Has God made a just world?

October 19 — Job 24:1, 9-12, 19-25; October 26 — Job 42:1-10

Oct 13, 2014 by

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In our previous lesson we saw that even amid all his trauma Job remains steadfast. He continues to live in the light of his commitment to righteousness. He trusts God and lives blamelessly.

Grimsrud

Grimsrud

But Job’s test continues. In chapter 24 we read his challenge to God. It’s like Job is saying, I know God is just because I have experienced this in my own life and committed myself to living in light of that justice. But now that is all up in the air. Job’s own trauma sensitizes him to the profound trauma in the world around him.

Job’s faith in God causes him to issue a sharp challenge to God. He’s not willing to accept the claims of his “friends” that he must deserve his suffering due to his sin.

If we are honest about the world we live in, we must agree that Job has a pretty strong argument here. We know, if we pay attention, that “there are those who snatch the orphan child from the breast.” There are those who “harm the childless woman and do no good to the widow.”

At the same time, it does appear that “God prolongs the life of the mighty by his power.”

And to top off all this apparent injustice: “God charges no one with wrongdoing” (24:12). One of Job’s questions is: Why do the righteous suffer? The other side of the coin is: Why do the unjust prosper? And, most challenging of all: Why does God let it happen?

It probably would do us good simply to sit with these questions awhile. Does Job accurately portray this world we live in? If the world is unjust, what does that mean for people who put their faith in God?

When we read the conclusion to the story in Job 42, we are tempted to make a mistake and see the message as a repudiation of Job’s challenges. Perhaps it would be better to say Job’s challenge to God’s apparent lack of justice is appropriate as far as it goes, but such a challenge does Job little good.

Railing against God reflects Job’s obsession with justice — an obsession that fits with his rigorous steadfastness but does not mend his broken heart.

When Job says, “I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes,” maybe he is not so much saying that he repents for questioning God. Rather, maybe he is saying he repents for being obsessed with demanding that God make life just.

One message from God’s belated response to Job (chapters 38-39) is that indeed the world is not neat and tidy. There is chaos, and in the chaos injustice. God doesn’t stop that. (Perhaps God can’t?)

Where does one find comfort then? In the recognition that beyond the chaos the earth does rest on firm foundations: The sun rises each day. The sustenance of life remains.

Job is vindicated before his friends — and, remarkably, they are treated graciously by God in light of Job’s prayer on their behalf.

Finally, “the Lord restores Job’s fortunes” — not, I suspect, in the sense that now Job can forget his losses. But Job is able to move on as he accepts the kind of comfort that the world is capable of giving him. In such acceptance, Job is freed from his spiral of grief and from demanding a justice that the world does not offer.

Ted Grimsrud is professor of theology and peace studies at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Va.


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