Uniform: Seeing through Grieving Eyes

Job 24:1, 9-12, 19-25

When my 3-year-old is upset about something, he suddenly becomes upset about everything else, too. After suffering from an injury or disappointment, he begins to see all the other things that are out of place in his world. Running into a doorframe gives him fresh eyes to see the books that are missing from his shelf. A vegetable-filled dinner makes him more aware that his bedtime is earlier than ours. These realizations make for some long, grating parenting moments as our little boy does his best to make sure we understand the many injustices he faces daily.

As adults, we like to think that we’ve grown beyond this kind of funk. That we know how to take bad news in stride and not allow it to affect the rest of our lives.

But Job reminds us that our negative experiences do affect the way we view the world. His grief and confusion over the loss of his family and security colors the way he sees everything else. Believing that God is hidden from him, Job begins to see God’s absence in many different situations. Where is God when people take advantage of orphans and the poor? Why doesn’t the God he knows to be loving and just respond to the obvious injustices of our world?

When we start thinking like this, it can seem easier to walk away from the God whose silence and inaction causes us such pain. Job, however, refuses to give up on God. He does not accept that God supports injustice. Instead, Job describes the situation of the wicked in a way that feels appropriate based on his understanding of God’s justice, challenging God to live up to the standard set by his faith (vv. 22-25). By remaining in relationship with God in the most difficult times, Job affirms his belief in God’s love and justice, and this belief carries him through until he is able to experience the brighter, more comforting side of God again.

When we feel like Job, the most comfortable response might be to whine, hide, or collapse in a heap on the floor like my 3-year-old does. But Job challenges us to do more: we should engage God in a dialogue that is honest about our pain and hopeful about God’s plan. If we follow Job’s example, we might just discover that God is not so far away after all.

Discussion

1. How can one negative experience cause you to view other situations negatively?
2. Describe a time when you felt like Job in chapter 24:1-12. How did you communicate with God during that time?
3. How can we express our frustration with the injustices we see around us to God without throwing a fit like a preschooler?
4. Read verses 22-25. Do we feel bold enough to speak to God in the way Job does? Are we allowed to challenge God to act in the ways we think God should?
5. How might being honest about our expectations of God help us to reaffirm our faith in difficult times?

Reference Shelf

In the second part of his speech, Job turns from the complaint about God’s hiddenness to God’s indictable failure as a fair and reasonable judge of the world. His first word in a darkened world absent of God is “Why?” (v. 1: maddûa>). The tenor of the question is similar to that of 21:7 (“Why [maddûa>] do the wicked live on”), indicating that Job’s objective is to raise an issue for the sake of making a counter argument. The translation in NRSV is problematic on several grounds. Gordis provides a better reading: “Why, since times of judgment are not hidden from Shaddai, do His friends not see His day (of judgment)?” Job’s concern is not to complain that God “keeps” or “stores up” judgment for a later time, because even if this were true, as the friends have insisted, Job has already rejected this argument as morally indefensible (21:19-20). Instead, he affirms a time-honored truth about God and then asks why God does not live up to this truth. Surely, the times of judgment are not hidden from God. God knows why judgment is a necessary component of the world’s moral order, and God knows when judgment must be enacted if the world is to be saved from moral chaos. Why then do those who know and entrust themselves to God’s truth never see the judgment that confirms God is God? Job argues that if justice is as hidden as God, then both seem utterly nonexistent.
When there are no visible signs of either God or God’s justice, the wicked are free to pursue their objectives with impunity. The result, Job argues, is the collapse of the moral order that sustains society (vv. 2-12). As evidence of his charge, Job cites a number of civil injustices carried out by the wicked that have the cumulative effect of stealing from people their opportunity to be fully human. The first impression one has from reading this account is that Job’s eyes are darting back and forth erratically from oppressor (vv. 2-4, 9) to oppressed (vv. 5-8, 10- 12) in a frenzied effort to catalogue what he sees. It is possible, and perhaps helpful, to clarify this description by grouping Job’s observations around certain key emphases, but it is wise to remember that in organizing these verses we impose an order of our own making. In a world where the boundaries between good and evil have collapsed, chaos not structure is closer to what the eye can see.
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Since God knows that the world cannot survive without justice, why then does God not respond to the wickedness that frays the moral fabric of creation’s design? In v. 12, Job answers his own question (cf. 24:1). The “dying groan,” the “soul (nepe¡ ; NRSV: “throat”) of the wounded cries for help,” and God remains indifferent. Why? Because God sees nothing “wrong” with the way the world is working. The word “wrong” (tiplåh) is the same word used by the narrator in the prologue (1:22) to affirm that Job did not charge God with any “wrong-doing” when his world was turned upside-down by undeserved affliction. But Job’s understanding of this world and of the God who oversees it has now changed. Surely something is terribly wrong with a world where innocent victims die unnoticed. If there is not, then the God of creation’s Edenic promise that the world is “very good” (Gen 1:31) cannot be trusted. Surely something is fundamentally wrong with a God who is unaffected by pharaonic-like abuse and oppression. If there is not, then the God of the Exodus—the God who hears and heeds the “cry for help” (Exod 2:23-25)—is a dangerous death-dealing myth.

Reference

Samuel E. Balentine, Job, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2006) 366-69.

Bonnie Chappell is the editor of the Uniform Series Bible Study. She is a graduate of Mercer University and Vanderbilt Divinity School. She is an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.

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