Hear from Ivan Khovacs as he considers the Book of Job
It isn’t often that I turn to the Book of Job. But speaking with someone in church, sent me back to read that ancient book of wisdom. She said, quoting Job 38.1, “‘The Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind’, that means that God started a conversation with Job, a dialogue began: God came down and spoke.”
Job, by all accounts, does everything right, yet everything for him goes wrong: he loses children, friends, animals, and farm. The three friends who do stick around only serve to make things worse. They make it their job to tell him that, like it or not, he must have had it coming, his calamity must be cosmic punishment, though no one is exactly sure why. Talk about blaming the victim; I’m convinced Job’s ‘comforters’ are the origin of the phrase ‘with friends like that, who needs enemies’. Some Bible commentators note that Job, even at his lowest, never curses God. That’s technically true. On the other hand, we read in Job 3.1 that “Job “opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth”: Job doesn’t exactly intend to go down quietly and, in the end, he stops short of calling out God over injustice.
In Judaism, Job in his plight, embodies a question many of us have, Why do bad things happen to good people? Job gives us permission, as it were, to turn to God and ask the question ‘Why?’ The Victorian lay theologian and author G.K. Chestertorn wrote “The Iliad is only great because all life is a battle, The Odyssey because all life is a journey, The Book of Job because all life is a riddle.” But philosophical riddles are no comfort to the suffering; there must be more to Job than the inscrutable ways of the God we cannot see. And there is good reason why the writers of the Hebrew Bible considered Job a book of wisdom. By which they mean a book that lets us ask difficult questions when the hardship of others, our own suffering, or a cataclysmic turn of events leaves us asking, ‘Why?’
But for Job, ‘Why?’ is not an existential question, a question for the ages: for Job, it’s personal! And so Job is Old Testament practical wisdom giving us the freedom to question God in prayer. Job does exactly that: he shakes his fist at heaven and says “what have I done to you, you who see everything we do? Why have you made me your target?”(Job 7.20, NIV). Job’s friends turned on him when he needed them most. And Job raged against heaven, daring to ask, ‘why are you doing this to me?’ But did he know that his praying protest did not go unheard? Because when Job asks “Where is God in all this?,” God comes down, God listens, God hears. As my friend in church pointed out, “The Lord answers Job.” The answer to the question ‘Why?’ is an emphatically present ‘Who!’ God hears. God bothers. God listens. God speaks. Let this be this week a prayer for you and me.