Assault On Faith: God’s Response to Job Isn’t Enough

job4

Therefore I will not restrain my mouth;
    I will speak in the anguish of my spirit;
    I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.”

Job 7:11

Few texts in scripture are as divisive as God’s speeches from the whirlwind. For centuries, theologians have done their best to make sense of God’s response to Job, Job’s repentance, and the restoration that follows. Interpretations are especially compounded when someone reads Job who has been abused and forced into a life of recovery and processing of the events that occurred. The chief question at the forefront of both Job and the abused respective minds is: Why does a just God allow the innocent to suffer? The whirlwind speeches from God challenge Job and abuse survivors to stand firm in their innocence and actualize their places in creation’s order while being prepared for unsettling conclusions that raise more questions than answers.

The whirlwind arrival of God in Job is a climatic event that serves as a contrast to the horrible events which transpired at the beginning of the story. Throughout the story, Job has endured bad counsel from friends (with the exception of Elihu) as he contends his innocence while asking for a chance to plead his righteousness before God Himself. One would think that God’s arrival marks a transition into a closed case answer to the issue of Job’s innocent suffering. However, the truth is that God’s arrival only furthers the issues at hand in Job and for the lives of those who have endured unspeakable pain from abuse in their innocence.

God begins His speech by declaring to Job: “Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me.” (Jb. 38:3) before He begins a retelling of the creation story in Genesis 1 and 2. Samuel E. Balentine argues that this statement by God is made to show Job that “victory is his for the taking, if only he will make the necessary preparations, which is what God wants and expects (cf. Jer 1:17).”[1] This tour of creation is going to be difficult for Job to take on and digest. This reality is greater actualized by the sheer horror of what he has already endured. Job has been fighting for his life since the inception of the deal between God and the satan in Chapters 1 and 2. To stand in the presence of God, Job will need to be strong, sturdy, and live into the man he was created to be (Jb. 38:3; 40:7; cf. 3:3).[2]

This notion of being tough is certainly present in many Christian circles in regards to abuse survivors. Many a survivor can recall being told to “suck it up”, “keep moving”, or “leave the past in the past”. These are all different ways of insisting that a survivor gird up their loins. This theology is more damaging than good. On the one hand, a survivor does need to grow into a human being with agency God has created them for. In this respect, an abuse survivor can find agreement with God’s request for Job. Yet, the twisting of the phrase found in Job 38:3 allows for a societal narrative which insists that regardless of circumstances, everyone must pick themselves up, dust off the pain, and keep moving forward. Because of this reality, Balentine’s words are helpful in discerning what God’s intent is. However, they are difficult to believe for the vantage point of this writer. In the story to this point, Job has been traumatized by losing family, servants, and even some of his health. In short, Job has lost both agency and dignity. An abuse survivor has also lost their agency and dignity. Asking them to stand tough may be too much at any given point in the healing journey. To complicate this issue further, Job seems so focused on the issue of justice that he has not had the time to process the events for what they actually were. Sure, he wishes for death (Jb. 3) and sits in grief, but he has had no one to help him process in healthy ways. This is why God’s request of Job is too much on the outset of His speech. This is further advanced by Job’s final response to the speech which will be addressed later.

God then transitions into a retelling of the creation story. Janzen notes that God has entered the scene and puts Himself in the defendant’s chair of the trial making Job the witness who would have normally been present at the crime scene.[3] God challenges Job by asking “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” (Jb. 38:4) in an effort to show that because God created everything and keeps everything going, Job has no grounds for knowing what is right and wrong when it comes to the actions of God.[4] As God continues through Chapter 38, He makes it clear that even though He is now on trial, He is still in control. The most glaring evidence of that is all that Job sees around him and the things that God can see which Job cannot. This would imply that there is plenty that Job does not know about the workings of the entirety of creation and that in itself is not wrong.

The issue is how this is at all comforting. Balentine suggests that “God’s world is structured not simply as a safe house in which one may live without fear of its collapse; it is also envisioned as a sacred temple in which one all may seek refuge from hostile forces.”[5] The intent, then, is to shift Job’s focus from an individualistic focus to one that is more universal in scope. This is both good and bad. On the one hand, Job is being asked to look at his situation in light of the bigger picture: God and His workings in ALL of creation. This is no easy task. Job is being asked to hold his suffering in tension with the grater working of the universe. It creates an issue because it can make Job’s trauma seem insignificant in comparison.

Regardless of God’s intention to impart more knowledge on Job than he currently has[6], it has ramifications. It is as if God is saying to Job, “You are dealing with some very intense things, but you cannot imagine the weight I have to deal with.” Both notions are true, but the question is whether or not it is appropriate to hold that over the head of human beings. Two points of emphasis here are very important to acknowledge:

  1. God created all things. This means God created human beings and further, God created Job.
  2. Job did not ask to be created. Job’s existence is predicated on both the action and will of God. This is why God instructs the accuser not to kill Job (Jb. 1:12; 2:6) and why Job curses his birth and the womb he was conceived in (Jb. 3).

In these realities, Job is indeed innocent. Job did not ask God to create anything and nor did he ask to be created. Yet, God created both the universe and Job. That makes Job’s suffering God’s responsibility to attend to. God’s way of tending to the suffering seems to be weighing Job down further and humbling him. In this vein, God is not too far off from the counsel of Job’s friends. Where they place fault, God places the weight of creation. This is far from a fair contest as Job is reduced to being one person in the midst of an overabundance of creation.

For survivors of abuse, personal narratives are important. A survivor must learn ways to tell their stories so that they may work towards healing and help others heal as well. As many male survivors can attest to, their stories are often cast aside by men who insist they are cowards or by some women who insist men cannot be victims of abuse. In the grander scheme of things, statistics can feed into the patriarchal narrative that allows for such events to take place. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence:

  • “1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have been victims of [some form of] physical violence by an intimate partner within their lifetime.
  • 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men have been victims of severe physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime.
  • 1 in 7 women and 1 in 18 men have been stalked by an intimate partner during their lifetime to the point in which they felt very fearful or believed that they or someone close to them would be harmed or killed.
  • 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men in the United States has been raped in their lifetime”[7]

On the surface, the numbers do not lie. Women are more likely to encounter abuse in their lives. However, statistics only tell part of the story. As a society, American culture has married a very pro-masculine theology which does not allow for individual storytelling or speaking out in certain contexts. It has become common practice for many Christian environments to insist on considering the stories of others instead of engaging one’s own. For instance, it may be said that an experience of abuse is frightening and harmful, but at least the survivor is not living life confined to a wheelchair like someone else may be. God’s creation may be glorious and human beings may not be privy to all of His workings, but the individual still matters. God, in His own way, recognizes that by even engaging Job to begin with. Yet, answering Job’s questioning of Him by making his story one of an infinite number of stories is problematic. Job cannot rightfully heal if his story has small standing in the grand scheme of creation and neither can the survivor’s story.

It is when God speaks of the Behemoth (likely a hippopotamus[8]) and the Leviathan (either a crocodile or whale[9]) that a transition is made. Where Job is still small in comparison to God and the universe, he is also important to God. God speaks to these creatures after Job declares himself to be small (Jb. 40:4). Balentine notes in his advice to preachers on preaching Job:

Job did not need God to persuade him that as a mere mortal he is but a small cog in the vast machinery of the cosmos. He is but one person, his sufferings, however horrendous, however unjust, are the experiences of one person. Even so, negotiating the world with the frail and always flawed moral reasoning of a mere human is all that Job can do. It is precisely what God has created him to do.[10]

 

Job is wrestling with the thought that there may be no response to God that he can offer (Jb. 40:4).[11] God invites Job to consider what it means than human kind has been made in God’s image.[12] This is no easy topic to tackle, but it marks an important transition from a somewhat off putting response to Job’s request for God to answer him into a somewhat empowering discourse.

The Behemoth is important for several reasons. It is a vessel through which Job can come to comprehend his vocation and identity in God’s world as the invitation is implied that Job should see himself when he sees the Behemoth.[13] Where Job lamented over his weak body (Jb. 6:11-12; 10:11), the Behemoth is strong and mighty issuing an invitation for Job to reflect on capacities that God created him with which he has not yet grasped.[14] Third, the Behemoth is the ruler of its domain and God’s first great act (Jb. 40:19) implying royalty and enabling Job to identify with the Behemoth where Eliphaz challenged him earlier by asking if Job was the firstborn of the human race (Jb. 15:7).[15] Lastly, the Behemoth is fearless in the face of raging rivers or the Jordan bursting (Jb. 40:23) and while human beings cannot lead it or subdue its aggression, God can because Behemoth is still a creature that is beneath God (Jb. 40:23-24).[16] What God wants Job to understand is that “those who dare to stand before their maker with exceptional strength, proud prerogatives, and fierce trust come as near to realizing God’s primordial design for life in this world as it is humanly possible to do.”[17]

The Leviathan is also strong and God asks Job a series of rhetorical questions expecting a “no” when asking Job if he can catch or defeat the Leviathan (41:1-12).[18] God transitions into declaring that when Leviathan opens its mouth, it speaks as a god would with strong words (Jb. 41:18-21) as God acknowledges that strong words generate respect.[19] God also declares Leviathan as a “king” (Jb. 41:34) calling on Job to govern the world in a way that God will revel in, he must also look upon the proud and handle them in a just manner.[20] Considering the two creatures, Behemoth is a creature that God praises for unwavering trust and ability to resist any opponents and Leviathan demonstrates a gorgeous and proud dominion with strength that God enjoys while it also refuses to relinquish its royalty for worldly crowns.[21] God uses these two creatures in a way that challenges Job’s commitment to silence as He deems silence as an inadequate response to His revelation.[22]

Survivors have much to wrestle with here. It is the opinion of this writer that God intends to both challenge and comfort Job with Behemoth and Leviathan. It is no secret that once someone becomes a victim of abuse, they have been attacked by adversaries. There are a multitude of responses which a victim can take. First, they can fight back becoming physically violent themselves. This serves as a defense mechanism that does not effectively deal with the issues at hand. This is particularly why Job’s refusal to verbally eviscerate his friends is so important. His firmness in innocence and respectful dialogue in conflict leads into the second response of strength. It takes strength for a survivor of any sort of abuse to confront the event and assert the wrongful nature of the event. For many, this reality takes time to come to and yet, God seems to value those who speak out against this violation of justice in His created order.

For survivors who believe in God’s existence, the situation becomes quite problematic. They have endured something that does not sit well with the idea of an all-loving and all-present God. They, like Job, are thrust into a new reality and understanding of the world in which violations of someone’s personhood is something that can take place against God’s created order. The chief question is: Where does the fault lie? While all those who are victims of abuse are innocent, take the following particular example into consideration. Consider that a child is assaulted by their parents. A child is innocent and totally dependent upon the care, protection, and nurturing of their parents. Those parents have violated that trust. Who is the greater offender: the parents who committed the act or the God who allowed it to occur?

This dilemma is a difficult one to come to a concrete conclusion over. It is the exact dilemma Job was wrestling with before God’s speech. Who is the greater offender: those forces who came against his family or the God who allows the righteous to suffer unfathomable trauma? Job does not answer this question either. yet, it does do something that is significant: it makes a space for asserting one’s case in strength before God. It makes a space for questioning God and declaring one’s innocence in the face of outright injustice. It also makes a space for answers or lack thereof. Behemoth and Leviathan are the beginnings or empowerment, but they are far from the final say.

The open-endedness in which God’s response leaves the reader of Job is unsettling. At times, it can become too much to bear and that is why Job finally does respond to God in a way that is not easily pinned down. Job states: “therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” (Jb. 42:6). While Job does come to a new understanding of how the world works[23], he is brought back to the same place he was before any of this even began. Job cannot be at peace until he “agrees with God” as Eliphaz asserted (Jb. 22:21).[24] He is confessing his place in creation’s order as “dust and ashes” who are called to resist forces that reduce them to nothing as they can both praise and rail against God while living into their legacy.[25]

Some may interpret this as comfort. However, it seems more likely to indicate Job’s exhausted state. Consider that Job has been suffering in grief and agony for quite some time. He has endured the accusations hurled against him for friends on top of losing everything he had including portions of his health. He responds all throughout in righteous speeches demanding God make Himself known and stand trial. And after all this, God arrives in a whirlwind pushing Job to go even further. Before God’s arrival, Job is no doubt exhausted and during the arrival, Job is rendered speechless. God may honor Job’s commitment to Him and to standing his ground, but God does not relent. It is Job who relents. After everything he has endured, he gets some knowledge about God’s valuing of those who challenge Him righteously almost as if God is saying “that’s cute”. I also like one of the ideas Amy Erickson puts forth when she says Job’s response was: “Realizing that God will never acknowledge wrongdoing, Job gives up his fight even though he rejects God’s answer. (“I reject your response but I will accept consolation for my grief.”)”.[26] God may not impart wisdom on just anyone, but receiving wisdom is not the cure in situations in which innocent human beings suffer unjustly unless that wisdom imparts the rationale and apology for the offenses which occurred.

Following this is the epilogue (Jb. 42:7-17) in which Job has all restored twofold after his friends repented and Job prays on their behalf (42:10). The restoration will be addressed shortly, but the idea that Job had to pray on behalf of his repentant friends who wronged him first is no small thing to overlook and it seems that if often is. In order to be fully righteous, Job must administer forgiveness to those who have wronged him. Job’s prayer is done to convince God not to deal with the foolishness of his friends and it works.[27]

Perhaps the most difficult part of a survivor’s journey is forgiveness. As with many things in Job, readers are not given timetables. Instead, the reader is simply told that Job prays on behalf of his friends (42:10) after God confronts them (42:7-9). In order for Job’s prayer for God to withhold His hand from the friends to work, it had to come from a place of genuine forgiveness for his friends. While it is possible that Job came to a quick clarity of forgiveness for his friends, the reality is that forgiving others takes a great deal of time.

It can take anywhere from several weeks to an entire lifetime for a survivor to forgive those who assaulted them. While the words of Job’s friends are a lesser impact than assault, they still hurt and during times of extreme grief, the effects can be long lasting. Survivors, too, must wrestle with people who have harmed them with bad counsel. Readers are not privy to know whether or not the friends were malicious on purpose and survivors are not privy to the intent of those trying to counsel them. yet, these realities do not negate the pain absorbed. Because of this, Job’s praying on behalf of his friends who gave him such horrible and harmful counsel offers the survivor hope that they can also do the same.

There is still something bigger to consider here. Does Job’s repentance mean that he forgave God? God has overseen the wrongs that have happened to Job and refused to intervene. That makes God responsible. If this were not the case, Job could not take the plaintiff seat opposite God. If God is responsible for the wrong done to Job, then there is forgiveness work to be done on Job’s part towards God. God’s restoration to Job seems to imply some sort of reconciliation between the two parties, but an answer to the issue is never quite given.

It can be difficult to fathom the idea of needing to forgive God. Yet, for a survivor, it is a reality that presents itself on multiple occasions. Whether it’s comfortable or not, God did not intervene to stop the assault and therefore the survivor’s relationship with Him is somewhat fractured. Some survivors may choose to walk away from God completely while others choose to sit in the tensions of unknowing anticipating a clear answer as to why God would allow such things to happen. Both responses indicate a burden of guilt on God that is as appropriate as the guilt Job seems to have placed on Him. It matters not how all mighty and all powerful God is in His creating of the world if He cannot intervene to protect a child. It matters not if God values the strength and challenging by His own creation if there are no answers or rationales given. It matters not if forces come against God’s creation if God is unwilling to protect it from harm. Human beings may not be entitled to any sort of response from God, but God’s response to Job shows that when God does respond, it’s in riddles and seemingly lacking answers outside of God enjoying the pleasure of “doing battle” with challengers.

God then goes on to restore everything back to Job twofold. But why? Balentine entertains the possibility that God is admitting guilt and returning double what was taken like a thief was made to do in Exodus 22:4.[28] This idea seems to put a rest to the trial itself. Job has challenged God and God has been found in the wrong. It is not out of the realm of possibility that God does indeed act unjustly even by His own terms. This is the same God who drowned creation in a flood and later repented (Gen 8). Surely He could recognize when He has done wrong.

The other focus that needs to be looked at is the restoration of the familial unit. Andrew Prideaux notes that the restoration in the Epilogue may not have been necessary, because Job’s chief longing was for God to speak into the silence of his suffering and assure Job that God is for him.[29] This writer does not believe this restoration was necessary either. If one infers that Job’s family had died as the text suggests in the beginning chapters, is it more traumatic to have them again and then witness them die once more? It may well have been. Yet, if God is the responsible thief in this scenario, it follows that He would restore the family and double it in size as He does. Despite the opinion of this human being, God chose to restore the family as a blessing.

For survivors, some sort of restoration is longed for. However, part of what leads to a negative reading of the familial restoration in Job is the reality that in many cases where assault has taken place, there is no familial restoration. This can occur for a plethora of reasons. The two biggest seem to be a lack of accountability by the offender and/or a desire by the survivor to live a new life void of the offender. It simply is not appropriate in many circumstances to have the survivor and the offender in the same space or the same home.

Sue Atkinson’s writing has long been beneficial for studying the complexities of forgiveness. In regards to a lack of justice she writes: “When we know we have no way of getting justice it could be time to move ourselves along from seeking justice to letting go of our hurt.”[30] Her words are simply phenomenal. It is rare in American culture that we find someone who is willing to say that justice is not attainable in certain situations. This reality helps survivors in their journeys, but it can also help them in reading Job as well. Does the financial and familial restoration amount to appropriate justice for Job? Once again, no. The proper response would be an explanation from God as to why evil persists and is allowed to harm the lives of the righteous and the innocent. Both survivors and Job now know those answers will never come. They should not let go of the questions (they are important ones!), but they can begin to find ways of letting go of the insurmountable burden the questions have placed on their lives.

This paper began as an exploration of the whirlwind speeches, Job’s repentance, and the restoration. The book of Job as well as these specific elements have parallels that survivors of various degrees of assault encounter by questioning in their living, their faith walks, and their views of God. The truth is that this work is difficult, individually nuanced, and is not easily completed. These thoughts presented are another piece to God’s wisdom puzzle and the pursuit of answers from God Himself. Just as the Lord intended to comfort Job and challenge Job all at once, so too do the workings and words of this survivor for other survivors who know the story of Job all too well.

[1] Samuel E. Balentine, Job, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary, (Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys Publishing Company, 2006): p. 645.

[2] Samuel E. Balentine, Job, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary, (Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys Publishing Company, 2006): p. 644.

[3] J. Gerald Janzen, At the Scent of Water: The Ground of Hope in the Book of Job, Kindle Edition, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2009): Location 1336.

[4] Ibid. Locations 1340, 1344.

[5] Samuel E. Balentine, Job, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary, (Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys Publishing Company, 2006): p. 645.

[6] Ibid. p. 646.

[7] National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, “Statistics”, NCADV.org, http://ncadv.org/learn-more/statistics, (accessed March 3, 2017).

[8] Michael V. Fox, “God’s answer and Job’s response.”, Biblica 94, no. 1 (2013): 1-23, ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed March 5, 2017): p. 11.

[9] Ibid. p. 12.

[10] Samuel E. Balentine, “Preaching Job’s God”, Journal For Preachers 36, no. 2 (2013): 22-27. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed March 7, 2017): p. 26.

[11] Balentine, Job, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary, (Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys Publishing Company, 2006): p. 668.

[12] Ibid. p. 683.

[13] Ibid. p. 684.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Samuel E. Balentine, Job, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary, (Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys Publishing Company, 2006): p. 685.

[16] Ibid. pp. 685-686.

[17] Ibid. p. 686.

[18] Ibid. p. 687.

[19] Ibid. p. 689.

[20] Ibid. p. 691.

[21] Ibid. p. 692.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Samuel E. Balentine, Job, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary, (Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys Publishing Company, 2006): p. 694.

[24] Ibid. p. 693.

[25] Ibid. p. 698.

[26] Amy Erickson, “Job’s Last Words (Job 42:6)”, Bible Odyssey, https://www.bibleodyssey.org/passages/main-articles/jobs-last-words (accessed March 1, 2017).

[27] Samuel E. Balentine, Job, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary, (Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys Publishing Company, 2006): p. 713.

[28] Samuel E. Balentine, Job, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary, (Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys Publishing Company, 2006): p. 715.

[29] Andrew Prideaux, “Job 42:7-17, and the God of the happy ending.” The Reformed Theological Review 71, no. 3 (December 2012): 170-184. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed March 4, 2017): p.  172.

[30] Sue Atkinson, Struggling to Forgive: Moving on from trauma, (Grand Rapids, MI: Monarch Books, 2014): p.144.

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charlestinsley

My name is Charlie Tinsley and I blog about The Bible. In particular, I post my thoughts, commentaries, and Bible Study teachings I have done. I hold a Bachelors Degree in Science in Religion Summa Cum Laude with a Biblical Studies Minor. I am currently studying for a Masters In Divinity at Eastern Mennonite Seminary with PhD ambitions in the study of Theology. I am married and have been for several years and I currently reside in Virginia.

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