Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Was Job Wrong?

So...I've thought a LOT about Job. Like, a lot. And while I think I've thought a lot of right things about it, I've also thought a lot of wrong things.

The most recent example: It's obvious that Job's friends are wrong about God. At the very end, God says to the friends, "“My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has." He has them present a sacrifice, and Job must pray for them to be forgiven. They say a LOT of wrong things about God, and in the process they accuse Job - "a blameless and upright man" - of being wicked and sinful, utterly deserving of the tragedies that befall him.

But here's where I'm pretty sure I've gone wrong: I don't think Job has a lot of right knowledge about God either.

I think that the above verse, where God says that the friends "have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has", doesn't mean that Job has been 100% correct in everything that he says about God. And in fact, this is borne out in the fact that this vindication of Job comes on the heels of  four full chapters of God telling Job that Job doesn't really know what he's talking about.

In many important ways, Job's knowledge of God is exactly as wrong as that of his friends. In fact, that's precisely what causes him such distress: His theological system has no room for suffering that is not punishment. Again and again, he proclaims his innocence and protests the injustice of punishment without cause. Implicit in every complaint is his belief that bad things come directly from God as punishment for specific, personal sins: The same false belief that his friends present throughout the book.

Indeed, when Job utters his famous line at the very beginning - "The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord" - while he does not sin, I don't think he's 100% correct, least, not in what he means. The same goes for what he says in the next chapter: "Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” He does not sin, but I don't think that what he believes to be happening is what is actually happening. I don't think that the Lord has taken away, and I don't think that the Lord is sending evil - the text is quite clear that while God is allowing these things to happen, he is not their instigator.

So why is Job not sinning here? What sets him apart from his friends? How does he say anything that's right about God, to cause him to be praised in the last chapter?

It's not about knowledge. It's not about theology. It's about the relationship Job has with his God.

Job's false theology causes him incredible distress, as he searches in vain for a reason for divine punishment. His incorrect ideas about God causes him to bitterly lament that God punishes him without cause. In fact, his false theology almost drives him to despair of his very life.

And in all that suffering, it's his relationship with God that brings him back from the brink. It's the relationship that assures him that God is his redeemer, that God is his friend and ally, and that God will save him in the end. And I think that is what God praises in the end.

I don't know that I have a point here. It was just an interesting thought I had a few days ago. But I think there are a couple takeaways:

-Theology can bring life or death. Incorrect knowledge about God can bring terrible distress and confusion, while correct knowledge will greatly aid in bringing peace and understanding.

-However...relationship can either salve the wounds of poor theology, or nullify and deaden the benefits of good theology. A living relationship with the living God can bring peace, even without understanding, and hope even in the face of despair...but a lack of relationship will render meaningless the greatest theology in the world.