Tuesday with Michael Spencer
The God of Job’s Complaints (2008)
‘I loathe my life;
I will give free utterance to my complaint;
I will speak in the bitterness of my soul.
I will say to God, Do not condemn me;
let me know why you contend against me.
Does it seem good to you to oppress,
to despise the work of your hands
and favour the schemes of the wicked?
Do you have eyes of flesh?
Do you see as humans see?
Are your days like the days of mortals,
or your years like human years,
that you seek out my iniquity
and search for my sin,
although you know that I am not guilty,
and there is no one to deliver out of your hand?
Your hands fashioned and made me;
and now you turn and destroy me.
Remember that you fashioned me like clay;
and will you turn me to dust again?
Did you not pour me out like milk
and curdle me like cheese?
You clothed me with skin and flesh,
and knit me together with bones and sinews.
You have granted me life and steadfast love,
and your care has preserved my spirit.
Yet these things you hid in your heart;
I know that this was your purpose.
If I sin, you watch me,
and do not acquit me of my iniquity.
If I am wicked, woe to me!
If I am righteous, I cannot lift up my head,
for I am filled with disgrace
and look upon my affliction.
Bold as a lion you hunt me;
you repeat your exploits against me.
You renew your witnesses against me,
and increase your vexation towards me;
you bring fresh troops against me.
‘Why did you bring me forth from the womb?
Would that I had died before any eye had seen me,
and were as though I had not been,
carried from the womb to the grave.
Are not the days of my life few?
Let me alone, that I may find a little comfort
before I go, never to return,
to the land of gloom and deep darkness,
the land of gloom and chaos,
where light is like darkness.’
• • •
Job’s complaints against God. Pretty hot stuff for most Christians. I’d wager the vast majority of Bible-believers have absolutely no idea what Job says. Many have never set eyes on these chapters or taken a minute to understand them.
In short form, Here’s how Job feels: He complains that God is out to get him. It’s like God has set out to destroy Job with no reason. He’s ignoring Job’s call for justice. God is Job’s enemy and he is attacking Job like someone who wants to kill him. God hates Job (from Job’s point of view.) God isn’t offering forgiveness, but is pursuing Job like an animal. In these chapters, though not in all of the book, Job despairs of any vindication.
There’s plenty more of this in Job. So much so that there’s a history of textual alterations of some of the most offensive phrases. Some copyists just couldn’t believe anyone could say these things and get away with it, so they seem to have made changes to be less shocking. Fortunately, the textual base for Job allows scholars to get beyond those occasional alterations and see exactly how shocking Job’s words really were.
When I finally got around to reading Job with some literary understanding, I was shocked by these chapters as well. Job is a man of faith, but he is also angry with God, confused at events, paranoid, cynical and in darkness as to God’s purposes. And he speaks up about it. The evangelicalism I absorbed as a young Christian didn’t acknowledge that these feelings existed among believers, and if they did, no Christian would ever say or write such things. A person of faith would praise the Lord, not complain and say things that seemed to doubt God.
Most Bible readers and teachers stop their reading of Job with “Blessed be the name of the Lord,” and don’t know that Job spends many verses complaining and indicting God.
Of course, the most interesting thing is God’s final assessment of Job’s words in Job 42:8 : “For you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.”
Huh? Spoken OF GOD what is right? What Job spoke about God was most certainly wrong when compared with all the Bible teaches about God.
Imagine the words of Job taken out of the Bible and brought into the Christian community on a blog, in a worship service or a sermon.
Some people would be shocked enough to write letters, complain, even leave. Of course, such thoughts ARE common and are EXACTLY what many people think to themselves, express to their friends in private and wish they could say out loud. Are the words of Job, spoken by others in other contexts, inappropriate and incompatible with faith? Or are they part of the faith Job is reclaiming in the aftermath of his crisis.
Somehow the one who has heard millions pray, “I believe; Help my unbelief,” has become a God before whom some cannot speak doubt and struggle and still be considered a believer. That’s not the God of Jesus. He’s still with us in those moments, guiding us through the darkness to the other side.
But what if the words of Job were put, first, in the context of the book of Job and then in the context of the entire Bible? What if we see Job as a whole person?
Then we’d hear Job’s agony in Jesus’ quotation of Psalm 22 on the cross, and we’d know this is part of the journey, too.
In my own life and ministry, I intend to work toward a kind of reading and hearing of the Bible that allows Christians like Job to be human and to be persons of faith accepted in the community of faith. With religious television channels preaching the lies of Word-faith manipulation and prosperity Gospel churches working full time to convince the world that all Christians are rich, healthy and blessed with unending happiness in every area of life, there is a great need for the integrity to be honest.
That integrity will be a volatile commodity, but be patient and persistent. Reality is on your side.
Remember that your ways of expressing the truth may be limited, but the integrity to live and speak the honest complaints of Job don’t need applause to have effects.
Even after Job put his hand over his mouth, God still said what he had spoken was right. That’s because instead of whitewashing God with the theology of Job’s counselors, Job had taken God as he knew him, his life as he experienced it and told the truth where he was.
God values people who live the truth in the context of living out their mystery of faith. In the end, he stands by them.