Friday, December 14, 2012

God's Goodness Through Unimaginable Tragedy

In the wake of the Elementary School shooting this morning in CT I have put a paper I finished yesterday for a Seminary Old Testament Class.  Looks at what scripture says about it.  I just copied and pasted so it is not written like a typical blog post.

            Based on personal experiences one of the first questions that are typically asked when sharing faith with a person is, "Why do bad things happen if God is good?  This idea of theodicy is not something limited to Christianity; there are two Babylonian documents that are very similar to the biblical book of Job which aim at addressing this problem outside of the Christian faith.[1]  Merriam-Webster defined Theodicy as "Defense of God's goodness in view of the existence of evil".[2]  In other words, how can a good God allow evil to exist and allow evil things to happen.  One of the most popular books used by Christians to argue this point is the book of Job.  This paper will argue that chapters 38 - 41 prove the goodness of God through unimaginable circumstances.
Historical Setting
            The book of Job lies in the Old Testament following Esther and preceding Psalms.  This is a transition point for the Old Testament as it marks the end of the historical books and the beginning of poetical books.  It is classified as "wisdom literature" which Arnold and Beyer define as literature that "touches on all issues that explore the meaning of life".[3]  One of the biggest challenges when it comes to dealing with the book of Job is putting a solid date on when the events occurred or when the book was written.  It is a topic that neither scholars nor religious officials can seem to come to agreement on.[4]  According to Hartley there are three possibilities when it comes to dating the book of Job, but there is not one that has sufficient evidence to define the period.  The three possibilities mentioned are: early seventh century under King Hezekia, mid sixth century after the fall of Jerusalem, or fourth - third century during the era of the second temple.[5]
            While we cannot pin down a date of authorship we are able to see in scripture some characteristics about Job that provide the context for the entire book.  Job was: a blameless man who feared God[6], affluent[7], under the attack of Satan[8], a man who faced heart wrenching trials[9], and a man who faithfully trusted in Yahweh[10].
            The book of Job is organized into six sections: a prologue, dialogue, Job's speeches, Elihu's speeches, God's speeches, and the epilogue.  The focus of this paper is God's speeches.  In order to understand the context of God's speeches the previous sections must be understood.  The prologue introduces Job and what sort of man he was, highlights a conversation between Satan and Yahweh, details the trials that Job faces, and introduces his three friends that come to "counsel" Job.  After receiving the OK from Yahweh, Satan takes all of Job's possessions, kills his children, and gives him a skin disease.  Even though all of these trials happened Job continued to trust in the Lord.  Then three of his friends come to counsel him.  The dialogue is the recording of the conversations between Job and his three friends.  They go back and forth three separate times.  All of Job's friends believe in retribution theology and believe that Job's suffering is a direct result of sin in his life.  Job's response is constant through the whole dialogue, while he does not believe he is completely righteous he believes that the suffering he is dealing with is not in harmony with the level of sin in his life.  His consistent point throughout is that he wishes to have an opportunity to make his case with God.[11]  As Walvoord and Zuck put it, "Job wanted a legal hearing, an opportunity to prove the illegality of God's onslaughts against him, the patriarchal plaintiff".[12]
            Following the dialogue is a collection of Job's speeches.  During these Job gave his thoughts on wisdom, looked back upon his life prior to the suffering, continued to mourn his current situation, and deny guilt of a whole list of specific sins including but not limited to lust, greed, and idolatry.  At the end of these he basically takes the stance that he is done arguing his case and is waiting on God to answer in word or action.  After this point Elihu comes onto the scene and his speeches are the last part before God speaks.  His speeches rebuke both Job and his friends and he too took the approach that Job's suffering was a direct result of sin or obedience in his life.[13]
            Original Context
            Up until this point there has been complete silence from God.  By looking at Job's responses throughout the previous 37 chapters it appears that Job is having a hard time wrestling with the idea of theodicy, and how a good God who had blessed him previously could allow such suffering.  He doesn’t understand how could God be the "creator and the destructive force?"[14]  Then God speaks.
            Yahweh bursts on to the scene in a whirlwind indicative of many of the previous appearances throughout the Old Testament.  The next four chapters contain 2 speeches from Yahweh and 2 responses from Job.  Yahweh's speeches have two distinct purposes: 1) show God's wisdom through His creation and 2) show God's power over His creation.  Job's wish of an encounter with God is granted, but not without Yahweh pointing out the fact that Job has completely blocked out the ability to see God's plan because of his lack of knowledge.[15]  Yahweh then tells him to prepare for an interrogation.
            In 38:4-11 Yahweh poses a set of questions to Job regarding his part in the creation of the earth and the sea.  Yahweh compares the creation of the earth to construction of a building or house.  While modern readers get the basic picture of this, to Job and reader of Job's time this would have been much more impactful.  They did not have electricity or any modern tools therefore when describing the creation of the Earth as Yahweh did; coupled with the creation account they likely knew of, this would have been a reflection of His power to be able to create the earth in the time frame He did.  The same would go for the description of the creation of the seas.  In verse 8 Yahweh says, "Or who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb".[16]  Imagine standing at the coast during Job's time and seeing the sea, its power and endlessness.  Here Yahweh restrains it.  While this is still powerful to the modern reader, with modern technology such as dams and bridges the power of the sea is taken for granted; however to people from Job's time this puts Yahweh in a greater realm.  It is also interesting to note a comparison of the water with the evil forces of the world.  They are allowed to exist and move about but only within the limits set, not their own will.[17]
            In the next section, 38:12-38, Yahweh asks Job how much of a part he has played in getting the day started.  Specifically in 13-15 God takes the dawning of a new day and actually puts a purpose to it.  Whereas Job, and likely the majority of readers old and new, would see the dawning of a new day as a process that just happens day in and day out, Yahweh stated its pre-determined purpose.  This would have had huge implications on the people of this time, there were few things that were consistent in their day but the sun rising was one of those things.  By Yahweh taking ownership of that happening reflected His amazing power and constancy.  Also, in 25-27 Yahweh brings rain into the discussion.  He poses a question to Job asking not only who brings the rain, but who brings the rain to the most desolate land and causes life to spring up from it.  This culture depended so much on agriculture that this statement would have had major impact.  Here the Lord takes a desolate land that the people would not expound any energy to put water on the ground.  It was dried up and of no good use; however Yahweh through his provision and power could easily water this land and cause green grass to come up.  This paints such a beautiful picture of God's people and how through his provision they can have new life.  There are many more questions from God to Job related to the daily orchestration of the stars, snow, hail, clouds, and wind that show the glory and sovereignty of God as He controls all things.[18]
            From there Yahweh continues his interrogation of Job.  In 38:39-39:30 God questions Job regarding many different animals that are extremely dangerous and elusive.  He asks Job how they are able to survive, protect and provide for their young, and if he could domesticate them and provide for their needs.  In essence all of these animals that were and still are dangerous, yet God provides their food, sees them give birth to their young, and he provides them a habitat.  Every need they have is provided by Yahweh.  Many different animals are mentioned but imagine being in the region this was written in and hearing God saying He would provide the food for the young lion and be in the den with them.  If a person attempted to complete this task the Lion would obviously attack and kill the person.  God brings up specific animals for specific ways to show his power and sovereignty.  The first one is the Ostrich.  Every person in Job's culture knew exactly what an Ostrich was.  It was a big, strange-looking bird that could not fly.  They were also known at this time for laying their eggs and then leaving them.  It would be easy for one to assume that God made a mistake when creating the Ostrich and this could be proof of an imperfect God and support many of the ideas of polytheism.  However, when examining the Ostrich we learn that it can run with very fast speed.  The person who views the Ostrich as one of God's mistakes is simply showing their ignorance in relation to God's sovereignty.  Next Yahweh brings up the horse.  The horse is one that everyone knew of its power and prowess.  They all knew that horses were used in many different avenues, from farming to military battles to royal coaches.  It would appear that the horse was one of God's greatest pieces of handiwork; however the Ostrich could out run it.  This contrast provided evidence to support that God created everything for a purpose and that purpose may be something that is not easily seen through human eyes.  The final creature he points out specifically is the hawk/eagle.  Up until this point all the animals discussed were land animals, but now Yahweh was questioning Job as to what he contributes to make them fly and where they dwell.  This is one of those things that are still captivating to modern people today.  When an eagle or hawk is seen soaring through the air there is something so majestic about it.  This proves His control over His creation is not confined to land animals.[19]
            At this point is has been a barrage of questions asking Job what makes him think he can even approach Yahweh to argue his case.  After walking Job through the details that prove Yahweh not only created everything but also is the single source of cause putting every moment into motion.  He then poses another question to Job in 40:2, "Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty?  He who argues with God, let him answer it"[20]  If we look at the original text that is translated into "he who argues" it is the same word used in Job 9:33 which the New American Standard translates to "umpire".  Here God is asking Job for his advice on being the God of creation and the God of his life.  The umpire of a baseball game who is behind the plate decides what is a strike (good) and what is a ball (bad).  In other words God is asking Job what he thinks is good or bad.  Not quite the answer that Job was looking for.[21]
                        Before moving on to Job's answer it is important to reflect upon Job 38:1 - 40:2 and give a summary of how these passages point to the goodness of God even through the most unimaginable circumstances.  The central character of the book of Job is at a definite low point in his life.  He has gone from being an extremely affluent, blameless man who has been reduced to an outcast.  He has no possessions, his children have died, he has a visible skin disease, and his wife is asking him to abandon his faith.[22]  His friends have come out of compassion for him[23], but their discussions all seem to point to the obvious sin that Job must have in his life causing this suffering.  We see the first point of Yahweh's goodness by the simple fact that He comes and manifests himself to Job.  For most people of this time period it was impossible to "encounter God".[24]  The fact that God came to Job in the whirlwind shows his goodness.  Not only does God manifest Himself to Job, He takes Job's focus off of himself and puts it back on God's creation.  Job was so wrapped up in his desire to defend his position to God that he had lost sight of the majesty of the creation around him.[25]  It would have been easy for Yahweh, perfect and righteous, to come in and point out all of the sin in Job's life and make Job feel even worse than he did.  However, because God is a good God he asks Job a series of questions that change his perspective.  Job realizes how small he is in this world,[26] yet God cares enough to come and help him see the bigger picture.  Finally, God showed his goodness by showing his sovereignty through nature and his control over it.  The law of Job's day was an extensive list of do's and don’ts that all people knew and tried to follow to maintain their good favor with The Lord.  Yahweh could have approached Job with a task list instructing Job as to what steps he needed to take to get out of this period of suffering.  However, God showed Job that he was sovereign throughout all of creation and the events that take place every day.  If He was the controller of these things then Job could trust in God's plan for his life.  Matthew says it this way in Matthew 6:26, "Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your Heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not of more value than they?".[27]
            Job finally has his chance to defend himself, but his answer does not quite match his attitude from the dialogue with his three friends.  After hearing the questions from God, which have changed Job's perspective, he humbles himself before The Lord and tells God he will speak no more.  He understands he needs to hold his tongue but there is not surrendering of the situation over to Yahweh.  He realizes his inability to make any sort of case against The Lord, but he is not ready to concede to the will of God.[28]  There is almost a hint in his voice that says he has already said what he was going to say and there was no need for him to speak anymore.  Basically he was saying, "alright God I get it that you are creator and master, but I still don't like what is happening."[29]
            Yahweh also sees that Job has not succumbed to the fact that God is just and by taking that stance Job sets himself up for another set of questions from Yahweh.  He begins by challenging Job in his thought that his suffering is unjust.  If that were the case, and Job was right then God would be an unfair God.  Job would then be as powerful as God and have the same level of hatred for unrighteousness that Yahweh has.  Once again, God is working to change Job's point of view from himself to the rest of the universe which is under the control of The Lord.[30]
            At this point Yahweh brings in two distinct creatures the Behemoth and the Leviathan.  There are multiple schools of thought on the animal being discussed.  The Broadman Bible Commentary compares them to mythological creatures[31], while the Bible Knowledge Commentary considers the Behemoth to be a hippopotamus and the Leviathan to be a giant crocodile[32].  Either one would serve the purpose being sought out by Yahweh.  The people of Job's time understood mythology very well (they worshiped idols and practiced other religions that discussed this) and for God to say he created them and controlled them would be a testament to his power.  If it were the latter the same would be the case.  These same people had also seen the hippopotamus and the crocodile's and understood the danger they presented.  God wanted Job to subdue them, for most they were symbols of evil.  By pointing out to Job that he could not even contain the symbols of evil, he had no business accusing God of not dealing justly with evil[33].  There is an amazing piece of imagery built into the description of the Leviathan.  Notice it's length, and the flow, it appears that God was beginning to see Job let go and begin to let go of his pride.  God does not stop discussing this beast until he sees Job has reached the point of humility.[34]  Job's response is one of humility and repentance and Yahweh restores Job's fortune and gave him additional children.
            All the way through the second speech to Job we see God's goodness.  First, Yahweh was able to sense that Job was not ready to let go of his pride and rather than striking him down or putting more suffering upon him God prepared him for additional questioning.  If God were not good then Job would not have been given a second chance.  Again, God speaks to Job in a way as to change his perspective.  He challenges Job to humble everyone who is proud, which if Job is honest with himself; he would be the first person on this list.  God could have easily humbled him because of his pride, but rather approached it in love and gently showed Job his own pride.  Next he brings the Behemoth and Leviathan into the discussion.  Here God showed his goodness by taking the idea of evil and putting a tangible image to it.  Again, Yahweh could have told Job to just realize that He is in control of everything.  But instead, he approaches Job as a teacher approaches a student out of love and proves his sovereignty once again through nature and His control over them.  Finally, God did not stop the discussion with Job until he realized his brokenness and pride.  There is a beautiful picture that can be seen by reading through chapter 41.  It is very similar to an elementary aged class at church on a Sunday morning.  Whenever the teacher or facilitator can see the wall of pride beginning to fall they are relentless in their sharing of the gospel.  This is the same way; God could see the wall falling and just came at Job harder with even more details of the Leviathan that would reflect His glory.  In the end Job repented and surrendered his life to the will of God.
Bridging the Gap
            What does this have to do with the modern believer?  Everything!  In the beginning of this paper there were 5 characteristics that were said of Job, and all of them can be said of the modern day believer.  Job was blameless, and when we accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior so are we, "And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and BLAMELESS and above reproach before him."[35]  Job was very affluent, as are we: "But you are a chose race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light."[36]  Job was under attack from Satan and faced heart wrenching trials.  We too as believers are under attack and face trials, "Count it all joy, my brothers, WHEN you meet trials of various kinds."[37]  Job also faithfully trusted in Yahweh, this faith is something that God provides: "For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned."[38]  If we accept all of these facts that we are very similar to Job it gives us a good idea of how we will react when we face heart wrenching trials.  If we couple that with the things that Job did to act out his reaction to the suffering we can begin to develop a plan for when that happens.
            There will come a time in every believer's life when they will face trials.  They will feel as if they went from "the royal priesthood" to the "diseased man sitting in a pile of ashes" with no understanding of why they are facing whatever it is they are facing.  The majority of believers, just as Job did, would want their opportunity to sit down with The Lord and understand why they have to suffer.  The beauty of God's word is that it is "living and active"[39] and the same God that manifested Himself to Job is the same God we serve today.  All we have to do is to revisit these passages in Job to understand what God would say to us.  Just as it was when this passage was written, God created everything and has control over every moment of every day and if we believe and trust in God then we have the hope and comfort that just as He tells the oceans where to stop he also has total control of our life.  While it may make no sense to us, as with the ostrich - a funny looking winged animal that cannot fly but runs really fast, we know that He has created everything for a specific purpose and all works together for His glory.  Some of the greatest moments of hope in a believers life are when their is no other hope.  When all that is constant is that God will cause the sun to rise another day, and that is enough. 
            One of the biggest challenges that any believer will face in today's world is fighting off the world's pull for their identity to be found in something other than Christ.  Job 38-41 can serve as a very good checklist for the many different things in our life that tend to draw us away from Christ.  For example, a lot of people struggle with their identity being wrapped up in their job.  However, if a person will take their job and put it to the test against Job 38 it can reveal how temporary and insignificant it really is.  Our job had absolutely nothing to do with the creation of the earth, has nothing to do with the rising or setting of the sun, or life or death, or rain, etc.  If we remember these things we will have a better chance at maintaining our identity in our faith.
            Finally, these four chapters provide one of the best answers to the problem of theodicy.  As stated in the introduction this is one of the biggest hang-ups for people hearing the gospel.  They do not understand why a good God would allow bad things to happen.  However, by walking someone through these passages it becomes clear that God is sovereign and that everything will work together for His glory.  We should approach our daily lives through the lens of Job 38-41, out of constant reflection on God and his glory through his creation and sovereignty.

[1] R. K. Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1969), 1024-1025.
[2] Merriam - Webster, 2012, s.v. "Theodicy."
[3] Bill T. Arnold and Bryan E. Beyer, Encountering the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Publishing Group, 1999), 158, 282, 290, 292.
[4] William Sanford La Sor, David Allan Hubbard, and Frederic William Bush, Old Testament Survey (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1982), 561.
[5] John E. Hartley, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament: The Book of Job (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1988), 17-18.
[6] Job 1:1 (English Standard Version).
[7] Job 1:3 (ESV).
[8] Job 1:12 (ESV).
[9] Job 1:12-2:8 (ESV).
[10] Job 1:21 (ESV).
[11] Arnold and Beyer, 294-296.
[12] John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary (U.S.: Sixth Printing, 1988), 766.
[13] Arnold and Beyer, 296 - 297.
[14] Athalya Brenner, "God's Answer to Job," Vetus Testamentum 31, fasc. 2 (April 1981 (accessed December 6, 2012).
[15] Clifton J. Allen and others, eds. The Broadman Bible Commentary Volume 4: Esther - Psalms (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1971), 136-138.
[16] Job 38:8 (ESV).
[17] Allen and others, 138-139.
[18] Allen and Others, 139-140.
[19] Allen and others, 141-143.
[20] Job 40:2 (ESV).
[21] Allen and others, 143.
[22] Job 2:9 (ESV).
[23] Job 2:11 (ESV).
[24] Arnold and Beyer, 298 - Job offered his own sacrifices, likely pre-mosaic.
[25] Hartley, 494.
[26] Job 40:4 (ESV).
[27] Matthew 6:26 (ESV).
[28] Allen and Others, 144.
[29] Athalya Brenner, "God's Answer to Job," Vetus Testamentum 31, fasc. 2 (April 1981 (accessed December 6, 2012).
[30] Hartley, 518 - 521.
[31] Allen and Others, 145-148.
[32] Walvoord and Zuck, 771-773.
[33] Walvoord and Zuck, 773.
[34] Hartley, 518.
[35] Colossians 1:21-22 (ESV).
[36] 1 Peter 2:9 (ESV).
[37] James 1:2 (ESV).
[38] Romans 12:3 (ESV).
[39] Hebrews 4:12 (ESV).