A Series on Job
The Reverend Tasha Blackburn
October 22, 2017
Before we moved here, I had about a 40-minute commute to the church I served. It turns out that Tasha + commute = lots of speeding tickets. I even got one on my way to worship. It was about 7:45 in the morning and the kids were strapped into their car seats in the back. The police officer pulled me over. He came to the window, took my license and registration and headed back to his car. While he was gone, I tried to keep my mouth shut. I tried, but bad words kept slipping out anyway! In my head, I would think, “Don’t say anything out loud! You have big ears in the car!” But out loud I would end up saying something very different.
The officer gave me a ticket and we headed down the road. It wasn’t 10 minutes later, we opened the door to the church nursery and both children ran to the babysitter yelling: “A policeman pulled mom over and you won’t believe it. She said, “$&#$&%#$!”
Thankfully, I don’t know how it works in Arkansas, but, in Illinois, if you got 3 tickets in 12 months you lost your license for a year. If you were worried this might become a possibility, you could go to traffic court and speak to the judge. He would hear your reasons, you would pay extra, and he would strike the ticket from your record. I must confess I sat in traffic court several times over those years. I dreaded it every time.
I hated the thought of standing in front of the judge. I knew I wasn’t going to lie. I was guilty. There was no way around that. I would sit there frustrated with myself and mad about the consequence and intimidated by his authority. I got so nervous, by the time it was my turn, that I usually said something like, “I did it, sir, and I’m sorry. Do whatever you want. I deserve it!”
Job is standing in a courtroom of his own. But he is not dreading the experience. He is determined to stand in front of his judge. And here is where he flips the whole thing on its head. Job is not there to confess to the judge. He is there because he wants the judge put on trial. “I will lay my case before him,” Job says. In this courtroom, Job is filing suit against the judge himself.
Why? What does he hope to gain? What reparations does he feel he can win? It is not a settlement Job is after. He doesn’t want ANYTHING from God. He simply wants to be heard by God and he wants God to say something back. For Job, being heard would already be deliverance. “I would know that he would pay attention to me…and he would answer me…and I could understand what he said to me.” In this suit he has filed, he just wants to know his life matters enough that God would listen to him and would respond.
It is an astounding thing to read that Job wants to bring God—the judge of the nations—down from his bench and put him in the dock. But the scriptures are full of cases where God is questioned like a witness on the stand. What is Psalm 13’s “How long, O Lord, will you forget me forever?”, if not a cross-examination of God? What is Jesus’ cry from the cross? They are suits filed against God. The book of Malachi is the same. In this book the people have been in exile for 70 years; their Temple in Jerusalem has been destroyed, and they have nothing. So they decide to put God on trial. The people want to blame God for their troubles and they want him held to account for all that has happened to them.
It may be a surprise to realize we have scriptures that cross-examine God. There are two important takeaways around this. The first is to remember that Job remains righteous throughout all of this. This is how he puts it: “My foot has held fast to his steps; I have kept his way and have not turned aside…when he has tried me, I came out like gold.” And God agrees with Job. God knows that Job is righteous and none of his actions have changed that. We need to expand what we think a full relationship with God looks like. Job rails at God, he questions God, wants to put God on trial; and even in these actions, he remains faithful. God gets very upset over some of the things we do. But arguing with him and being angry with him—those don’t bother him much.
Job does not dread the courtroom he has instigated because he wants, more than anything, to know how God would answer him. We all might ask the same thing. What is God’s answer to suffering? How would he answer us? In Malachi’s case, God puts the people back in the witness box and asks them if they are really up for a trial. In Job’s case, God speaks out of a whirlwind in words we will hear next week. But we have another answer and God has already given it.
When the people filed suit against him in the book of Malachi, God was upset. He could have punished them. He could have condemned them (you can tell he kind of wants to), but he doesn’t. Instead, God promises this: “Behold, I am sending my messenger; and he will prepare the way before me.” There is a reason the book of Malachi is the last thing we read before we turn the page to the gospel of Matthew and read, “Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way…” It is because we know the promised messenger came in Jesus.
And that is the second takeaway: Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection have many meanings for us and for this world, and one of them is that Jesus is God’s response to the suit we filed against him. He could have condemned us. He could have punished us. But instead, the judge stepped down from his bench so that he could be judged. In Jesus, God set aside his authority, set aside his power, and bore judgment on his shoulders.
“What is God’s answer to suffering?”, we might ask. How would he answer us? His answer comes in Jesus. As N.T. Wright puts it: “The nations of the world got together to pronounce judgment on God for all the evils in the world, only to realize with a shock that God had already served his sentence.” The Apostle Paul puts it like this, “He became sin, who knew no sin…”
So, go ahead and question him. God wants a real relationship with you and that give-and-take is part of it. But also know that he has already answered your question. He answered it by sending his only Son—by sending himself—not to condemn you but to save you. This answer changes your suit against him. And it also changes any suit he has against you. For God is still the judge. He never left the bench completely. But because of his answer in Jesus, he sits on his judgment seat as a lamb who has been slain. That is how Revelation describes the One who judges the world. When it is our turn, we stand before him, knowing we are guilty. There is no way around that. We say, “I’m sorry. Do whatever you want!” Then we realize that he has. He has done exactly what he wanted to do. He tried someone else in our place. The judge became the condemned in order to become the judge again so that the suit against us could be thrown out. Amen.