We wrap up with a final look at Job. Tragedy has struck, his friends have come and flapped their gums and Job has responded. Here in Job 38, God finally responds and speaks. Right away, like some scholars point out, we see that God is NOT answering the questions we’ve brought up in worship the past two weeks. God doesn’t tell Job “why” it’s all happened and we don’t really hear “where” God’s been all this time. Instead, God makes it a “who” question…like “Job, who do you think you are?” and “Who do you think I am?”
We should’ve known that suffering oughta be a “who” question, but don’t we always find ways to treat other people, and God, and personal things as impersonal? Like, on Saturday night I was watching the South Carolina-Alabama game, and to me football is definitely one of those “people treating people impersonally” kinda things.
What I mean is, players on the field can’t help but treat their opponents as slightly impersonal – if I’m a linebacker and my job is to destroy such-and-such running back, then do you think I’ll spend my time before the snap considering what a lovely personality said halfback has? Will I daydream about his relationship with his mother, or his second-grade nickname, or how he might feel when I tackle him? Negative. All that personal nonsense might take some of my edge off, it gets in the way of what’s running through my head – “DESTROY #25 WHEN HE TOUCHES THE BALL.” It’s similar for the fans, there has to be some suspension of personal humanity to really yell at the other team for no good reason over a football game. But it’s nothing personal.
Anyway, during the game, a Carolina player named Moe Brown caught a pass very close to the goal line and had his head/neck sandwiched between two players. He lay limp on the field, all the coaching staff ran out to him, got him on the backboard, and he gave the “thumbs up” heading off the field. And for a moment, the game became human/personal, people talked about who Moe Brown is as a senior captain, and both sides of players and fans cheered when he seemed okay (even though MOST were Alabama fans). All of that is to say, somewhere deep inside most of us I think it makes sense that suffering and hurt demands a personal, human response. In suffering we gotta consider each other’s feelings, we need each other, we need real human support (and how about God?).
So, Job’s friends failed as good friends because they failed to treat Job like a who. They didn’t seem real concerned with Job’s humanity, with his pain and feelings, with the actual suffering man, but just kept talking about Job’s situation. It’s like it was a case study for them. They pondered theology and regurgitated “wisdom”. Job’s friends didn’t treat God like much of a who either – again, God was just an object of study here.
Satan’s character in Job (Chs 1 and 2) points to the deep who questions of suffering, too. As the accuser/adversary, he points at God and humans and strikes at who we all are. Satan implies that God is a fool for thinking people could truly love him, saying that people are only obedient/good so that God will give them good things. And with Job, isn’t Satan trying to wield suffering to get the man to doubt who God is, to call God evil and ultimatlely renounce his allegiance to Yahweh? It’s a two-pronged attack striking at about the biggest deal in all Creation: the relationship between God and us.
But in the end, through all 38 chapters, Job hasn’t renounced God. He’s gotten close to blasphemy, for sure, but he never loses sight that God is a who. Job talks to God, pours out all his feeling to God, and won’t quit. In the end, Job’s friends are silent, Satan is nowhere to be found (so we can assume Job has survived the challenge), and God speaks back. Too many of us see God almost smacking Job down with strong language about how big God is and small Job is. But let’s understand that God didn’t have to speak to Job at all.
But God does, and it’s a word that let’s Job know that he doesn’t have to try to be in charge, he doesn’t need all the “why’s” and “where’s” and “how’s” answered, as long as he holds onto the faith that’s kept him alive so far – faith based on a personal God who hears and answers.
Maybe the overall question is, when suffering comes to us would we rather have a book of answers, and the background info, or would we rather just have a good, present, LIVING, loving God? Assuming we can’t have both, which do we prefer?