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Thursday, November 19, 2009

In the End - God

Filled with anxiety and loneliness, Moses had reached his wits’ end. After leading the people of Israel out of Egypt, he climbed the mountain to receive the law and while he was up there, the people at the foot of the mountain forgot about him and about God. In his rage their idolatry and ingratitude, God thundered and threatened to wipe out Israel. Moses spoke out on Israel’s behalf and convinced God to withhold his punishing hand. “The Lord changed his mind about the disaster he planned to bring on his people” (Exodus 32:14).

Leading the people, receiving the law, contending with God – it all took a toll and Moses was worn out. So he appealed to God, and what exactly did Moses ask for? “Show me your glory, I pray” (Exodus 33:18). More than anything, Moses wanted to see God with his eyes. God granted that request – he allowed Moses to see his backside glory.

And what of Jacob, the man whose name would be changed to Israel? His brother Esau, a much mightier man, had threatened to kill him. That had been several years, 2 wives, 2 concubines, and 11 children earlier. Now, he was fearfully figuring out how to face the confrontation he had dodged for so long. The night before the meeting, an enigmatic, angelic figure wrestled with Jacob until daybreak. The contest ended with Jacob’s hip being permanently knocked out of socket. The assailant then blessed Jacob and Jacob concluded, “I have seen God face to face and yet my life is preserved” (Genesis 32:30). After that the reunion with Esau was peaceful and anticlimactic. The key event for Jacob was to see God.

Job presses God for many things. He asks that God relieve his suffering by taking his life (Job 6:8-10). Job asks God for pardon (even though Job never admitted sin) (Job 7:21). Job wants God to promise no rod of punishment because without that specter hanging over him he could speak and justify himself (Job 9:34-35; 13:20-23). Job declares his desire to speak directly to God and thus justify himself (13:3, 13-19; 14:15). He also asks why God hides his face (13:24).

Job also accuses God, “he has made me a byword of the peoples, and I am one before whom people spit” (17:6). “Know then that God has put me in the wrong, and closed his net around me. Even when I cry out, ‘violence!’ I am not answered; I call aloud but there is no justice (19:6-7).

Furthermore, Job talks a lot about what he would do. “Oh, that I knew where I might find him, that I might even come to his dwelling! I would lay my case before him, and fill my mough with arguments. I would learn what he would answer me. Would he contend with me in the greatness of his power? No; but he would give heed to me. There an upright person could and I should be acquitted forever by my judge” (23:3-7).

Job reasons, argues, accuses, makes claims, and makes assumptions. His own innocence is as clear as it can be in his eyes. I have cited a sample of the ways Job expresses his desire to go one-on-one with God. Job thinks he knows how this will turn out; he’s just not sure the opportunity will ever come. Job expresses both hope and despair, faith and faithlessness.

In the end, Job gets what he desired – a hearing with the Almighty. God shows up. And God does not answer any of Job’s complaints. God does not give Job opportunity to ask any of his questions. Those questions seemed huge to Job when he laid there wallowing in his own (very real and very sharp) pain. But the largess of Job’s issues shrink to nothingness when God speaks from the whirlwind. In the end, Job only gets exactly what Moses got; exactly what Jacob got. Job gets the physical presence/manifestation of God.

Swiss theologian Loenhard Ragaz states concisely the divine response to the problem of suffering in Job. “God does not involve himself with arguments for and against his dominion, but lets himself be seen. His answer consists in His manifesting His greatness in powerful speech and creative deeds. This rather than arguments of God’s defenders [Elihu and the three friends] causes Job to go silent and beg God’s forgiveness. He has been afforded no incite into the enigmas that have tormented him, but he has seen God himself” (from The Dimensions of Job, edited by Nahum Glatzer, p.130).

The end of the book of Job is God – Job meets God. In chapter 42, there is a denouement, and what is said there is very important theologically. But, the big issues of justice and suffering are not resolved by book’s end. The only place the reader of Job, attentive to Job’s pain as well as his own, can land is in God. The sum of God’s testimony is to simply show up and be seen. That enough was overwhelming to Job as it would be to anyone.

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