May 26, 2020

Tuesday with Michael Spencer: The God of Job’s Complaints

The end. Photo by Patrick Emerson at Flickr. Creative Commons License

Tuesday with Michael Spencer
The God of Job’s Complaints (2008)

Job 10

‘I loathe my life;
I will give free utterance to my complaint;
I will speak in the bitterness of my soul.
I will say to God, Do not condemn me;
let me know why you contend against me.
Does it seem good to you to oppress,
to despise the work of your hands
and favour the schemes of the wicked?
Do you have eyes of flesh?
Do you see as humans see?
Are your days like the days of mortals,
or your years like human years,
that you seek out my iniquity
and search for my sin,
although you know that I am not guilty,
and there is no one to deliver out of your hand?
Your hands fashioned and made me;
and now you turn and destroy me.
Remember that you fashioned me like clay;
and will you turn me to dust again?
Did you not pour me out like milk
and curdle me like cheese?
You clothed me with skin and flesh,
and knit me together with bones and sinews.
You have granted me life and steadfast love,
and your care has preserved my spirit.
Yet these things you hid in your heart;
I know that this was your purpose.
If I sin, you watch me,
and do not acquit me of my iniquity.
If I am wicked, woe to me!
If I am righteous, I cannot lift up my head,
for I am filled with disgrace
and look upon my affliction.
Bold as a lion you hunt me;
you repeat your exploits against me.
You renew your witnesses against me,
and increase your vexation towards me;
you bring fresh troops against me.

‘Why did you bring me forth from the womb?
Would that I had died before any eye had seen me,
and were as though I had not been,
carried from the womb to the grave.
Are not the days of my life few?
Let me alone, that I may find a little comfort
before I go, never to return,
to the land of gloom and deep darkness,
the land of gloom and chaos,
where light is like darkness.’

• • •

Job’s complaints against God. Pretty hot stuff for most Christians. I’d wager the vast majority of Bible-believers have absolutely no idea what Job says. Many have never set eyes on these chapters or taken a minute to understand them.

In short form, Here’s how Job feels: He complains that God is out to get him. It’s like God has set out to destroy Job with no reason. He’s ignoring Job’s call for justice. God is Job’s enemy and he is attacking Job like someone who wants to kill him. God hates Job (from Job’s point of view.) God isn’t offering forgiveness, but is pursuing Job like an animal. In these chapters, though not in all of the book, Job despairs of any vindication.

There’s plenty more of this in Job. So much so that there’s a history of textual alterations of some of the most offensive phrases. Some copyists just couldn’t believe anyone could say these things and get away with it, so they seem to have made changes to be less shocking. Fortunately, the textual base for Job allows scholars to get beyond those occasional alterations and see exactly how shocking Job’s words really were.

When I finally got around to reading Job with some literary understanding, I was shocked by these chapters as well. Job is a man of faith, but he is also angry with God, confused at events, paranoid, cynical and in darkness as to God’s purposes. And he speaks up about it. The evangelicalism I absorbed as a young Christian didn’t acknowledge that these feelings existed among believers, and if they did, no Christian would ever say or write such things. A person of faith would praise the Lord, not complain and say things that seemed to doubt God.

Most Bible readers and teachers stop their reading of Job with “Blessed be the name of the Lord,” and don’t know that Job spends many verses complaining and indicting God.

Of course, the most interesting thing is God’s final assessment of Job’s words in Job 42:8 : “For you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.”

Huh? Spoken OF GOD what is right? What Job spoke about God was most certainly wrong when compared with all the Bible teaches about God.

Imagine the words of Job taken out of the Bible and brought into the Christian community on a blog, in a worship service or a sermon.

Some people would be shocked enough to write letters, complain, even leave. Of course, such thoughts ARE common and are EXACTLY what many people think to themselves, express to their friends in private and wish they could say out loud. Are the words of Job, spoken by others in other contexts, inappropriate and incompatible with faith? Or are they part of the faith Job is reclaiming in the aftermath of his crisis.

Somehow the one who has heard millions pray, “I believe; Help my unbelief,” has become a God before whom some cannot speak doubt and struggle and still be considered a believer. That’s not the God of Jesus. He’s still with us in those moments, guiding us through the darkness to the other side.

But what if the words of Job were put, first, in the context of the book of Job and then in the context of the entire Bible? What if we see Job as a whole person?

Then we’d hear Job’s agony in Jesus’ quotation of Psalm 22 on the cross, and we’d know this is part of the journey, too.

In my own life and ministry, I intend to work toward a kind of reading and hearing of the Bible that allows Christians like Job to be human and to be persons of faith accepted in the community of faith. With religious television channels preaching the lies of Word-faith manipulation and prosperity Gospel churches working full time to convince the world that all Christians are rich, healthy and blessed with unending happiness in every area of life, there is a great need for the integrity to be honest.

That integrity will be a volatile commodity, but be patient and persistent. Reality is on your side.

Remember that your ways of expressing the truth may be limited, but the integrity to live and speak the honest complaints of Job don’t need applause to have effects.

Even after Job put his hand over his mouth, God still said what he had spoken was right. That’s because instead of whitewashing God with the theology of Job’s counselors, Job had taken God as he knew him, his life as he experienced it and told the truth where he was.

God values people who live the truth in the context of living out their mystery of faith. In the end, he stands by them.

Comments

  1. CM, Was not the answer to Job’s questions, laments and pleas Jesus?. Job was on the other side of the cross . God becoming man cleared up a lot. Questioning faith does not mean it is not true faith. We all know the prosperity guys almost always stay in the OT.
    Perhaps however , they do reach people to begin a journey they never would have. Actually , it baffles me why the prosperity guys do so well as the first generation of Christians did not fare too well in this world. However, I do think a lot of people including Christians know the story of Job but concentrate on the end , the rewards , not the trial and tribulations. Human nature.

    • But are we in that much different a position than Job. Were we there when Jesus walked the earth? Can we say with ABSOLUTE surety that what we believe is true? (And don’t give me the “testimony of the spirit” nonsense, because we all know how liable we are to self-deception.) We modern Christians are all a lot closer to Job, psychologically, than we are to the post-resurrection disciples.

      • David Greene says

        Can we say with ABSOLUTE surety that what we believe is true?

        Of course we can, people do it all the time! Does not mean we are right when we do.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      > Was not the answer to Job’s questions, laments and pleas Jesus?

      No.

      His entire family was killed, as in dead, and he was left in poverty. If the same happened to myself and someone – as would almost certainly happen – came by to Jesus-juke me, I would be completely justified to punch them in the face, twice. There is nothing Theological about such an experience; it ‘simply’ has to be endured.

      • As the NIV Study Bible put it in the comments on Job, “Do not debate theology in a cancer ward.”

        • Robert F says

          Yes; to do so is exactly what Job’s friends did, and is the same before or after the Incarnation.

      • Brianthegrandad says

        Today is the 16th anniversary of the death of my 4yr old daughter. A Biopsy on a brain tumor. Complications. Two emergency surgeries to try to save her life in less than 12 hours. Death. Organ donation. All in the space of 24 hours. I lay in the floor of the waiting room, praying until I had no words, just groaning. I’ll never forget the sound my father, rest his soul, made when I told my family she was brain dead.

        We’re still faithful church goers. We still practice our faith. We still believe Jesus is God incarnate. We still believe he carried our sins and died for us. I still believe. But I do pray for him to help my unbelief. I struggle with prayer. Mine on the floor were unanswered that night. I think. We prayed for a miracle. There were three lives saved that night with her organs, one a boy who is now a minister of the faith. Maybe they were answered.

        The faith saved us afterward. It also sent many well meaning friends of Job into our lives. Job is one of my favorite characters in the Bible. I feel a kinship.

        Sorry for the ramble, but thanks for this space to do it.

        Blessings

        • “The faith saved us aftewards”

          Thank you Brian for sharing this memory of a terrible time for you. So very moving. Blessings to you and yours as well.

          • Adam Tauno Williams says

            +1

          • Rick Ro. says

            + Another. That line is a keeper and resonates with what I felt after my own spiritual desert journey (which was not even close to being as bad as your experience). Very moving post.

        • Brian, I can’t imagine. Actually, I can, and it scares me silly. May you have peace on this day.

          • Brianthegrandad says

            You should know that a key figure In our comfort during that time was the hospital chaplain at children’s hospital in Birmingham. Paul. I’ll leave the rest of his name off. I think he’s still there. He and his staff were great, during and after. We’ve stayed in contact over the years.

            Thank you for your words, Chap, and know that I feel a kinship with you and appreciation for your work as well, because of the kindness, professionalism and faith of Paul during that time.

            There’s a long and winding story that came from this that illustrates the faithfulness of God even (especially) when life kicks us in the gut. Suffice it to say that He created good out of this terrible situation.

            Thanks to all the IMonk folks

            Pax

            • Robert F says

              The example from Scripture that I most think of relating to someone — aside from Jesus — getting kicked in the gut is the parable of Dives and Lazarus. Lazarus got kicked so hard that all he could do was lay helpless at Dives’ gate, as the dogs licked his sores. Unlike Job, nothing is said about Lazarus being a righteous man whom the Lord had blessed with great riches during his life for his righteousness, but now had fallen on hard times. He never utters a word of protest or faith. He’s just knocked down and out, and as far as we know, his whole life has been that way, perhaps going from bad to worse. Yet in his parable Jesus says that all the time God was with Lazarus, had never abandoned him, that he was loved with divine love, despite all appearances to the opposite, and likely despite Lazarus not being able to believe it himself.

              God’s peace to you, Brian.

              • Robert F says

                If someone has written a volume dealing with the spirituality of Lazarus, I’d like to know. I think that’s a spirituality I could practice.

          • senecagriggs says

            “scares me silly” – indeed, sadly

    • Robert F says

      God never mentions Jesus to Job; it wouldn’t have been an answer to Job’s complaints even if he did. God new better.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      CM, Was not the answer to Job’s questions, laments and pleas Jesus?

      Sounds too much like parroting the Four Spiritual Laws and Altar Call to someone who has been completely devastated.

      Or the kid fresh out of Sunday School who wrote in “JESUS” as every answer on his math test.

      • Headless, Guy, Love it, Well Jesus is the answer all the time. At least I will laugh once today.

    • dan, in a big-picture sense, yes, the answer to Job’s pleas is Jesus. I happen to believe that Job is a fictional story about the challenge of the Exile to Israel’s faith, and the limitations of traditional “Wisdom” teaching to explain what happened. The crisis of the Exile was the event that ended up producing the entire Hebrew Bible, forcing the people to reexamine their identity, history, and prospects. What does it mean to be “God’s people” when it seems like God has decided to oppose you and perhaps even destroy you? The message of the OT also contains a thread of hope that weaves through all the lament — and that hope was fulfilled in Jesus the Messiah. But that’s not much in view in the book of Job. Job is about the wrestling when hope can’t be seen.

      • Christiane says

        the loss of a beloved young child is universally and timelessly felt by our humankind, and in the days of the early Christians, on the tombs of young children in the catacombs,
        there was often a carving of Our Lord as ‘The Good Shepherd’ carrying a lamb on His shoulders . . .

        the Risen Lord gave great hope to those who had before thought they would never again see their loved one, and the image of Jesus holding the lamb represented the reception of their small innocent child into the Arms of the Savior

        Here is an image of one of those carvings in the catacombs of Rome:
        https://i.pinimg.com/474x/df/3c/98/df3c98de18795f8693bab8487735f0fc.jpg

      • CM, I think you are right on and I appreciate your response. Of course , by its very core issue of the discussion between God and satan , it is a fiction story to convey the point you well made. However, I see a movement to distance the OT from the NT and make the OT not the base of Christianity or the foreshadowing or whatever scholars would call it. The very early radical Christians had no use for the OT and thought it was the book for the Hebrews only and the Hebrew God of war was not the God that Jesus was the Son of. I do as stated agree with your summation. Where to God when the temple is gone, made a profound change.

        • Christiane says

          ” The very early radical Christians had no use for the OT and thought it was the book for the Hebrews only and the Hebrew God of war was not the God that Jesus was the Son of. ”

          Hello Dan,

          your comment applies to ONLY one particular dualist group called the Marcionites. Marcion’s canon rejected the entire Old Testament.

          There were many different so-called ‘heretical’ groups of Christians and that is why the early Councils of the Church were called to deal with these various groups and to define in creeds what the Church believed particularly about ‘Who Christ Was’ and ‘the nature of the Holy Trinity’

          • Robert F says

            Marcion had the distinction of defining the first Christian canon, albeit based on Marcionite principles, which were subsequently deemed heretical by the mainstream of Christian orthodoxy. Still, he was the first.

          • Robert F says

            I have a lot of sympathy with Marcion’s idea that the God and Father of Jesus Christ was not the creator of this world full of suffering and death. If I had been a contemporary of his, I might easily have been one of his followers.

    • Rick Ro. says

      I hear what you’re saying, dan. Yes, everything in scripture points to Jesus. But to me, that only works at the spiritual, salvation, grace level. As to the physical problems we all face, the answer is most clearly NOT Jesus. Take the current pandemic. Individually, God and Jesus might be showing up for some people, but for percentage of the ill— those who die, those who can’t even be with loved ones as they die— the struggle is real, the answer isn’t simply Jesus.

      • Rick Ro. says

        All that said, I pray to Jesus daily to tone down the virus’ infectiousness and lethality.

  2. senecagriggs says

    C.M., you obviously went to different churches that I did. The travails of Job were never white-washed by my preachers. The agony was always made clear; the questions, the desire to be justified. The confusion. And finally, while God made it up to Job, he never explained.

    • I can’t recall ever hearing Job preached, once. Some Sunday morning adult Ed classes were as close as it got.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says

        Job and James are the two books I remember preachers questioning if they should be included in Scripture.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says

          And I knew one preacher who really disliked Ecclesiastes; felt it was the rantings of a spoiled juvenile.

          • Ecclesiastes describes it’s author as the wisest man who ever lived. And that preacher called him a spoiled juvenile. I’ll just leave that comment right where it is. 😛

            • Robert F says

              The parts of the Bible that many preachers — many Christians — dislike the most are the Sermon on the Mount, and the Magnificat.

              • Headless Unicorn Guy says

                How so?
                The Magnificat I can see — anything with Mary prominent would be “Too Romish”.
                Semon on the Mount because it’s so extreme?

                • Robert F says

                  Conservative preachers dislike the reversal element, the upside-down Kingdom theme, in both the SoM and the Magnificat. They avoid the idea that the poor are blessed instead of the rich, and that God shall “send the rich empty away.”

          • Rick Ro. says

            Lol. Ecclesiastes is a book that solidify my trust in the Bible. Take it out, and I don’t know that I’d believe any of the other words in it.

            • Adam Tauno Williams says

              Very much the same for me. Both Ecclesiastes and Job – in conjunction with much in the minor prophets – inoculate Scripture from **legitimate** use by pietistic creators of word salads.

              • Headless Unicorn Guy says

                pietistic creators of word salads.

                I call them “God’s Speshul Pets”.
                So Spiritual they have shed their humanity like Anne Rice’s Lestat.

      • The only part of Job I remember coming from the pulpit was the notorious KJV mistranslation of Job 13:15.

        “Though he slay me yet will I trust him.” which in the original really said

        “See, he will kill me; I have no hope but I will defend my ways to his face.”

        As Michael Spencer pointed out, pretty hot stuff.

        • Robert F says

          Yes. Interestingly, William Barrett in his mid twentieth exploration of existential philosophy, Irrational Man, used this text, in the more apt translation you cite, as an example of how the Bible fed into the wellsprings in Western cultural tradition that led to the development of existentialism.

        • Dana Ames says

          Another reason to have the Septuagint at hand:

          “Though the Mighty One overpower me – inasmuch as he has begun – certainly I will speak and argue my case before him.” Job 13.15 LXX

          There are places where the Masoretic text makes more sense, but I have found the LXX to generally have a more honest tone, and there are places where it posits a more gracious God. Favorite example is Jeremiah 17.9:

          The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure; who can know it? – NIV
          The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked; who can know it? – KJV
          The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is? – New Living
          The heart is more deceitful than all else, and desperately sick; who can understand it? – NASB

          BUT in the LXX:
          The heart is deep above all else, and so is man, and who shall understand him?

          In addition, even though the LXX is a translation, it is a very careful one, and done from an older textual tradition than the Masoretic. It’s the Scripture the first Christians knew.

          Dana

          • Norma Cenva says

            So much for the brand of ‘inerrancy’ and ‘infallibility’ touted by American fundagelicalism…

            • Headless Unicorn Guy says

              Similar to Islam’s take on “inerrancy” and “infallibility” concerning their Koran.

    • Robert F says

      God did not make it up to Job. Those were different children that God gives to Job at the end. It’s not as if children are interchangeable — “Well, I took that one, but here’s another one to make good on it. We’re all even up!”

    • senegriggs, In my life experience the story of Job is well known even by the secular world, The understanding and application may not be too deep but the story of Job test so well known that people say Job instead of job, which is some clue. However , I wonder what would be the impact if Job good fortunes including his children were not restored in the story? Also most accounts offer the nugget that when Jobs fortunes were returned and doubled , his children in what I call heaven were counted as part of the doubling when his family counted in this world. Just an offshoot as I would be surprised the OT especially the oldest book alluded to an afterlife.

      • just to clarify my account of the Job children in heaven be counted in a typical evangelical understanding and explanation. I have heard it often in my life .

      • Robert F says

        Some Biblical scholars believe the last section where God gives Job replacement children was added later, by other writers, because the without it the book is just too stark.

    • seneca, please note, this was from Michael Spencer in 2008.

  3. “Even after Job put his hand over his mouth, God still said what he had spoken was right. That’s because instead of whitewashing God with the theology of Job’s counselors, Job had taken God as he knew him, his life as he experienced it and told the truth where he was.”

    This is why I, and so many here, loved Michael so much.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      +1

    • Christiane says

      yes, this

    • Rick Ro. says

      Yep.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      “Even after Job put his hand over his mouth, God still said what he had spoken was right. That’s because instead of whitewashing God with the theology of Job’s counselors, Job had taken God as he knew him, his life as he experienced it and told the truth where he was.”

      “If you don’t want to call it God, call it Truth.”
      — “Bill”, the guy who founded Alcoholics Anonymous

  4. Michael Z says

    Job acts as if God is big enough to handle his questions and doubts and complaints; his friends act as if God (or their faith in God) is so fragile that they need to tiptoe quietly around the questions out of fear of everything falling apart.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      Yes, this. Fear that the God who created this world – THIS WORLD! – would at the smallest provocation fly into a temper tantrum – the God who chooses from among the world cheaters, cowards, adulterers, and murders. The God who spoke to the prophet Habakkuk: “I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told” [there is dark irony in there I am sure 🙂 ].

    • Rick Ro. says

      Good point!

    • Michael Bell says

      For the record, I would like to point out that I am a huge fan of Michael Z’s comments. I find them to be very perceptive. Thanks, Michael Z.

  5. Robert F says

    Imagine the words of Job taken out of the Bible and brought into the Christian community on a blog, in a worship service or a sermon …..Some people would be shocked enough to write letters, complain, even leave.

    Some people — Christians that is — are shocked enough about Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount and other places in the New Testament “to write letters, complain, even leave.” I’ve known this first hand. During a sermon, the preacher uses some of the words from Jesus regarding the blessedness of the poor, or God’s judgment of the rich, without explicitly letting it be known that these are Jesus’ words — after all, shouldn’t Christians know the words of Jesus when they hear them! After the service someone in the congregation loudly and angrily accuses the preacher of introducing politics, even Communism, into the worship service, leaves the church and is never heard from again. And the preacher didn’t even use the most revolutionary words in the New Testament: “He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away.”

    • Robert F says

      Meant to blockquote the top paragraph. Ah well…

      • senecagriggs says

        I feel you Robert; can’t go back and edit comments. Irritating

        • Robert F says

          Besides that, I probably need someone else to the my editing! There have been times when I had to correct my corrections!

  6. Robert F says

    one last frost
    covers the fields
    and one last thaw

    • Christiane says

      🙂

      exquisitely written

    • David Greene says

      Oops, first time through I misread and thought the last line was “and one last straw.” Guess my mind was still on Job 🙂

  7. Steve Newell says

    I can’t see any of the “name it & claim it” property gospel types preaching in Job.

  8. CM I just sent you an unfinished copy of my song about Job via email.

  9. Klasie Kraalogies says

    Back in my fundamentalist days, Job was treated in a manner not covered by Michael’s post. Sure there was the testing and patience theme. Oh, And there were plenty of sermons on Job 31:1 (all by itself). But the other great them was Job 38 and following, and they way they interpreted was to say – y’all are just stupid idiots, just shut up and suffer because you know nothing. Essentially.

    Sermons were a tool for beating the chosen into submission.

    • Basically, they ignored the entire first 3/4ths of the book then…

    • David Greene says

      It was also often used by fundies to support young earth creationism as Leviathan and Behemoth were supposedly Biblical references to dinosaurs coexisting with man.

  10. It seems we in this current age share something with the oldest book in the Bible .. Job reports seem to be bleak , then and now for sure.

  11. Wilkins James says

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    Good work, keep posting more!