"Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ." - Jerome

Monday, May 18, 2009

Christ in Job

A friend of mine, after completing a degree in Theology, found an element missing from his education in reading the Bible. Certainly the degree he received had a course in Bible Study Methods, and several classes where Biblical historical and language skills were cultivated. Yet, as he explained, it was outside of those classes where he learned the most important aspect of Bible Study that he was missing: the point. The point or end or goal of all Scripture was the story of Redemption as accomplished in Christ. Post-graduation, he started personal study to see this in particular books in the Old Testament, such as Jonah and Habakkuk.

I have had a similar feeling of something missing, especially heightened over the past semester, if a previous post was not enough of a clue. I spent 3 and a half hours listening to lectures on the book of Job and at the end, Christ had not been mentioned once.

When I came to a more Reformation understanding of salvation years ago, besides Ephesians, one of my favorite books became Job. Such a statement seems strange, I have heard few say that Job is a favorite Biblical book. I had read the book before and not loved it, yet after understanding salvation, I now loved it. Why?

Job is a story of suffering and conversation. After Job's possessions are taken away, his children are dead and his health goes bad, Job has three friends that come to comfort him. Job opens his mouth and airs his complaint. He did not deserve this. He was righteous and worshiped God, so why does he get this in repayment? But not only that. Job has lived long enough to see that life is not fair. Justice seems thwarted when evil men succeed in life and honest men are robbed and die young.

Job's friends have horrible answers. They basically deny that anything bad does happen to righteous men. They are like the friend that, when something bad happens to you, asks you how you sinned to cause it. Or like the disciples in John 9:2 that ask whose sin caused the blind man to lose his sight. Their words are met with perhaps the best rebuke from Job in the book: "No doubt you are the people, and wisdom will die with you." (Job 12:2) Sarcasm must be Job's spiritual gift. The answer deserves a punch in the eye, it has no grip on reality. Righteous people do suffer, evil men do prosper.

Elihu, starting in chapter 32, begins his response. Elihu gives several possible answers to why suffering might occur. But Elihu himself does not have an answer for why Job personally suffers. In chapters 38-41, God Himself questions Job, asking Job if he has done what God has done or knows what God knows. Then Job shuts his mouth, and has some degree of restoration.

What was the book of Job's answer? When Job asks why good men suffer and bad men prosper, why death reigns and pain affects all men, what is the answer to Job's question?

There are two main possibilities:

1. Elihu - This view says Job has sinned in his reaction to his pain. And so Elihu is the mediator that Job was longing for (Job 9:32-33). Elihu thus gives many possibilities for why suffering occurs:

Suffering can be for the purpose of education, preventing something else, corrective, for God's glory, to change one's priorities, a stimulus to prayer, or it can be judgment.

So while Job was righteous before the pain, Job is seen to have sinned in his response to pain. Elihu is seen as the rebuker of Job's sin in pain and introduces God who then continues the rebuke of Job's unrighteousness in pain. Job's fault is that he didn't take it like a man.

I do not take this view for a few reasons. One, it shows Satan was right. In the beginning of the book the whole point of the trials of Job was for God to demonstrate to Satan that indeed Job trusted God, and not merely because God had given Job much. If Job was sinning in offering his complaints (though obviously in some of the hyperbolic ways he says it), then Satan was right.

Two, it would make Job 42:7 a very odd verse indeed:

Job 42:7 - After the LORD had spoken these words to Job, the LORD said to Eliphaz the Temanite: "My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has."

How has Job spoken rightly? Let's look at the second possibility:

2. The book of Job gives no final answer.

This answer seems to be wrong on its face. I will, however, try to explain why I think it is the right answer. Certainly, Elihu does give many good possibilities for what God may be doing in the midst of suffering. Elihu's answers are certainly possibilities. Yet, they are not sufficient.

To merely look for fault in Job, and say that Job sinned and the point of the book is to shut up when you experience pain, ignores the seriousness of Job's case and why this book would bother with 30 chapters exploring Job's complaint. Job states his problems directly and with a true resonating force:

The evil prosper:

Job 21:29-34: "Have you not asked those who travel the roads, and do you not accept their testimony that the evil man is spared in the day of calamity, that he is rescued in the day of wrath? Who declares his way to His face, and who repays him for what he has done? When he is carried to the grave, watch is kept over his tomb. The clods of the valley are sweet to him; all mankind follows after him, and those who go before him are innumerable. How then will you comfort me with empty nothings? There is nothing left of your answers but falsehood."

The problem of death

Job 14:10-12: "But a man dies and is laid low; man breathes his last, and where is he? As waters fail from a lake and a river wastes away and dries up, so a man lies down and rises not again; till the heavens are no more he will not awake or be roused out of his sleep."

The problem of cleansing

Job 14:4 "Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? There is not one."

The problem of a distant God.

Job 23:3 "Oh, that I knew where I might find Him, that I might come even to His seat!"

The problems of the people of God

Job 16:2 "I have heard many such things; miserable comforters are you all."

Job 12:4 - "I am one mocked by his friends."

The problem of Revelation

Job 28:12 "But where shall wisdom be found? And where is the place of understanding?

The problem of mediation

Job 9:32-33 "For He is not a man, as I am, that I might answer Him, that we should come to trial together. There is no arbiter between us, who might lay his hand on us both."

The problem of wisdom not answering the problem of pain

Job 13:12 "Your maxims are proverbs of ashes; your defenses are defenses of clay. "

But how has Job spoken rightly? (Job 42:7) Was it merely the repentance? No, God is evaluating the conversation between Job and his friends. Thus, what Job's friends said on whole is not what was true, but what Job said on whole was. Job's friends had looked at Job as having to have done something particularly wrong himself that now Job was getting his due punishment for. It is much like the disciples in John 9:2 asking who sinned to make the man be blind. Instead, Job says the way the world works right now has something deeply wrong with it.

Certainly, we can all share this observation. G.K. Chesterton compared the human condition to a man ship wrecked on an island, yet with him has washed up artifacts from his civilized world. We are in a primitive and harsh world, yet we have things that tell us this is not how it was supposed to be. We have moments of beauty and love that make pain, suffering and injustice a problem. They are evidences that something is deeply wrong.

Job speaks rightly because Job diagnoses the problem of the fallen world. All the things Job cites ARE problems, not things to be ignored or said don't really affect the righteous. They do affect the righteous. They are problems in this world begging for an answer.

In the midst of Job's suffering, even though he cites all these real problems, Job also declares,

Job 19:25-27 - "For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!"

Job doesn't know exactly how, but Job knows in his frustrations that the problems he cites will be addressed, and not just spiritually, but "in the flesh."

We know more fully now how that problem is addressed, and Who Job's Redeemer is. To the problem of death, Christ brings resurrection. To the problem of injustice, Christ will bring final judgment with the sword. To the problem of the poor comforts of the people of God, Christ is born under the Law, into the people of God, bringing perfect comfort and bringing the Comforter, the Spirit. To the problem of mediation between God and man, Christ, the God-man, brings Himself. To the problem of the defects of wisdom in answering the problem of pain, Christ Himself is the wisdom of God revealed and vindicated. To the problem of a distant God, Christ Himself is Immanuel, God with us. And to the problem of cleansing, Christ Himself comes to "wash us in water with the word."

Ultimately, the book of Job is unsatisfactory unless Christ is applied. To merely say that suffering is corrective or educational does not suffice. The world is not as it should be, and the existence of love and beauty and truth in the world point beyond themselves to restoration, not to become satisfactory in the present. Job is discontent with the world as it is, his friends try to justify it rather than look to its redemption. Job is truer in that Job's words beg for the Redeemer, while his friends words are false because they fail to recognize the need of a Redeemer.

Job's friends stand condemned. Elihu may offer helpful rebuke to the over-reaction of Job, yet we cannot look to him as the ultimate mediator between God and man. And God's dialogue does not just tell Job to shut up, but tells Job that He is the God of Creation, and so to trust Him that he can be the God of re-creation. In this way, the book of Job gives no final answer to the problem of pain. The book of Job and Job himself speaks truly because he asks the right questions. Job's questions wait for a further revelation. Job speaks rightly to identify the problems of a fallen world, and speaks even more rightly to identify the only thing he can hold onto, "I know that my Redeemer lives."


CMWoodall said...

your Christological focus was 'deduced' from Job...

I was hoping you'd show how the hedge-row could be seen from a different perspective to be the very fingerprint of the Savior himself. your title connotes Him IN the story.

...not that I can do any better at present.

Jared Nelson said...

My problem would be where to find Him in it. Job specifically appeals to a Mediator and a Redeemer. Much like Paul's writings, I don't think there as much of a typological focus. One could posit Elihu as a type of Christ, but I think he is disappointing and defective as a type, having no definitive answer. Some have said Job is a type of Christ, but I haven't studied Job long enough to give more than this primary pointing of Job in his questions. I also am not accustomed to asking such questions of wisdom literature (Job, Ecclesiastes, Proverbs) so any suggestions would be appreciated.

Perhaps "Christ and Job" would be a better title, or perhaps "Christ for Job."