The following is a reflection on Job 23:1-9, 16-17, the Hebrew Bible lesson appointed for Proper 23B, according to the Revised Common Lectionary.
By the time we get to the twenty-third chapter of Job, a lot of water has gone under the bridge. The broken, but altogether devout, man we left in the early narrative section has met his prosperity-gospel friends.
They’ve tried to convince him that God is just, and therefore his own egregious sins are the cause of his calamitous misfortunes.
There can be no other explanation: God is a just God.
But, the more they’ve pressed that point, the more Job comes to his own conclusion: Since he knows that he’s innocent, it is clear that God has mistreated him.
For Job, there can be no other explanation: he has done nothing wrong.
Job then wants to have a day in court. He wants an arbiter: a “redeemer,” or “go’el” to intercede on his behalf. He’s utterly convinced that if he can get someone to plead his case to God, and for God to hear him, that he will be vindicated.
And, honestly, it’s really hard to not side with Job on this one. I’m mean if Job did get his day in court…what would God say? Job lost his family, fortune, and health …on a bet? With the devil?
But that’s where the storyline breaks under the point of the whole book. This whole thing really has nothing to do with the particulars of Job’s story. The story of Job is the story of every righteous victim. It’s the story of every good person to whom bad things have happened.
And, in that case it isn’t that Job’s friends are right, and that he’s actually deserved his tragedy. They aren’t right, and in the end of the book God Himself says so plainly.
Bad things don’t happen to us because we’ve deserved them. As Jesus says, “the rain falls on the just and the unjust alike.” (Matthew 5:45)
But, when horrific things happen to us, it also isn’t the case that we’ve been wronged by God.
Every time life collapses in front of us and we’re left sitting in the dust, it isn’t time to blame ourselves or blame God.
Most of the time, there is no one to blame. No one is found at fault.
That is, at its core, what The Book of Job is about.
But, when you come back to the storyline, The Book of Job is also about having the freedom to feel and utter such thoughts. Job is reeling from a horrific turn in life, and as a person in relationship with God he turns to God in the process of mourning. And, like all of us in Job’s shoes, we want to know “why.”
Sometimes we ask why like a shy little mouse, and other times we roar it into the night. The Book of Job tells us that it’s OK to ask such questions of God. In fact, it is the faithful response.
And, Job, like us, learns that there are no easy answers to those “why’s,” if there are answers at all.