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Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Truly Amazing (Job 38-42)

Our American 21st century culture is individualistic to such a damaging extent that we lose sight of community. We forget that we are part of something bigger than ourselves and we think the country exists to serve us and not vice versa. We want a church that meets our needs instead of searching for a church that gives an opportunity for the individual to sacrificially serve God and serve people. We’re very comfortable with the notion of a personal relationship with Jesus. We like it personal and private. We expect God to be interested in us. Twenty-first century Americans expect everyone to be interested in them. Why should God be any different?

It really is an awesome thing that God would take interest in people or in an individual person. That’s exactly what happens in Job chapters 38-42. God speaks to Job. What statement does God make?

God asks, “Have you commanded the morning since your days began, and caused the dawn to know its place, so that it might take hold of the skirts of the earth, and the wicked be shaken out of it” (38:13)? Obviously, the answer Job has to give is “um, no; no I have not commanded the morning since my days began.” God has.

God asks Job, “Who has cut a channel for the torrents of rain, and a way for the thunderbolt, to bring rain on a land where no one lives, on the desert, which is empty of human life, to satisfy the waste and desolate land, and to make the ground put forth grass” (38:25-27)? Job must answer, if he is truthful, “You have done that, God.”

Throughout the conversation, it repeatedly established that God is God, and Job is not. God is talking about awesome features of the creation, places inaccessible to man (e.g. “the storehouses of snow” – 38:22). Even the example of rain in the desert (v.25-27) shows God involved with the earth completely independent of man. God has interest in this planet God made. God does not need man’s advice or help. In all that is said in Job 38-42, God never mentions human beings as God discusses the creation.

Leo Perdue of Brite Divinity School points out the fact that God ignores humanity in these chapters. Perdue writes, “In a striking repudiation of an anthropology in which humans are kings in God’s creation (see Psalm 8), Yahweh speaks of sustaining a world hostile to human life. The anthropological tradition grounded in the metaphor of humanity as king is shattered” (p.174, Wisdom and Creation: The Theology of Wisdom Literature). Nowhere in this address to Job does God repeat what is said in Genesis 1, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion” (1:26). Perdue feels that God’s speech in Job makes humanity look small and insignificant.

J. Gerald Janzen of Christian Theological Seminary looks at the same evidence. In Job 38-41, God speaks of creation, but never mentions mankind. However, Janzen’s conclusion (in the book Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching: Job) based on what is happening in the book of Job is different than Perdue’s. Janzen thinks the speech raises the importance of humans in God’s view because while humanity is not accounted for, the conversation is with a person. God doesn’t talk about men and women, but he talks to a man!

So which scholar gives a more helpful reading of Job 38-41? I think both contribute to our understanding of what God is saying. Perdue shows what we all know implicitly but sometimes need to be reminded of. God is God and we are not. God doesn’t exist to meet our needs. God is creator of a world that overwhelms us and it is an act of God’s grace that God would ever deign to speak to a person. Janzen points out that God does in fact extend that grace in the speech to Job! Job has longed for an audience with the divine and he gets it. He is not told why he suffers, but he hears from God, he lives, and in the end (Job 42), his blessings are restored.

Of the many conclusions I draw from the book of Job, one is this. We in 21st century America may feel entitled to be self centered, however, we are small. In the grand scheme of the universe, we don’t matter. God does not have to speak to us. But, God wants to. Furthermore, in Jesus Christ, God became one of us in order to redeem us. That’s the extent of God’s love for us. Love isn’t an obvious motivating force in the book of Job, but when we read it in light of the cross, we realize that the God who doesn’t need us loves us and because of that we have significance. Humans count and humans matter because humans are invited to be in relationship with God. Job lived in that relationship and we are invited to as well. I find that truly amazing.

Rob Tennant

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