Connections 10.14.2018: Humble Confidence

Job 23:1-17

Job makes two very different assertions in this week’s lesson text.

He first asserts that if he could just find God and lay his case before God, God would have to agree that he has done nothing to deserve the calamities that have befallen him. In making this assertion, Job seems sure of his righteousness and of God’s fairness (vv. 1-7).

Job then asserts that he is scared to stand before God because God is going to do what God is going to do, so who knows what else God might have in store for him. In making this assertion, Job seems tormented by his sense of fear and by his inability to know God’s true nature (vv. 8-17).

Maybe we all walk the line that Job walks between certainty and uncertainty, between assurance and doubt, and between confidence and fear. Maybe sometimes we’re confident in our standing before God and sometimes we’re anything but.

At the end of the book, God will say that Job has “spoken of [God] what is right” (42:7). Maybe Job’s contrasting words of hope and uncertainty are one of the ways that Job has spoken correctly of God. Perhaps both those who are always utterly confident in their relationship with God and those who are always utterly unconfident in it think wrongly about God—and about themselves.

On one hand, Job thinks, he’s done what God requires of him. On the other hand, Job thinks, what if it doesn’t matter?

Job thinks that God will do right by him. But what if God won’t?

Maybe when it comes to where he stands before God, “Sometimes I really know…but sometimes I really don’t” is the best Job can do.

There is great value in letting the book of Job stand on its own. It contributes much to our ongoing effort to come to terms with our human potential and limitation in dealing with life in relationship with God, with each other, with the world, and with ourselves.

Still, Christians can hardly think of Job’s situation (and ours) without bringing Jesus into the mix. Indeed, we shouldn’t think of anything without bringing Jesus into it. It’s just a fact that we live on this side of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus and of what they tell us about who God is and how God acts.

One of this Sunday’s other lectionary readings is helpful in this regard. Hebrews 4:12-16 begins by acknowledging that “the word of God…is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account” (vv. 12-13). I think Job knew this. I think it contributed to his fear. He thought he knew himself; he thought he was innocent. But what if he was wrong? God knew for sure.

Job can’t and doesn’t know the rest of what the Hebrews text says when it calls us to “approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (v. 16). We can do this because of who Jesus is and what Jesus did that enables him “to sympathize with our weaknesses” since “in every respect [he] has been tested as we are, yet without sin” (v. 15). I think one of Job’s problems is that he bases a lot of his faith in what he has done. We base our faith in what Christ has done. Or at least we should.

Because of Jesus, we know that God will give us grace and mercy when we struggle. We can approach God with confidence in what Jesus has done to open the way for us. Job sometimes wants to approach God’s throne boldly, but he thinks of it as a throne of judgment, not as a throne of grace, and so his fear gets in the way. In Christ, we know better. Or at least we should.

Still, we approach the throne of grace with humility. Because of Jesus, we know enough about God to live in faith. But because of Job and because of our own experiences, we know enough about ourselves not to live in arrogance. Or at least we should.

Discussion

1. Have you ever felt like you needed to plead your case before God? When was it? What did you do?
2. What do you find troubling in Job’s words? What do you find encouraging or illuminating?
3. Have you ever felt that you couldn’t find God no matter where you looked? What were the circumstances? How did you work through it?
4. Have you ever wanted to hide from God? What were the circumstances? How did you work through it?
5. Do you think Job’s responses to his experiences would have been different if he had lived on this side of Jesus? If so, how?

Reference Shelf

In vv. 13-16, Job draws a conclusion about the character of the God he seeks but cannot find. Behind the veil of hiddenness, God “is one” (v. 13a: … NJPS; NRSV: “he stands alone”). Under different circumstances such an assertion might summon the faithful to love God with a singularity of resolve and commitment that divine sovereignty deserves and invites (cf. Deut 6:4-5). Indeed, even those who despair that God is absent may be emboldened to hope for new possibilities, if they have sufficient reason to believe that God’s desire to deliver them will not be thwarted by any obstacle. The exiles in Babylon, for example, may take comfort in knowing that God is unalterably committed to their rescue: “I am God, and henceforth I am He; there is no one who can deliver from my hand; I work and who can hinder it… (Isa 43:13).

Job’s situation, however, is different, and he can find nothing com- forting about God’s oneness. Whatever God desires, that is what “he does” (v. 13b). Whatever destiny God “appoints” for humans, God works to bring it to completion (v. 14a). No one can “hinder” God (v. 13a…; NRSV: “dissuade him”), because God retains exclusive control over divine decisions. No one, not even a righteous person like Job, can say or do anything that might cause God to rethink or alter what has already been determined. As Good has put it, “There is no space between the god’s desire and his deed, no thoughtful reflection, no canvassing of implications.”4 As a result Job is “terrorized” (v. 15…cf. v. 16b) by the thought of contending with a God whose power is over- whelming and unchallengeable. As far as he can see, this God will do nothing to encourage or strengthen him. Instead, God has determined to make his heart so faint (v. 16a…; lit., “soften”) that he becomes too weak and cowardly to do anything but give in and give up.

Samuel E. Balentine, Job, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2006) 363-64.

Michael Ruffin is husband to Debra, father to Joshua (Michelle) and Sara (Benjamin), grandfather to Sullivan. A graduate of Mercer University and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, he has previously served as a pastor and as a university professor. He lives on the Ruffin Family Farm in Yatesville, Georgia. He is the Connections Series Curriculum Editor.

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