Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Great Cynic, Defeated

Before I jump into Job, I want to say something really quick. Many of you have heard about Kony 2012 and Invisible Children. It's been all over Facebook for the last couple days. But I've also noticed a widespread, "worldly-wise" cynicism, mocking and disparaging those who are just now learning of the conflict, the naive and simple sheep, ignorant of both the subtleties of the conflict and the subtleties of any possible solution. Here's the thing:  These people, like myself, who don't know how to do any more than merely give to organizations in the hope that they can do something useful with it... we may not do much good, it's true. But cynicism accomplishes nothing. Ultimately, this kind of cynicism is nothing more than a way to feel smug about one's own apathy. And as we see in Job, cynicism ultimately fails. Satan, worldly-wise, older than the world itself, the greatest cynic of all, is outmatched by a short-lived, "naive" man of clay.

If you haven't yet, I would recommend part 1 and part 2 before reading this last section.

So once again Satan has been repulsed, but he is patient. Job remains strong thus far... but Satan has all the time in the world. Job is in emotional and physical agony, and Satan even deprives him of rest (7:3-4). He tosses and turns, tormented with visions and nightmares (7:13:15). And now his friends have come: His friends who are convinced that all misfortune is a punishment from God. It is here that we must be careful, for the words of God at the end (42:7) makes it clear that when these friends speak of God, they are not to be trusted. They are right occasionally, but they are often wrong, their words guided by a false understanding of God and how he interacts with us. In fact, it is exactly this false understanding that Job finds so horrifying.

Job receives his friends without words, but their presence has not gone unnoticed, and they are doubtless welcome (at first). When he finally speaks after seven days and nights of silence, it is to curse the day of his birth. He has lost everything, and even God seems to have forsaken him: Surely, in this circumstance, it would be better not to have been born. God has smitten him and closed him in, and he has no rest.

Immediately Eliphaz responds: Calm, patient, loving... and yet, he says to Job, you do know why all this is happening to you, don't you? "Who that was innocent ever perished?" No, Job, no... you know why you are being punished. Come, tell us your sin, confess it, and God will be merciful. But more cutting than that, I think, is one of the first things he says. "Is not your fear of God your confidence, and the integrity of your ways your hope?" Job might answer with a resounding "Yes!"... and that is also the reason Job is so troubled. His fear of God, his upright integrity, is so exceptional that it is known to the sons of God and Jehovah himself. Why, then, has Jehovah forsaken him? Why has Jehovah set himself against Job, his most loyal and faithful servant?

That is the question Job asks, again and again. And each time he asks it, the angels grow more worried, and Satan give another leap of demonic joy. After all, with friends like these, who needs enemies? Each one starts off friendly to Job: But each one unintentionally wounds him to the core.

In 5:3-4, Eliphaz proclaims, "I have seen the fool taking root... his children are far from safety: they are crushed in the gate, and there is no one to deliver them." This, to a man who only days before had lost all his children as they were crushed to death by the very winds of God. There was, indeed, no one to deliver them... and Eliphaz does not even realize what he has said. Instead, he continues: the offspring of the righteous man is many, he says, forgetting that he is speaking to a man who is now childless. Each one of these friends does the same thing: Is it any wonder, then that Job, fed up with their arrogance and condescension, says, "worthless physicians are you all! Oh, that you would keep silent, and that be your wisdom!"

These friends, far from helping Job, only remind him again and again that his children are dead; his body is dying; God has apparently turned away from. And they tell him to repent... from what? There is nothing to repent of, as we see from the mouth of God himself--Job is blameless and upright. Satan laughs every time one of his friends opens their mouth: Every time he sees Job wince, the devil cackles. Any moment now, he thinks. Any moment, Job will break.

And at times he seems about to. He despairs of his life. He wishes to die, and then wishes that life was longer. He wishes the pain to leave him: He wishes his friends would leave him. But above and beyond all, he wishes for God to be near him. Because contrary to all his friends, and contrary to Satan, Job is no blasphemer. Job shouts at God louder and fiercer than any atheist... because he desires an answer. As Chesterton points out:
"He wishes the universe to justify itself, not because he wishes it to be caught out, but because he really wishes it to be justified... He speaks of the Almighty as his enemy, but he never doubts, at the back of his mind, that his enemy has some kind of a case which he does not understand. he in anxious to be convinced; that is, he thinks that God could convince him... he lashes the stars, but it is not to silence them; it is to make them speak."
He is confused and lost... but he is not hopeless. The pain and anguish strip him to the core... and there, at Job's very heart, we find the brightest glimpses of a hope that shatters, if only for a moment, all the pain and shadows of the world. "Though he slay me," Job says of God, speaking through his pain, "I will hope in him." Although he falls again into sadness and loss, he always rises. "Even now, behold, my witness is in heaven, and he who testifies for me is on high." Again he slips. Again he cries out "All my intimate friends abhor me, and those whom I loved have turned against me. My bones stick to my skin and to my flesh...Oh that my words were written," Job cries, "engraved on a rock forever, For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God!

Against all physical evidence, against all the signs of heaven and earth, against the testimony of all his friends, Job insists, again and again, that God is his Redeemer and friend. Job will not despair, though the whole world is against him: Job will not despair, though God himself is against him.

We may imagine the heavenly scene. Jehovah on his throne, the angels on one side, and Satan and his demons across from them, all looking down at Job. And Satan begins to lose his surety. Job will not break. Satan doesn't understand. What more does Job have to live for? Why does he cling to his faith in God when it has gained him nothing except pain and disease and loss? Satan does not understand. And with each restatement of faith he grows more and more confused. And finally, following Job's final statement of innocence and faith in the righteous judge, we might imagine Jehovah's voice breaking the absolute silence: "Hast thou heard of my servant Job? He is blameless and upright, fearing God and turning away from all evil." And as Satan flees the heavenly court in shame, Jehovah himself descends to earth to bring the test to an end. 

And so the Great Cynic is beaten. Job loved God not for his wealth, not for his children, and not for his health. He loved God for God. And Job is not singled out for punishment or improvement. He is heaven's champion, dueling against Satan for the glory of God. But we must never forget that at any moment he might have fallen, just as we, Christ's champions on earth, might fall on any given day of the week. We are not required to perform so admirably as Job... but if  we fall, we must get up again, for the glory of God, to show that his faith in us is not misplaced.

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