Good morning! Yesterday I wrote about three stages of faith according to Brian McLaren’s “Naked Spirituality”—Simplicity, Complexity, and Perplexity. Job and his friends demonstrate these stages, and today in Job 38-42 we *finally* hear God’s response to Job. One way to describe the wisdom in it is with McLaren’s fourth stage, Harmony.
God’s critique of Job’s position basically comes down to this: you don’t understand all that you think you do. God’s reply to Job (a fulfilment of Job’s request) consists of chapter after chapter of questions about what Job knows (not) in the natural world. We are to infer that God connects to and supports untold number of things about which human beings know nothing at all. It may sound like God is trying to shame Job, but I prefer to think that this is friendly banter from Job’s Creator. The reply points out that there are a million things Job doesn’t know, things he can count on just happening because he takes for granted that God is behind, underneath and within all the natural processes of the world. The elemental wisdom of creation is not found in books or debates, but arises from the inward places and creation itself. When Job replies in a brief sentence to declare his lack of knowledge about all the matters of the world, he adds that speaking further would be a mistake. He is overwhelmed by the magnitude of God in creation, and perhaps perceives a mistake in challenging God. Job is not in a place of knowledge and therefore able to rightly judge God’s actions, because Job has no sense of all that God is about. Nevertheless, Job is not crushed, but vindicated, by his persistent appeals to God’s righteousness.
Brian McLaren suggests that while the Stage of Perplexity (where Job has been) is a perilous and disheartening soul space, gentle wisdom with gracious accompaniment can lead through alienation to a place of recognizing harmony and blessedness on the other side of complexity. Once one is skeptical of skepticism, critical of critique, and cynical about cynicism, the deck may be cleared to reveal some reliable simplicities again. This is a place with fewer rules, but whose grand essentials lead to more abundant life: Seek God’s realm. Love God, neighbor, and self. Embrace diversity. Treasure creation. These are not guarantees for a turbulence-free flight through life, but more often than not they make life better.
In the midst of the whirlwind out of which God replies (or perhaps in reflecting on it later), Job can find assurance in the fact that God sustains all the earth. He can also be confident in the fact that not a word of his has been lost to God, who has been listening and who does eventually show up, however belatedly. This reflects the paradoxes of “Stage Four” spirituality, where God is knowable in part yet mysterious, present yet transcendent, and just yet merciful. Job is nudged into depth, awe and wonder at creation, connected with humility before his Creator. God does indeed have the whole world under care, though it’s not necessarily immediate and tender attention to every need simultaneously.
The only thing further that we read about Job’s response is that he is satisfied at having seen—rather than only hearing about—the ways of God. Beyond that, the final chapter is all about divine provision. God criticizes the friends for having uttered false testimony about God, but their sacrifices and Job’s prayers assure that these three are not condemned. (No word on Elihu.) Job receives twice as much back as he has lost, plus the genuine comfort of family and friends. Note in the final paragraph that Job’s daughters are named and not his sons, plus that they’re given an inheritance along with the sons. I’m not sure what significance that bears, but no doubt other commentators have seen something in the detail. Job eventually dies in very old age after seeing generations of children and grandchildren. This is the biblical equivalent of “happily ever after”. I can’t wait to read what you make of these chapters. Happy reading!
Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is Psalms 1-8. Thanks for reading!