Job, Act 3. God responds: Can YOU tie the Pleiades together?
I’m skipping a whole bunch of Job that is really really good to get to the last part as the drama builds to a fitting climax. We hear from a new voice, Elihu, regarding why Job, a seemingly innocent man, has suffered so.
Elihu, (chapter 32) is a new voice on the scene, who has apparently been biting his lips and as the youngest man hanging around, waiting for a chance to speak. And speak he does. He delivers some of the best “advice” reminding us all that when we feel God fails to speak to the problem of suffering, God does speak “again and again, no one pays attention to what he says.” (Job 33:14) Bingo.
In a recent book, The Book of Job: A Biography by Mark Larrimore (Princeton Press, 2013), the author summarizes the Elihu speech as reminding Job his case is not unusual: the innocent always suffer in our world. I like what Larrimore hints at in saying suffering happens, but God always offers some resources to help us (p. 3). That is the big takeaway for me in Job. Some suffering we can explain (war, famine, injustice) and we can work towards solutions (but often don’t). But when we can’t explain why the innocent suffer, we must also remind ourselves to be part of offering to help out: to be there, to stand alongside, to cry with, to be quiet and listen, to bring a casserole.
Then right after Elihu, we hear again from God. I love reading this part aloud in my best theatrical, thunderous, voice.
“Then out of the storm the Lord spoke to Job.
Who are you to question my wisdom …
Does either the rain or the dew have a father?
Who is the mother of the ice and the frost?
Can you tie the Pleiades together
Or loosen the bonds that hold Orion?
Do you know the laws that govern the skies, and can you make them apply to the earth?” Job 38:2-40:2
I could go on an on but read the passages here in whatever version you choose, and out loud if you dare.
The text hints at the wisdom and knowledge of the storyteller or writer, and the theological depth of their understanding (seminary degrees not even dreamed of). All of it fully God-inspired of course, but not dictated verbatim, in my book. I have no doubt that the writer in crafting these words did indeed feel like the Almighty was pulsing through and driving him (a him most likely). Like George Handel writing down chords and notes for The Messiah. Like Martin Luther King Jr. delivering “I have a dream…” Like Queen Esther taking on King Xerxes in pleading for the life of her people. On fire.
Job’s questions are not answered or even addressed, but we are left in awe and wonder about God. And Job’s health and good fortunes are restored. Like the end of any good fairy tale.
In the epilogue to the book of Job, it is worth noting that his friends are restored to grace by Job praying for them and then God asking that they present sacrifices for themselves. “I will answer his prayer and not disgrace you the way you deserve,” the Lord says. “You did not speak the truth about me as he did” (Job 42:7) So Job is commended for his questions, his outbursts, his truth seeking. And we ponder whether or not we can be angry with God, ask questions, and doubt? The conclusion of Job would seem to say, “Ponder no longer. It’s ok to have doubts. I can take it. Just keep trusting, as Job did. I’ve got this.”
The friends obey these instructions of the Almighty, we are told. Job’s brothers and sisters and former friends—the fair-weather kind, who had not sat with him for seven days mourning nor examined the depths of their souls regarding the whys–are friends again and come and express sympathy and comfort.
I just have to add a footnote. In Job 19:23 we read “How I wish that someone would remember my words and record them in a book! Or with a chisel carve my words in stone and write them so that they would last forever.” The commentary I’m working with only pitches this as an indication that Job is frustrated with the response of his friends, that maybe someone in future generations will read about and understand his dilemma. How neat that we are doing just that.
But does it also helps in dating the writing? My sources say that’s not important to the text, because of its universal application. My thought was that two forms of preservation of thoughts are hinted at in the reference just cited above: a book, mentioned first and certainly occurring much later in the history of humanity, and chiseling in stone, taking place much earlier. And now here we are millennia later, not only remembering Job’s words, dissecting them, but sharing and preserving them with 0’s and 1’s (as my colleague Wayne is fond to remind us referring to the basis for all electronic/computer communication and transmittal).
However our communication occurs in the future, I have no doubt that God, Job, and his friends will still speak into eternity on the unending questions regarding suffering, human coping, and master plan. The universality of Job and its message reaches out through time and space like a lighting bolt to connect and illuminate again and again. That is the electric potency of God’s Word.
How does Job speak to you?
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