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Saturday, April 5, 2014

Perspective

Last time we looked at our friend Job, Eliphaz had been rebuking him with a very compelling theology. In Eliphaz’s mind, good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people. God is just, so the innocent never suffer. Job should identify his sin, repent, and ask God to forgive him.
The problem, as we have seen over and over, is that Eliphaz’s theory of how the world works is too good to be true. Job is not aware of anything he has done wrong, and we as the readers have the unique knowledge that his suffering is not his fault. Those who would counsel others can learn two lessons here. First, the way you speak deeply affects the way people listen. Eliphaz’s attitude is condescending, so Job will almost inevitably lash out defensively. Second, always know that you don’t know. It is easy enough to look at a situation, hear half of the details, and recite a pre-packaged conclusion.  Things are really more complex than that, and some cases (like Job’s) may seem to be like something we expect, when they are not. With that in mind, we pick up today with Job’s reply.
Then Job answered and said: "Oh that my vexation were weighed, and all my calamity laid in the balances! For then it would be heavier than the sand of the sea; therefore my words have been rash. For the arrows of the Almighty are in me; my spirit drinks their poison; the terrors of God are arrayed against me.
(Job 6:1-4)

Job feels that Eliphaz must have underestimated the degree of his suffering. If you could weigh it, he declares, it would weigh more than the sand of the beaches and the ocean floor. Had he spoken too strongly? It was because his suffering is so great. He feels God Himself is waging war against him, leaving him helpless.
Does the wild donkey bray when he has grass, or the ox low over his fodder? Can that which is tasteless be eaten without salt, or is there any taste in the juice of the mallow? My appetite refuses to touch them; they are as food that is loathsome to me.
(Job 6:5-7)

Complaining in his situation is as natural as a hungry animal making noise, or someone rejecting bland food. It needs something to make it bearable – salt for the food, complaining for the pain. While this is far from a good attitude, it is an understandable one.
"Oh that I might have my request, and that God would fulfill my hope, that it would please God to crush me, that he would let loose his hand and cut me off! This would be my comfort; I would even exult in pain unsparing, for I have not denied the words of the Holy One. What is my strength, that I should wait? And what is my end, that I should be patient? Is my strength the strength of stones, or is my flesh bronze? Have I any help in me, when resource is driven from me?
(Job 6:8-13)

Job again prays for death, and says he could die in peace, because he knows that He has not betrayed God. But, he asks, why should I have to endure this any longer? I am not invincible, and I am not an unfeeling statue, he announces. I am a human being, weak, frail, and unable to take much more. When his resources are gone, he has nothing – there is no power in himself, and all of the power he had externally had fled.
"He who withholds kindness from a friend forsakes the fear of the Almighty. My brothers are treacherous as a torrent-bed, as torrential streams that pass away, which are dark with ice, and where the snow hides itself. When they melt, they disappear; when it is hot, they vanish from their place. The caravans turn aside from their course; they go up into the waste and perish. The caravans of Tema look, the travelers of Sheba hope. They are ashamed because they were confident; they come there and are disappointed.
(Job 6:14-20)

He now describes the kinds of friends he has. They are like a gully, a river that is promising in the spring when the ice first melts, but dries up in the summer when it is really needed. His friends had all of the value of such a dry river bed to a caravan from a distant land – everything they had counted on leaves them stranded, and all of their past confidence leaves them all the more helpless. Most people have friends like this, who seem so helpful when times are good, but who vanish when the heat is turned up. Job feels like his friends have turned out this way.
Have I said, 'Make me a gift'? Or, 'From your wealth offer a bribe for me'? Or, 'Deliver me from the adversary's hand'? Or, 'Redeem me from the hand of the ruthless'?
(Job 6:22-23)

His friends’ insulting behavior is made all the worse because he did not ask them for anything. They came voluntarily and sat with him, and when he discussed his pain, they reacted harshly. Their advice would have been bad enough if solicited, but seemed to him all the worse unbidden. Job is not being entirely fair here, but he is sincere.
"Teach me, and I will be silent; make me understand how I have gone astray. How forceful are upright words! But what does reproof from you reprove? Do you think that you can reprove words, when the speech of a despairing man is wind? You would even cast lots over the fatherless, and bargain over your friend. "But now, be pleased to look at me, for I will not lie to your face. Please turn; let no injustice be done. Turn now; my vindication is at stake. Is there any injustice on my tongue? Cannot my palate discern the cause of calamity?
(Job 6:24-30)

Job throws down the gauntlet. If he has really sinned, let them come out and say something specifically. Their insinuations are meaningless to a man in his desperate situation. If they could imply things about him now, they are the same kinds of people who would place bets on an orphan or a friend. He challenges them to look at him, and give him a specific challenge to defend himself against. What has he said? What has he done? Nothing – he knows the taste of undeserved trouble, and this is it. He moves in to describe that suffering again in detail:
"Has not man a hard service on earth, and are not his days like the days of a hired hand? Like a slave who longs for the shadow, and like a hired hand who looks for his wages, so I am allotted months of emptiness, and nights of misery are apportioned to me. When I lie down I say, 'When shall I arise?' But the night is long, and I am full of tossing till the dawn. My flesh is clothed with worms and dirt; my skin hardens, then breaks out afresh. My days are swifter than a weaver's shuttle and come to their end without hope.
(Job 7:1-6)

He feels like a laborer on the earth, working hard for a time until he cannot handle any more. Worse than that, he feels like a slave who doesn’t even have any payment to look forward to, and can only long for a little relief of shade before he must work again. When he sleeps, he thinks about when he will get up, as he lies in pain. When he is awake, he is like a woman sewing, quickly finishing with one part and cutting the thread again. I believe many seasons of life are like this, where it seems like you can’t win for losing, and like you can never get ahead. We push through those times because we know they will be over soon enough, and can often place a specific time on when that will be. When there is no hope of release, we are instead trapped in despair. Here is Job’s real problem with his suffering at this point – he sees no way out. He is living a life without hope, when hope is the currency of the human soul. The times when you have felt the worst in your life were not when you had the worst problems, but rather when you could not imagine how they would end.
"Remember that my life is a breath; my eye will never again see good. The eye of him who sees me will behold me no more; while your eyes are on me, I shall be gone. As the cloud fades and vanishes, so he who goes down to Sheol does not come up; he returns no more to his house, nor does his place know him anymore.
(Job 7:7-10)

Broken in faith, Job switches seamlessly to a prayer. He thinks of the brevity of human life and anticipates his own death. He will be gone, and will never experience good again. He imagines that death must be a place of total meaninglessness, where he is with his friends one moment, watched by God, and the next gone, never to experience anything good again, separated even from God. The still darkness and thick air of a tomb is all that awaits him – no one who goes down to Sheol (the grave) will ever leave again! Even if he did, he is so soon forgotten that no one would recognize him. For Job’s clouded eyes, there is no hope of release even in the only thing he wants – death.
"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. Am I the sea, or a sea monster, that you set a guard over me? When I say, 'My bed will comfort me, my couch will ease my complaint,' then you scare me with dreams and terrify me with visions, so that I would choose strangling and death rather than my bones. I loathe my life; I would not live forever. Leave me alone, for my days are a breath.
(Job 7:11-16)

Is he a mythical monster, that he must be guarded? Why are they bothering him? His anguish is too deep. When he imagines sleep, Eliphaz terrifies him with his talk of spirits, and Job feels there is no retreat. He would rather be destroyed than have strength again, and the idea of living forever disgusts him. It is easy to daydream of eternal life when things are good, but when everything is crushing calamity, there is nothing but the desire of an end, even if that too is hopeless. He asks to be left along again, using the singular, not plural verb. It is God he has been speaking to, not his friends.
What is man, that you make so much of him, and that you set your heart on him, visit him every morning and test him every moment? How long will you not look away from me, nor leave me alone till I swallow my spit? If I sin, what do I do to you, you watcher of mankind? Why have you made me your mark? Why have I become a burden to you? Why do you not pardon my transgression and take away my iniquity? For now I shall lie in the earth; you will seek me, but I shall not be."
(Job 7:17-21)

Job asks a very provoking question of God. Why do you care what I do? Why can’t you just leave me alone? He sounds like the demons here: “What do you have to do with us?”[1] Job feels like God is picking on him, and will never leave him alone. It seems unfair to him that he is subjected to the kind of scrutiny which God brings. He feels that someone as insignificant as he is should just be allowed to die and cease. That is how deep the grief of our friend Job has gone. In Hebrew, the speech ends with something like: You look – but I am not! Imagine the pause before anyone spoke up again. He believes that God looks for him now, only to abandon him in death. What a hopeless existence and a despairing way of looking at the world. What can we possible draw from this?

I do not want to remove the tension that the author has created for us too easily. There is much pain here and some of what Job says makes sense. He cannot, with his limited understanding of the future, understand how God will make his suffering right, while we know much about the afterlife. Unlike Job, who was confident in his despair that no one ever returned from the grave (and in Job’s day, no one had, even temporarily), we place our confidence in the One who did. Job felt he was under a greater burden than he could handle, and every resource was taken from Him, but we know we have a resource which will never leave us.[2] But I think the best response is one of perspective. Job marvels that God would put him and his sin under such unfair scrutiny even in his weakness, but clearer heads must prevail, and we must see an inspired writer, guided by God to pen a greater truth. While Job and the Psalmist may never have read each other, they echo the same thought. Read the last part of Job’s speech and then the 8th Psalm.
Psalm 8:1–9 (ESV)
O Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens.
Out of the mouth of babies and infants,
you have established strength because of your foes,
to still the enemy and the avenger.
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?
Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor.
You have given him dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under his feet,
all sheep and oxen,
and also the beasts of the field,
the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea,
whatever passes along the paths of the seas.
O Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!


It’s all in how you look at it. Job saw his weakness, suffering and God’s attention as burdens. The Psalmist looks at the same answer and sees God’s greatness and love. The difference is how you look at it.
http://deblogs.depaul.edu/guest/Documents/boat-land-perspective1.jpeg




[1] Mark 1:24.
[2] Hebrews 13:5.

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