The middle of the book of Job feels like a tennis match: back and forth, back and forth, heavy bass-line slugging, much grunting, and it’s very, very long. Ok, there are three on one side (soon to be four), and one on the other, but the scoring’s pretty even. Each side knows that God’s honour is at stake, and each knows that the truth will out. We spectators don’t quite know what to make of it.
For Zophar it’s simple: Job is a sinner who, like every other sinner, will get his comeuppance. He is angry that Job is refusing to concede that their assessment of him is true (vv.2-3), and adamant that he is guilty and under God’s judgement. His speech is another word picture of a man who is meeting his Maker and will not escape. Is that you, Job?
No!, insists Job. He is as disturbed as they are about the apparent prosperity of the wicked (21.7-15). They have everything – except problems. Job knows that they will be judged. But his challenge to his friends is this: the wicked are often very comfortable in their lives (vv.29-33). They don’t get what they deserve. Precisely! Why, then, should Job’s friends be so sure that each man gets what he deserves in this life, when all can see that this is patently untrue? And if all can see that this is untrue, why are the friends hammering Job, telling him that his circumstances prove that he is a sinner under God’s wrath? They are wrong (v.34).
Bad theology wounds, and it kills. Simplistic theology discourages true believers. What the world and the church needs is theology straight from God’s Word, which is more than able to deal with mystery, uncertainty and tragedy in this world, ministered with care and respect. If you’re not comfortable with mystery, and if you’re too impatient to share your convictions gently and carefully, then who is it you worship? A God of black and white, easy answers? A God of slot machine cause and effect dealings? Be careful.
A Prayer to Pray
Father in heaven, give me a faith which is able to cope with what I don’t understand, knowing that You understand it. Give me a faith to trust in You in the sadness of life, sure that You have the answers. Give me the patience to wait for those answers, and, if You don’t give them, to wait for You in heaven. Amen.