February 17, 2020

The God of Job’s Complaints

Job 10:1 “I loathe my life; I will give free utterance to my complaint;
I will speak in the bitterness of my soul.
2 I will say to God, Do not condemn me;
let me know why you contend against me.
3 Does it seem good to you to oppress,
to despise the work of your hands
and favor the designs of the wicked?
4 Have you eyes of flesh?
Do you see as man sees?
5 Are your days as the days of man,
or your years as a man’s years,

6 that you seek out my iniquity
and search for my sin,
7 although you know that I am not guilty,
and there is none to deliver out of your hand?
8 Your hands fashioned and made me,
and now you have destroyed me altogether.
9 Remember that you have made me like clay;
and will you return me to the dust?
Job 10:10 Did you not pour me out like milk and curdle me like cheese?
11 You clothed me with skin and flesh,
and knit me together with bones and sinews.
12 You have granted me life and steadfast love,
and your care has preserved my spirit.
13 Yet these things you hid in your heart;
I know that this was your purpose.
14 If I sin, you watch me
and do not acquit me of my iniquity.
15 If I am guilty, woe to me!
If I am in the right, I cannot lift up my head,
for I am filled with disgrace
and look on my affliction.
16 And were my head lifted up,* you would hunt me like a lion
and again work wonders against me.
17 You renew your witnesses against me
and increase your vexation toward me;
you bring fresh troops against me.
Job 10:18 “Why did you bring me out from the womb?
Would that I had died before any eye had seen me

Job 16:7 Surely now God has worn me out;
he has* made desolate all my company.
8 And he has* shriveled me up,
which is a witness against me,
and my leanness has risen up against me;
it testifies to my face.
9 He has torn me in his wrath and hated me;
he has gnashed his teeth at me;
my adversary sharpens his eyes against me.
10 Men have gaped at me with their mouth;
they have struck me insolently on the cheek;
they mass themselves together against me.
11 God gives me up to the ungodly
and casts me into the hands of the wicked.
12 I was at ease, and he broke me apart;
he seized me by the neck and dashed me to pieces;
he set me up as his target;
13 his archers surround me.
He slashes open my kidneys and does not spare;
he pours out my gall on the ground.
14 He breaks me with breach upon breach;
he runs upon me like a warrior.
15 I have sewed sackcloth upon my skin
and have laid my strength in the dust.
16 My face is red with weeping,
and on my eyelids is deep darkness,
17 although there is no violence in my hands,
and my prayer is pure.

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’s 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. Jeremiah says

    yep, one of my favorite books. I have seen so many Christians act as though Job was wrong that it’s as though they never read the part where God says to Satan “though you have incited me to persecute him without casue.” People are often so eager to skip to the providential plan they downplay that God Himself says that what Job got was not because he deserved it. Ever since I read Job in the mid to late teens I took it as a sign that God would rather I go to him with genuine doubt than talk about Him to others with a fatuous faith.

  2. I think the most important thing to walk away from Job with is the idea that we cannot understand God. We can learn about God, draw closer to God, do all kinds of things for God; but he surpasses our understanding. I talk a lot about how Jesus is the image of the invisible God in Colossians 1. But even Jesus teachings of God and the Kingdom are given in metaphor and simile – God is like this, or the Kingdom of God is like … whatever. I can’t put my finger on the reference, but “God’s ways are not man’s ways.” Our level of comprehension and understanding are not sufficient to wrap our mind around the full knowledge of God. Our mental image is nowhere even close. For all Job says right about God, God tells him there is more. I question anyone that doesn’t have any questions about God. That person no longer has any room to grow.

  3. It seems that true “intimate” dependence upon Jesus cannot deepen unless it is tried in the fires of
    suffering. We see this so clearly in Job’s words at the end of the book “I had heard of you with the ear, but now I see you face to face (Job 42:5).

    Jacob also experiences this intimacy gained through struggle when He wrestled with God and received a broken hip out of the deal (Genesis 32:24-32). God calls this broken hip a blessing, for Jacob has striven with God and prevailed. This is an odd thing for God to say since He put Jacob’s legs in a pretzel and yanked his hip out of joint so severely that Jacob walked with a limp the rest of his life. God calls this a “win” for Jacob! Again, this seems out of place. God is saying, “The one who wrestles with God and loses is the one who wins.” What does he win? He wins God. He gets God. Interestingly, Jacob says the same thing Job said, “I have seen God face to face. And I am blessed.”

    In the meantime, God does not expect us to act like there is no pain in this wrestling match. He wants us to be authentic, to weep, to cry, to wail, to whine, to wince, to fight, and to mourn. What’s even more surprising to us is that as Christ walks us through this valley of death, even though He is often directly responsible for our pain, He hurts along with us. Just as Jesus wept with Martha and Mary after the death of Lazarus, Jesus also weeps with us. He cries with us. He feels our pain. He knows how we feel better than we do.

    Like it or not, Authentic faith simply does not occur without an authentic response to Jesus in the midst of pain and struggle.

    I hate it that this is true. How many times have I cried the words that Jesus cried in Gethsemane, “Father, is there any other way? Yet not my will, but your will be done (Matthew 26:39).” Yet, we often get the same answer that Jesus got. There is no other way. This is what it means to share in the sufferings of Christ; sufferings that Paul counted as a blessing. And blessing it is…

    Yet, we are not expected to go through these sufferings as automatons. If Jesus wept, then certainly we are freed to weep also. If Jesus cried “My God why have you forsaken me”, then how much more are we freed to cry the same thing.

  4. Proof positive that God has no personal security hang-ups. As a father I understood that my kids should respect me and my position in the home and family. All well and good, but when they would air their complaints to me in ways that seemed disrespectful I would protest (or should I say pout). While God deserves our utmost respect he seems big enough to stand toe to toe with us and listen to our verbal flailings with beautiful patience, compassion, and understanding. Our God is indeed an awesome God.

  5. The writers of Job, Psalms, Habakkuk and Lamentations did not worship a small God. That in turn gives rise to the human experience. The smaller we make God with our instant, ready-made pragmatism, the smaller we become.

    This quote might fit well, especially with Psalm 22 (hope it’s not too long):

    “The courage of the Reformers is not the courage to be oneself…The Reformation pronounces the opposite: one can become confident about one’s existence only after ceasing to base one’s confidence on oneself. On the other hand the courage of confidence is in no way based on anything finite besides oneself, not even on the Church. It is based on God and solely God, who is experienced in a unique and personal encounter. The courage of the Reformation transcends both the courage to be as a part and the courage to be as oneself. It is threatened neither by the loss of oneself nor by the loss of one’s world.”
    – Paul Tillich, from “Courage to Be”.

  6. Veto Roley says

    One of my favorite passages of the Bible is Hab. 1:2-4: “How long, O LORD, will I call for help, and You will not hear? I cry out to You, “Violence!” Yet You do not save. Why do You make me see iniquity, and cause me to look on wickedness? Yes, destruction and violence are before me; strife exists and contention arises. Therefore the law is ignored and justice is never upheld for the wicked surround the righteous; therefore justice comes out perverted.”

    It is not sin to be angry with God. It is sin to let our anger with Him destroy our faith in Him. God is big enough for our anger and hurt. To deny our anger and hurt, particularly with God, can cost us our faith.

    Veto

  7. Honest to God. Wow. What a concept.

    It’s in nearly every header in Psalms in my KJV: “David complaineth to God” (the big baby!).

    Jeremiah (20:7, 4:10) called him a liar.

    Moses hurled at Him – “I didn’t birth these people!”

    Jesus said, “I can’t do this.”

    Of course, they didn’t have TV producers, agents, or cathedrals to pay for.

  8. You might be interested in this online commentary “Putting God on Trial: The Biblical Book of Job” (http://www.bookofjob.org) as supplementary or background material for your study of the Book of Job. It is written by a Canadian criminal defense lawyer, now a Crown prosecutor, and it explores the legal and moral dynamics of the Book of Job with particular emphasis on the distinction between causal responsibility and moral blameworthiness embedded in Job’s Oath of Innocence. It is highly praised by Job scholars (Clines, Janzen, Habel) and the Review of Biblical Literature, all of whose reviews are on the website. The author is an evangelical Christian, denominationally Anglican. He is also the Canadian Director for the Mortimer J. Adler Centre for the Study of the Great Ideas, a Chicago-based think tank.