D. A. Carson – Job: Mystery and Faith (5) Job’s Happy Ending

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 
  5. READ Job chapter 42:7-16 Job’s Happy Ending (article below)

Here are some excerpts from the last section:

photo www.bibleartists.wordpress.com Job’s Despair by Blake

Job chapter 42:7-16 Job’s Happy Ending

These verses may be divided into two parts. The first, which we have already glanced at, reports God’s wrath with Eliphaz and his two friends for not speak- ing of God what was right, as Job did (42:7-8). They are required to offer sacrifice to God, and Job, whom they have despised and abused, must pray for them, for God will accept his prayers for them (and, by implication, not their own!).

In the second part (vv. 10-17), after Job prays for his friends, the Lord makes him prosperous again. His siblings and acquaintances gather around him and provide gifts, presumably to help him start up again. He sires another family, seven more sons and three more daughters, and gains herds twice the size of what he had before. No women were more beautiful than his daughters, and Job left them an inheritance along with their brothers—further evidence of Job’s com- passionate and enlightened treatment of those traditionally squeezed to the periph- ery of life (cf. chap. 31). He lived to a ripe old age, seeing his children and their chil- dren to the fourth generation. Eventually he died, “old and full of years”—an epi- taph reserved for the choicest or most favored of God’s servants (Abraham [Gen 25:8], Isaac [Gen 35:29], David [1 Chron 29:28], and Jehoiada the priest [2 Chron 24:15]).

If some critics are displeased with God’s answer to Job out of the storm, even more are incensed by this “happy ending.” The story, they argue should have ended with Job’s repentance. Whether he was restored is irrelevant; in any case it is untrue to the experience of many, who suffer at length without reprieve. To end the story this way makes the doctrine of retribution basically right after all. The conclusion is therefore anticlimactic at best, contradictory at worst.

This is, I think, a shallow reading of the text. Perhaps the following reflections will help unpack the purpose of this conclusion a little:

(1) We must beware of our own biases. One of the reasons why many people are dissatisfied with this ending is because in the contemporary literary world ambiguity in moral questions is universally revered, while moral certainty is almost as universally despised. The modern mood enjoys novels and plays where the rights and wrongs get confused, where every decision is a mixture of right and wrong, truth and error, where heroes and antiheroes reverse their roles.

Why this infatuation with ambiguity? It is regarded as more mature. Clear-cut answers are written off as immature. The pluralism of our age delights in moral ambiguity—but only as long as it costs nothing. Devotion to contemporary moral ambiguity is extraordinarily self-centered. It demands freedom from God so that it can do whatever it wants. But when the suffering starts the same self-centered focus on my world and my interests, rather ironically, wants God to provide answers of sparkling clarity.

(2) Throughout his excruciating suffering, Job has demonstrated that he serves the Lord out of a pure heart. True, he has said some stupid things and has been rebuked; but at no point does he simply curse God and turn his back on Him. Even his demand that God present himself before Job and give an answer is the cry of the believer seeking to find out what on earth God is doing. Even while sitting in the ashpit, Job trusts God enough to express extraordinary confidence in him, and for no ulterior motive.

In that sense, God has won his wager with the devil. Job may utter words that darken God’s counsel, but he does not lose his integrity or abandon his God. Is it there- fore surprising that there should be full rec- onciliation between God and Job? And if the wager has been won, is there any rea- son for Job’s afflictions to continue?

(3) No matter how happy the ending, nothing can remove the suffering itself. The losses Job faced would always be with him. A happy ending is better than a mis- erable one, but it does not transform the suffering he endured into something less than suffering. A survivor of the Holo- caust has not suffered less because he ultimately settles into a comfortable life in Los Angeles.

(4) The Book of Job has no interest in praising mystery without restraint. All biblical writers insist that to fear the Lord ultimately leads to abundant life. If this were not so, to fear the Lord would be stupid and masochistic. The book does not disown all forms of retribution; rather, it disowns simplistic, mathematically precise, and instant application of the doc- trine of retribution. It categorically rejects any formula that affirms that the righteous always prosper and the wicked are always destroyed. There may be other reasons for suffering; rewards (of blessing or of destruction) may be long delayed; knowledge of God is its own reward.

Job still does not have all the answers; he still knows nothing about the wager between God and Satan. He must simply trust God that something far greater was at stake than his own personal happiness. But he has stopped hinting that God is unjust; he has come to know God better; and he enjoys the Lord’s favor in rich abundance once again.

photo wikipedia Job restored to prosperity by Laurent de La Hyre (1606–1656)

(5) The blessings that Job experiences at the end are not cast as rewards that he has earned by his faithfulness under suf- fering. The epilogue simply describes the blessings as the Lord’s free gift. The Lord is not nasty or capricious. He may for vari- ous reasons withdraw his favor, but his love endures forever.

In that sense, the epilogue is the Old Testament equivalent to the New Testament anticipation of a new heaven and a new earth. God is just, and will be seen to be just. This does not smuggle mathemati- cal retribution in through the back door. Rather, it is to return, in another form, to the conclusion of chapter 8 of this book.

(6) Although I have repeatedly spoken of God entering into a wager with Satan, or winning his wager with Satan, I have done so to try to capture the scene in the first chapter. But there is a danger in such language: it may sound as if God is capri- cious. He plays with the lives of his crea- tures so that he can win a bet.

Clearly that is not true. The challenge to Satan is not a game; nor is the outcome, in God’s mind, obscure. Nothing in the book tells us why God did this. The solemnity and majesty of God’s response to Job not only mask God’s purposes in mystery, but presuppose they are serious and deep, not flighty or frivolous.

Nevertheless, the wager with Satan is in certain ways congruent with other biblical themes. God’s concern for the salvation of men and women is part of a larger, cosmic struggle between God and Satan, in which the outcome is certain while the struggle is horrible. This is one way of placing the human dimensions of redemption and judgment in a much larger framework than what we usually perceive.

(7) We are perhaps better situated now to understand precisely why God says that his servant Job spoke of him “what was right,” while the three miserable com- forters did not. True, Job is rebuked for darkening the Lord’s counsel: he became guilty of an arrogance that dared to demand that God give an account of his actions. But Job has been genuinely grop- ing for the truth, and has not allowed glib answers to deter him. He denies neither God’s sovereignty nor (at least in most of his statements!) God’s justice. Above all, so far as the wager between God and Satan is concerned, Job passes with flying colors; he never turns his back on God.

Contrast the three friends. Although they are trying to defend God, their reductionistic theology ends up offering Job a temptation: to confess sins that weren’t there, in order to try to retrieve his prosperity. If Job had succumbed, it would have meant that Job cared more for prosperity than for his integrity or for the Lord himself; and the Lord would have lost his wager. Their counsel, if followed, would have actually led Job away from the Lord; Job would have been reduced to being yet one more person interested in seeking God for merely personal gain.

This is, at the end of the day, the ulti- mate test of our knowledge of God. Is it robust enough that, when faced with excruciating adversity, it may prompt us to lash out with hard questions, but will never permit us to turn away from God? But perhaps it is better to put the matter the other way round: the God who put Job through this wringer is also the God of whom it is said that, with respect to his own people, “he will not let [them] be tempted beyond what [they] can bear. But when [they] are tempted, he will also pro- vide a way out so that [they] can stand up under it” (1 Cor 10:13). God could not trust me with as much suffering as Job endured; I could not take it. But we must not think that there was any doubt in God’s mind as to whether he would win his wager with Satan over Job!

When we suffer, there will sometimes be mystery. Will there also be faith? 

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