Saturday, February 18, 2012

Blog through the Bible: Why does God not hear me!

As the Blog through the bible project continues, we come to Job response to Eliphaz in chapters 23—24. In essence he says, “I won’t give up until God hears my complaint. Look at all the stealing, murder, poverty and adultery in the world and God does nothing. There is no justice. God doesn’t hold times of judgment”.

Gordon Wenham notes that his eighth speech could be titled “God should be available regularly”. Here, he begins to talk about how God is inaccessible. He doesn’t charge God with injustice this time; he says he can’t get to God. He believes that if he could gain access to God, he would be vindicated. But he despairs of ever receiving such vindication, because God clearly does not hold regular times for judgment.

He begins with a statement about the inaccessibility of God in chapter 23. He says, “Oh, that I knew where I might find him, that I might come even to his seat! I would lay my case before him and fill my mouth with arguments. This is not a longing to go to heaven, but a passionate and frustrated desire to make his case before God. Job is not frightened that God will respond with terrifying power and crush him, he makes that clear in verse 6, saying, “Would he contend with me in the greatness of his power? No; he would pay attention to me”. But he is frightened; on the other hand, that God will simply ignore him. But, there is nothing that Job can do, because God cannot be found by searching, not forward, not backward, not left, not right, that’s the point of verses 8-9.

It’s worth noting here that Job doesn’t assume that since he can’t find God, God must be dead. D.A. Carson has pointed out that “Job’s words are quite unlike the modern literary protest that God is so absent that he must be dead. Job is not “waiting for Godot.” His faith in God is at one level unwavering. Look what he says here; “But he knows the way that I take; when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold. My foot has held fast to his steps; I have kept his way and have not turned aside. He is perfectly convinced that God knows where Job is, and knows all about the fundamental integrity of his life (23:9-11). This integrity is not the bravado of a self-defined independent; Job says, I have carefully followed his commandments, and  “have treasured the words of his mouth more than my portion of food.”

This brings Job to his next thought. God is not acting fairly or legally. He does what is pleasing to him. And fro job, that is only suffering. God is doing as he pleases, to the pain of God. So therefore, he is terrified of God. He’s not just puzzled, he’s terrified. He’s confident in God’s goodness, and greatness, and justice, and in some ways, it’s his continued confidence in God’s goodness, and greatness, and justice, his confidence in God’s sovereignty and knowledge, that has him so terrified. The empirical evidence says that, at least in this life, the just can be crushed and the wicked may escape. The “comforters” claim that Job should be afraid of God’s justice; Job himself is frightened by God’s absence. In those days, we should remember with hope and joy that God is not truly absent, he has left us his word, and the end of God, and the end of the bible, both say, he is not far off, he is completely aware, and he is in control.

In chapter 24, Job moves on to the second compliant that he has. First he says God is inaccessible, but then he says, God doesn’t keep regular times of judgment.  "Why are not times of judgment kept by the Almighty, and why do those who know him never see his days? The argument is not that God never rights the books, but that meanwhile a great deal of evil takes place without any prompt accounting, and righteous people suffer without any prompt vindication.

With that, Job begins a long list of evils that, in the short haul, are commonly observed and seem unpunished. People “move landmarks…seize flocks…drive away the donkey of the fatherless… take the widow's ox for a pledge…thrust the poor off the road”. The result is that the poor of the earth all hide themselves. They just want to survive. “Like wild donkeys in the desert the poor go out to their toil, seeking game; the wasteland yields food for their children…They gather their fodder in the field, and they glean the vineyard of the wicked man….They lie all night naked, without clothing, and have no covering in the cold… They are wet with the rain of the mountains and cling to the rock for lack of shelter… They go about naked, without clothing; hungry, they carry the sheaves; among the olive rows of the wicked they make oil; they tread the winepresses, but suffer thirst. On and on he goes. He says, “out of the city the dying groan, and the soul of the wounded cries for help; However, Job rages, “God charges no one with wrong”. On and on he goes, all the way to 17, giving even more examples.

And then he hits the breaks, and talks about how the wicked do get theirs. It’s strange. You say, 'Swift are they on the face of the waters; their portion is cursed in the land; no treader turns toward their vineyards. Drought and heat snatch away the snow waters; so does Sheol those who have sinned. The womb forgets them; the worm finds them sweet; they are no longer remembered, so wickedness is broken like a tree.' "They wrong the barren, childless woman, and do no good to the widow. Yet God prolongs the life of the mighty by his power; they rise up when they despair of life. He gives them security, and they are supported, and his eyes are upon their ways. They are exalted a little while, and then are gone; they are brought low and gathered up like all others; they are cut off like the heads of grain. If it is not so, who will prove me a liar and show that there is nothing in what I say?"

When you look at these words, it’s almost seems that Job is advancing the argument of his friends. God answers the wicked with judgment. Tit for tat, sin with judgment… right away. Gordon Wenham’s answer to this is simply to say that it’s the friends speaking here, and maybe this is the missing part of Bildad’s words in 25. Other scholars think that Job is deploying massive irony and means exactly the reverse. D.A. Carson’s take is that it means what it means. Job is not denying that justice will be done, but that it will comes later. In the end, they will get theirs. He writes
 “Job is not denying that justice will be done someday. To do that he really would have to change his view of God in very substantial ways. But Job acknowledges that the wicked will finally face judgment. They die; they are not remembered. God is not blind; he “may let them rest in a feeling of security, but his eyes are on their ways” (24:23). So in a while they are gone (24:24). All this Job acknowledges: “If this is not so, who can prove me false and reduce my words to nothing?” (24:25).

However, in the context of the first part of the chapter, the question remains: “Why does the Almighty not set times for judgment?” In other words, why does he wait until the end? Why wait so long? The wicked do terrible things, victims suffer, why wait. It’s a good question. Part of the answer will come out later. But, as D.A. Carson notes “at the very least we should acknowledge that instant judgment on every sin would have most of us in pretty constant pain, yelping like Pavlovian dogs to avoid the hurt, but without inner transformation. Do you really want what Job seems to be asking for?

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