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowl- edge?’ [38:2]. Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me’ [38:3; 40:7]. My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you [i.e., Job has come to have a far clearer understanding of God than he had before]. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”

What shall we make of this exchange between God and Job? Many doubtful interpretations have been put forward by various writers. Because God refers to so many natural phenomena, one writer argues that a major purpose of God’s speech is to tell Job that the beauty of the world must become for him an anodyne to human suffering, a kind of aesthetic aspirin. When one basks in the world’s beauty, one’s problems become petty, “because they dissolve within the larger plan” of the harmony of the universe.4 But to someone suffering intensely, the beauty of the world can just as easily become a brutal contrast that actually intensifies the suffering. Worse, it does not dissolve pain; rather, it is in danger of “dissolving” the sufferer in some kind of pantheistic sense of the fitness of things. This is surely a massive misunderstanding of God’s response. Not once does God minimize the reality of Job’s suffering.

Others, such as George Bernard Shaw, simply mock God’s answer. Job wants an answer as to why he is suffering, and the best that God can do is brag about mak- ing snowflakes and crocodiles. A contem- porary author like Elie Wiesel, writing in the aftermath of the Holocaust, holds that Job should have pressed God further. Doubtless Job needed to repent of his at- titude, but he still should have pressed God for an answer: Why do the righteous suffer?

Both of these approaches misunder- stand the book rather badly. They have this in common: they assume that every- thing that takes place in God’s universe ought to be explained to us. They assume that God owes us an explanation, that there cannot possibly be any good reason for God not to tell us everything we want to know immediately. They assume that God Almighty should be more interested in giving us explanations than in being worshiped and trusted.

The burden of God’s response to Job is twofold. The first emphasis we have already noted: Job has “darkened God’s counsel” by trying to justify himself at the expense of condemning God; and Job is in no position to do that. “God’s speeches show Job that his lowly station point was not the appropriate place from which to judge whether cosmic orders were suffi- ciently askew to justify the declaration ‘let there be darkness.’”5 The second empha- sis is implicit: if there are so many things that Job does not understand, why should he so petulantly and persistently demand that he understand his own suffering? There are some things you will not under- stand, for you are not God.

That is why Job’s answer is so appro- priate. He does not say, “Ah, at last I understand!” but rather, “I repent.” He does not repent of sins that have allegedly brought on the suffering; he repents of his arrogance in impugning God’s justice, he repents of his attitude whereby he simply demands an answer, as if such were owed him. He repents of not having known God better: “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore … I repent” (42:5-6).

To those who do not know God, to those who insist on being God, this out- come will never suffice. Those who do not know God come in time to recognize that it is better to know God and to trust God than to claim the rights of God.

Job teaches us that, at least in this world, there will always remain some mysteries to suffering. He also teaches us to exercise faith—not blind, thoughtless submission to an impersonal status quo, but faith in the God who has graciously revealed himself to us.

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