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Job and the Just God
Winter Quarter: Justice, Law, History
Unit 3: Justice and Adversity
Sunday school lesson for the week of February 27, 2022
By Dr. D. Craig Rikard
Background Scripture: Job 42
Key Scripture (NIV): “
Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.” Job 42:3b-c
- To realize God’s greatness in contrast to our limitations.
- To embrace the importance of humility in our relationship with God.
- To recognize the blessings of God that emerge from humble confession.
Our lesson is an addition and expansion of last week’s lesson. Last week we explored the debate between Job and his friend Bildad. At that point in the book of Job, both men were struggling. Bildad was so certain Job must have sinned that he felt compelled to convince Job. After all, Job was adamant that he could recognize nothing in his life to merit his suffering. We could say that both men in the narrative are left with questions with no answers. It is quite evident that Job has no answer to Bildad’s question, and Bildad cannot answer Job. Therefore, they must turn elsewhere with their questions. They must turn to God, for only God is infinite wisdom. There are dynamics and realities in the world we cannot understand, and may not understand in this lifetime. However, God knows them. If we are intended to understand them, the time will arrive when God reveals such answers.
Our text quickly leaps to the end of this inspired saga of Job. In chapter 41, God closes his argument and waits for Job’s response. Our text picks us the debate there, and begins, “Then Job replied to the Lord.” The ensuing response of Job to God contains the text for our lesson. This lesson will be structured in this manner: 1. God confronts Job in the previous chapters, especially chapter 41. 2. Job responds to God’s message. 3. God will have the last word of blessing.
- God Confronting Job: “I’m Greater than Your Comprehension!”
As stated above, our text begins with Job’s response to God. Consequently, we need to understand what Job heard from the Lord in the previous chapters, especially chapter 41. The metaphor of the Leviathan encapsulates God’s major contention with Job’s argument and state of mind.
The Leviathan was a great sea creature. In Psalm 74:14, the Leviathan is presented as a multiheaded sea serpent. This creature is almost always a serpent and becomes symbolic of Israel’s enemies (read Isaiah 27). Our lesson is not concerned with identifying the Leviathan or defining the type of creature it was. For the purpose of our lesson we only need to understand IT IS BIG! The creature is bigger and stronger than the human and therefore is impossible to catch. In chapter 41, God asks Job, “Can you pull in Leviathan with a fishhook?” Naturally, the answer is a definitive “No!” God’s metaphor continues, “Can you tie down its tongue with a rope? Can you put a cord through its nose or pierce its jaw with a hook?” Again, these questions are rhetorical. The answer is obvious and known: “No, we can’t catch or subdue a Leviathan!”
The interrogation of Job by God continues in 41, using the Leviathan metaphor, by taking on a “personal tone.” “Will it (the Leviathan) keep begging you for mercy? Will it speak to you with gentle words? Will it make an agreement with you for you to take it as your slave for life?” Obviously, the serpent does not possess these humanistic, personal qualities. Furthermore, humankind is in no position to barter with a Leviathan.
In verses 5 forward in chapter 41, God’s interrogation through the metaphor of the Leviathan continues with even more absurd questions. God asks Job if a Leviathan can be domesticated, taken as a pet. Is it something with which you can play, as a pet? God continues by asking Job if the Leviathan is something with which he can trade or barter with another.
The metaphor concludes with God asking pointedly, “Can you subdue the giant creature in any fashion?” We are even given the pointed warning, “If one tries to lay their hand upon the serpent and attempt to subdue it, “They will never do it again!” See verse 8. Verse 9 brings the metaphor to its obvious close, “Any hope of subduing it is false; the mere sight of it is overpowering. No one is fierce enough to rouse it.”
In verse 10 forward, God reveals that the Leviathan represents the Lord. At this point, Job is confronted with powerful, necessary theological questions. Can any person “catch and subdue God?” Though our humanity is feeble and frail, so many of us attempt to “capture God,” or place God in a cage. We are tempted to say, “this is what God will always say and always do!” How arrogant and futile! The Lord is God of the cosmos. There is none greater, and our limited minds can never fully capture the full essence of God. What we do know of God has been revealed to us. If left to our greatest intellectual and analytical thinking, we still fall so far short of all there is to know of the Lord.
I was present when someone asked our new bishop if he could state his theology simply. He answered, “God is great, and God is good.” That answer might not have satisfied those who wanted a far more complex answer. However, I knew exactly what he wanted to convey. Before we can make assertions about God, we must always first realize God is greater and bigger than us! Thus, God is always greater than any answer we might offer. God is not a pet for humankind to place a leash about him, and God’s ultimate truth is not up for barter. It is not up for “give and take.” God’s truth is THE TRUTH. As humans interacting with one another, we can engage in give and take as we attempt to understand together. However, that which is sought is unchangeable and eternal, for it emerges from the eternal person, God.
The following verses are certainly intended to pierce the heart, to awaken the soul. A Leviathan has no personal, or human qualities. However, God has revealed He does! The Lord who transcends all those things that define us (including our labels of male or female), yet has endowed his human creation with the awareness that the Lord does speak, unlike the Leviathan. And, the Lord not only speaks, but does so with “gentle words.” Think of the gentle words spoken by our Lord in Christ. To Bartimaeus he asks, “What do you want me to do for you?” To the woman caught in adultery, “Neither do I condemn you.” To those who crucified him, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” God is not a “creature” that can be defined or subdued. God also is not impersonal. God can relate to our humanity in ways no other creature on earth can. These words to Job allow me to ask, “Is God not accusing Job and his friends of attempting to place him in a box, attempting to define him and say with certainly what the Lord has done, is doing, and will do?”
Job and his friends are debating the question of human suffering. Specifically, they are debating the question, “Do good people suffer?”
Job’s friends have already placed God in the box and concluded, “No, good people do not suffer.” “Only sinful people suffer as Job is suffering.” Though Job argued valiantly, he is beginning to question himself.
However, God is offering them a word of comfort. God’s response, on the surface, may not sound comforting. After all, God has still not specifically answered their questions. Job’s friends want to know why Job is suffering if he is indeed good. Job is beginning to wonder the same. They are dealing with the oldest question of human existence, “Why do good people suffer?” They have attempted to answer the question, both the friends and Job, through their assumptions about God. God has just revealed they can never assume anything. All they can do is listen to what God reveals. Their comfort will be found in the fact that the God of the cosmos is good and loving. Therefore, whatever the cosmic, theological answer might be, it will be an answer born from God’s goodness and love. Herein lies the comfort.
Can you share examples of people, or us, treating God as one who can be boxed, leashed, or altered? Are there times in your life when you made assumptions about God only to later discover God is bigger than those assumptions? Such temptations to limit God with our assumptions arise from the questions that are difficult to answer. Is it better to reach a conclusion about the big questions of life or to remain in a state of seeking? Is it possible to believe in a theological belief, and yet still be seeking? It is possible to know, and yet realize we do not fully know? Where do you believe faith enters this scenario? Can mystery be a vital part of our faith? What is the value of mystery? Certainly, there is truth we are intended to know and to trust. Yet, there are areas of life that remain difficult to fully grasp and questions that are difficult to understand. Can you share how we, as Christians, should approach these questions and should deal with what we do not yet fully understand?
- Job’s Response: “You Are Right”
Job has been humbled by God’s interrogation. He realizes God is indeed right. Verse 3 is most revealing, and reveals not only words Job needed to speak, but for us to speak as well. “I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.” There isn’t a person, excluding Jesus, who could not make this confession. How often have we spoken without understanding? How often have we spoken first, only to understand later? However, Job’s humble confession continues as he admits there are things he may never know. Those things, that truth, might be too great for human understanding. And Job describes such truth as “wonderful.”
There exists a beauty in recognizing the unavailability of the unknown. For most of us, the unknown represents the frightening. We walk with fear and trepidation into places we’ve never visited and about which we know little. However, when one embraces what we do know, that God is good and loving, then the fear diminishes or dissipates altogether. We may not know where we are headed, but we know who is already there! It is this great truth that can make the unknown beautiful and wonderful. The unknown makes life meaningful and exciting. There is always something new to know and experience. I once read a quote, “I had a nightmare. I dreamed all truth was known.” I could not find the source of this quote, but it grasped my attention years ago and I have remembered it. What would be the nature of our life if we knew everything? Would we even be able to handle it? It is the mystery in life that drives us to our knees in prayer. It is mystery that keeps us forever seeking. And, when we are allowed to make a great discovery of God’s truth, it is most beautiful!
Humility is an all-important facet of our faith in God. The prophet Micah wrote in 6:8, “He has shown thee, O man, what is good, and what does the Lord require of thee: to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God.” Humility always recognizes that God is greater. Not only is God greater, but so many facets of God’s creation remain beyond our understanding. Humility must always be our “starting point” in the journey of faith. Job’s friends had reached their conclusion about suffering, not from a posture of humility, but of pride. They made an assumption about God based upon their limited observation and declared it true for every circumstance in life. Observations are important in the learning process. However, one must realize even our observations are limited. Therefore, to reach a conclusion based solely on what we see and think without humble seeking is to participate in potential error.
One of the first missions in which I participated, on the Yucatan Peninsula, occurred among people living in great poverty. They lived in concrete hovels, slept on hammocks, had no hot water, and had no sufficient plumbing system. My first conclusion was this: If we could give them those things that make our life easier, like hot water, beds, better housing, etc., they would be happier. However, as I lived with them for two weeks I discovered they were some of the happiest people I knew. Giving them “those things” may have made their life less meaningful. They would not have needed each other so much. I assumed “having things made people happy.” That assumption was made from my posture of pride and ignorance. My perception was initially so limited. What I observed was true. They were poor. However, I had not yet grasped the entire story. One must always be aware that there is far more to reality than what we see with our eyes only. There is truth we have not yet seen, and some elements of truth we cannot yet comprehend.
When we wrestle with the issue of suffering, especially the suffering of the innocent, we must bow our knees, open our hearts, and become determined in seeking truth. We must also accept the humble posture that we may never fully know the truth about suffering in our lifetime. For more than 40 years I have conducted funerals for good people who died too young. First of all, how does one define “too young?” Furthermore, how do we define “good?” Certainly, as followers of Jesus, we seek to eradicate any form of suffering. When the Kingdom of God arrives in all its fullness, suffering is eradicated. However, the Kingdom has not yet fully arrived. It is present in life, moving in life, and moving toward its ultimate culmination. However, that means that suffering remains. Suffering remains a mystery for us as it did for Job and his friends. Thus, we pray, seek to understand, and accept our frail humanity. Yet, we must also accept God’s infinite love and goodness. It is the acceptance of God’s love that makes suffering bearable and can even make it meaningful. We may not fully understand suffering, but when all is said and done, all things will be good, love will reign, and suffering will cease.
Can you recall a time in your life when you could say, “I spoke of things I did not understand?” Can you recall arriving at the conclusion, “I spoke of things too wonderful for me to understand?” How do you currently deal with issue of suffering? Especially the suffering of the innocent? What did the life and crucifixion of Jesus say about the suffering of the innocent? What does the resurrection say about our current suffering?
- God’s Last Word: “Blessing is Found in Humble Acceptance”
The text concludes with the restoration of Job’s blessings. Notice, the former suffering and pains are not “undone.” They occurred, and Job experienced them. They hurt him and his family. However, life has moved on, and Job is blessed. This does not mean he no longer has the memories of his painful losses. He has simply been able to accept them and move forward in life. How was he able to accept them? His humble confession in the previous section reveals the power of his acceptance. When Job recognized there were painful dynamics in life he could not yet understand, he realized the futility of jumping to erroneous conclusions. He also recognized that God is God. Job accepted his place in life. He is a man who has been invited into a relationship with the One who knows all. Through humble faith Job is able to move forward into a new future. Erroneously blaming himself would accomplish nothing. Blaming God for what Job could not yet understand would prove futile.
Our text in no way attempts to state that such an outpouring of blessings always follows suffering and loss. The text exists simply for us to realize that life does not end with suffering. Suffering can only place a “comma” in life, not a period. When we walk humbly with God our story is unfinished. Blessings continue. These blessings can occur in the most common ways, or at times, the spectacular. However we experience them, they are blessings! Life itself is beautiful. We fight to live every minute possible, to prolong life as long as we can. Whether in this life or the life to come, we are blessed.
The great promise of Job is that goodness, righteousness, and love triumph in the end. Our loving God knows all and knows where all life is headed. We cannot allow our conclusions and assumptions about life to steal this beautiful and wonderful truth. If we do not have an answer now, we patiently and humbly wait. In God’s time, we will understand. Thus, we walk forward into life, humbly trusting God, being grateful for every blessing that makes life so meaningful. In the end, all will be well.
What role do you believe patience plays in our faith? How does patience empower us through suffering? How do God’s promises and the coming Kingdom empower us to continue trusting and living? If a suffering person asks you to explain why they suffer, how would you answer? If you or another asks in the midst of suffering, “Where is God?” how would you respond? Can you share how patient humility allows us to recognize God’s blessings in life?
Almighty God, forgive us our pride. Our pride tempts us to trust in our limited conclusions. May your Spirit grant us greater vision. Help us to seek the greatness of truth. Help us to seek truth through patience. Empower us to wait for that which we do not yet understand. Help us to seek what we do not understand, and to embrace in faith what we do. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Dr. D. Craig Rikard is a South Georgia pastor. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org