The bulk of the poem of Job is Job’s complaint to God for his unexplained suffering. Repeatedly Job badgers God to answer all his questions, to come out and face him “like a man.” He knows himself to be a just man, as does God. How can God justify such suffering?
God breaks the Divine silence in Job 38-41 . But instead of submitting answers dictated by the terms of Job’s questions, God asks another set of questions. God asks if Job makes sense of the fluctuations in weather or of the majestic order glimpsed in the the night sky. Storms and stars are indications of a vast complexity that exceeds human comprehension or control.
God next turns Job’s attention to a selection of wild creatures, none of which seem to serve any practical purpose. You get the impression that God does not feel that the universe has to rationalize its existence to humans. God delights in the exotic, in the absurd freedom and beautiful independence of these wild creatures. Job is being gently nudged to the realization that he is not the center of the universe, that “it really is not all about you.”
Then it’s “shark week.” God introduces Behemoth and Leviathan. These monsters cross over from natural creatures under human management to mythological threats obviously beyond human dominion. And perhaps “the Satan” of chapters 1-2 falls in this same sort of category. Another “free range” threat, who nonchalantly shows up in heaven , ‘from going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it’ (1:7). In the prologue the prickly fault-finder assumes the most materialistic, reductionistic explanations for virtue. “It is because being good is paying him proud dividends. Let things go bad and he will get out of religious stock quick as a Wall Street flash trader” God puts up with this speculative accusations, much as God gives range to Behemoth or Leviathan’s disdain of mortals.
But despite Satan’s insinuations, God trusts Job’s integrity is not commercially based; that his piety is not calculated out of pure selfish interest; that his virtue and faith are wild, independent, beautiful expressions of the person Job wants to be. And God allows the empty space, a wild deserted place absent of accustomed blessings, where Job can show to God –and himself– his goodness is still his free choice in a world that has become tragic .
Freedom is a key to Job. Job’s freedom within a wild and free universe which is allowed to follow its own paths. However, Job reminds us the Creator remains free too, free to ordained limits for chaos.
‘8 Or who shut in the sea with doors
when it burst out from the womb?—
9 when I made the clouds its garment,
and thick darkness its swaddling band,
10 and prescribed bounds for it,
and set bars and doors,
11 and said, “Thus far shall you come, and no farther,
and here shall your proud waves be stopped”?’
God limits the damage Satan can do to Job. First Satan is given the range of affecting all Job has, but not his person: 112 The Lord said to Satan, ‘Very well, all that he has is in your power; only do not stretch out your hand against him!’ When that doesn’t break him, God permits Satan to tamper with his health. 2.6 The Lord said to Satan, ‘Very well, he is in your power; only spare his life.’
Leviathan is often used in scripture as a metaphor for all that is threatening in the world that God made. A world where accidents happen, diseases take people down, things fall apart, injustice is allowed too much scope for too long, threats exist to life and limb, bravery faces real risks, weather catastrophes occur, and grief comes to all souls that ever deeply loved. This world has ragged edges.
But chaos is not trumps. “Thus far shall you come, and no farther,
and here shall your proud waves be stopped.” In fact, even as perhaps Job suggests, God can use chaos to a higher purposes. The world can become tragic. We do not doubt it. But the gospel is “trans-tragic.”
‘Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?…when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?’
The final word, the bottom line about creation, was seen from the very beginning, is this shout of joy. When it is finished God can say, “It is good.”
In the terms of the limited philosophical and theological horizon possible for the poet of Job, this bottom line of joy is confined within the limits of a long and peaceful earthly life. “The Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning .” (Job 42.12). His earthly life went on, things were good again, despite his earlier troubles. There is life after death in this sense.
Some object to this “happy ending.” Even if new prosperity can make up for commercial losses, new children cannot take away the grief over his dead children. How can this be “good”? And those objections are right, within that scale. But what if there is more? Jacob trembling to see Joseph again, whom he had long grieved as gone forever. The father running to embrace again his prodigal son, “who was dead but is alive.” And maybe it is premature to say what reunions are impossible, when the cosmos is ripped open like a curtain to reveal the larger scale of the new heaven and new earth beyond.
Job hit upon a truth when he tells God, “God, you are going to miss me when I am dead.” “For now I shall lie in the earth; you will seek me, but I shall not be.” Job 7.21
Is Job picturing God coming into the garden in the close of day calling, “Adam, where art thou?”
Job comes back to this. O that you would hide me in Sheol,
that you would conceal me until your wrath is past,
that you would appoint me a set time, and remember me!
14 If mortals die, will they live again?
All the days of my service I would wait
until my release should come.
15 You would call, and I would answer you;
you would long for the work of your hand.” (Job 14:13-15)
This fresh green bud of a hope will blossom into full flower in Christ’s resurrection “for us.” The amazing revelation that God would indeed miss us, “the work of his hand,” that he has spent so much time over. That God would come looking for us.
Job reminds God: Your hands fashioned and made me;
and now you turn and destroy me.
9 Remember that you fashioned me like clay;
and will you turn me to dust again?
Job asks, “God, are you going to let all that work go to waste?” Not finally, the gospel assures us. God who formed us indeed chooses to have us forever. Beyond the tragedy and all the catastrophes of this world, God calls us to the Divine Eternal Love, “Oh Love that will not let me go.”
Paul says, “I am sure that neither…
(here Paul lists all the likely candidates to do us in, all the Leviathan-like threats, then calmly crosses them off one by one. ‘Not death, not life, not…’)
.. that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:38.) Indeed “in the Christ Jesus,” who plumbed the depths and was raised again.
In Easter the door is opened that Job tiptoed around, but scarcely dared to enter — that the dead will live again, and the lost be found, the broken healed, and “all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”