A Center for Ants?!

Job 41-42 and Psalm 89

I struggle with the book of Job. I come to the end of it anticipating answers. I’ve read it before, and I didn’t find answers then, so why would I expect answers this time? Maybe I will read it enough times that the key to all of it will suddenly spark into my understanding. But I could be asking the wrong questions. What if the author of Job wasn’t trying to answer the questions I care about? Is it still fair for me to excavate it for the answers I want?

If I was going to judge the book of Job like I would a television series, I would say it got canceled and they had to scramble to figure out a way to end it in the last episode. But there were too many details and connections to squeeze into one episode. There are only so many options in that situation, and none of them are good. So the producers of The Job Show, driven by the fans’ need for closure, opted for the fairy tale ending where some magical element swooped in out of left field and restored Job to his former glory. Then nothing really had to be explained. It was tied up with a bow without the need to craft all the right connections.

Somehow having two Ferraris to replace the first and getting a replacement family doesn’t feel like closure or justice to me. Really, I’m happy that Job had a great life after all of that, but that doesn’t wipe away the lingering questions.

Probably the biggest question everyone has about the book of Job is how a good and loving God can allow such terrible suffering. In Job, it is even more problematic, because God is making some kind of wager with the accuser and giving him permission to take everything from him. It doesn’t really take God off the hook to say that technically he didn’t do anything to Job. It sure sounds like Job was a chip being pushed out into the middle of the table during a divine poker game.

Another uncomfortable question is about the satan/accuser. The assumption might be that he is the bad guy, and that if justice is done, he should be dealt with. But he isn’t dealt with. He’s not important enough to even mention as the story comes to a close. It isn’t clear at all from the text that he is supposed to be understood as being evil. It sounds like he is just fulfilling a role of someone on God’s staff responsible for playing devil’s advocate, to enact checks and balances against God’s policies.

Short of having good answers for these questions, the next best thing I can do is suggest that they were probably not on the radar of Job’s author. The book of Job is not really about why we suffer or where suffering comes from, although Job’s suffering is like the emotional setting of the story. It isn’t about who or what the satan is, nor about his relationship to God. Not that these are not important questions! It’s just that the author of Job didn’t set out to address them. I think the real questions on the table are more about God’s wisdom and justice, and that the events at the beginning of Job serve to propel us into a hypothetical situation where we can sandbox the questions with Job and his friends.

In all the haste to bring the series to a close, there was time for a good bit about Leviathan. He’s a chaos water-dragon type of creature that we are apparently completely powerless against. You could take him to be a representation of our deepest fears and unknowns. How do we face such absolute terror? And if God is his creator, how much more terrifying must God be? Just imagine that we are like ants to Leviathan, but Leviathan is just a tadpole to God. Just a tadpole in a drop of water on a rock orbiting a star, somewhere within a galaxy of billions of stars, somewhere among billions of other galaxies. Do you feel insignificant?

After reading Job, we are left feeling small and with more questions than we had before reading it. Our status is upset from expert to beginner. This is a good place to be. This is humility that can lead to wisdom. God didn’t inspire the author of Job to answer all of our questions or connect all the dots for us. God is prompting us to ask bigger and better questions.

God trusted that Job would endure the most severe unrest and still serve him. Job was somehow able to trust that God was a God of justice even though he didn’t have the evidence we’d all require to do the same. Can I really trust that ultimately God will set everything right? Am I willing to accept that I most likely will not see all of this happen in this lifetime? Can I accept that God has the wisdom to enact true justice in his time, to his standards? 

Little did Job know that having his riches restored was only a small taste of God’s restorative justice. Our ideas of what justice, goodness, and love look like are so tiny compared to the true versions of these that come from God.

“Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; steadfast love and faithfulness go before you.” (Psalm 89:14)

-Jay Laurent

Today’s Bible reading passages can be read or listened to at BibleGateway at Job 41-42 and Psalm 89

A Carrot and A Stick – REPENT

Ezekiel 13 – 15

Ezekiel 14 3 NIV SGL

 

In Ezekiel 14, we’re told that some of the elders of Israel came to Ezekiel.  God told Ezekiel in 14:3-6, “Son of man, these men have set up idols in their hearts and put wicked stumbling blocks before their faces. Should I let them inquire of me at all?  Therefore speak to them and tell them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: When any of the Israelites set up idols in their hearts and put a wicked stumbling block before their faces and then go to a prophet, I the Lord will answer them myself in keeping with their great idolatry.  I will do this to recapture the hearts of the people of Israel, who have all deserted me for their idols.’

“Therefore say to the people of Israel, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Repent! Turn from your idols and renounce all your detestable practices!’”

 

I see two attributes of God at work here:  justice and mercy.  For those claiming to follow God, but not really following Him, there will be justice (i.e. punishment).  They will be made an example so others will see and turn to God.  This is a scary concept, and should cause us to repent and turn completely back to God so this doesn’t happen to us.

 

We see God’s mercy as he says to those not following him, “Repent!” and “Renounce all your detestable practices!”.  This too should cause us to repent and turn completely to God.

 

It doesn’t matter whether we respond better to a carrot or to a stick, since we’re given both.  The simple fact remains that we need to repent, renounce all our detestable practices, and turn completely to God.

 

And once that happens, we’re told in 14:11, “Then the people of Israel will no longer stray from me, nor will they defile themselves anymore with all their sins.  They will be my people, and I will be their God, declares the Sovereign Lord.”

 

May this be said of us too.  But it is conditional upon repenting and turning completely to God.  The choice is yours.

Steve Mattison

Today’s Bible reading can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Ezekiel 13-15

Tomorrow’s Bible reading will be Ezekiel 16-17 as we continue on our 2020 Chronological Bible Reading Plan

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