Will you argue the case for God?

10 Mar

Recently, I have really enjoyed reading Job.

I’ve never enjoyed reading Job before. Has anyone? Well, I’m sure some other people have. But it doesn’t sound normal.

There is so much that could be said about this amazing, ancient book. It has a great message about the priceless value of faith and relationship with God above everything else. About how we need to fight for this, because it’s the one thing the Devil wants to destroy, and cannot destroy directly. Also about how we really can’t see what’s going on a lot of the time. And about how wild and untameable God is. But the main reason I’ve enjoyed it this time is that I realised some things about it that I hadn’t really registered before:

1) It poses and answers one of the most basic questions in world religion – a question that anybody wondering about God, and everybody superstitious asks:

Do bad things happen to people because they have done something bad?

The answer given in Job is, in summary:

No.

And I was just blown away by the fact that this is the conclusion of the oldest book in the Bible; the first Jewish text we have. It runs counter to most people’s most basic assumptions about how God and life work.

2) It is a whole book about how religious people can be really unhelpful and annoying when you’re going through a crisis. Job has four friends who show up when his life has fallen apart, and instead of being sympathetic, they feel like they have to give him the correct doctrinal explanation for what is happening to him.

“You must have done something bad. Just admit it, repent, and then you’ll get all your prosperity back.”

That’s what they tell him, over and over. Job’s replies are wonderfully sarcastic. But it made me think about Christians too, and how depressingly often they (we) can feel they ought to make some sort of excuse for what is happening – to provide some theological explanation, as if they need to defend God and give him good PR.

When, “I’m really struggling because I lost my job and my boyfriend left me,” is met with a cheery, “Ah, at least we know that ‘all things work together for the good of those who love God'”… that’s really not cool. And, in Job, we see that God doesn’t like that either. At the end, he slams those friends for their religious platitudes and tells them they should have just been honest. And if they didn’t understand something about God, they should have just kept silent in wonder, alongside Job.

I’m not sure why we feel the temptation to act this way. Is it fear? Are we afraid to say, “I don’t know”? Are we afraid to admit that God is wild and infinite, and not a genie in a lamp? Are we afraid to suffer alongside our friends when life deals them downs as well as ups?

This, from chapter 13, is the most amazing warning against that sort of defensive, cheap religious comfort. It’s scary and wonderful:

I desire to speak to the Almighty
and to argue my case with God.
You, however, smear me with lies;
you are worthless physicians, all of you!
If only you would be altogether silent!
For you, that would be wisdom.
Hear now my argument;
listen to the pleas of my lips.
Will you speak wickedly on God’s behalf?
Will you speak deceitfully for him?
Will you show him partiality?
Will you argue the case for God?
Would it turn out well if he examined you?
Could you deceive him as you might deceive mortals?
He would surely call you to account
if you secretly showed partiality.
Would not his splendor terrify you?
Would not the dread of him fall on you?
Your maxims are proverbs of ashes;
your defenses are defenses of clay.

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One Response to “Will you argue the case for God?”

  1. peter thomas 10/03/2012 at 7:45 am #

    Hi Mel

    Thanks for this.

    at 7.45 am I’m just about to go off to a diocesan synod – but will think about Job as I travel! Further comments later.

    Peter

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