The Voice of Job

O that thou wouldst hide me in the grave, that thou wouldst keep me secret, until thy wrath be past, that thou wouldst appoint me a set time, and remember me! If a man die, shall he live again? All the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change come. Thou shalt call, and I will answer thee: thou wilt have a desire to the work of thine hands.

— Job 14: 13-15

Job cherishes as his one hope the idea that, if he might but lay his case clear before him, God would not fail to see how the thing was, and would explain the matter to him; the man in the ashes would know that God has not closed his eyes, or—horror of all horrors—ceased to be just! Surely the Just would set the mind of his justice-loving creature at rest! His friends, good men, but of the pharisaic type—that is, men who would pay their court to God, instead of coming into his presence as children; men anxious to appease God rather than trust in him; men who would rather receive salvation from God, than God their salvation—these would persuade Job to the confession that he was a hypocrite, insisting that such things could not have come upon him but because of wickedness, for some secret vileness. They grow angry when he refuses to be persuaded. They insist on his hypocrisy, he on his righteousness. And indeed, God has said thus to the accuser of men: “Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man?” God gives Job into Satan’s hand with confidence in the result; and at the end of the trial approves of what Job has said concerning himself. But the very appearance of God is enough to make Job turn against himself: his part was to have trusted God altogether, in spite of every appearance, in spite of very reality! He sees that though God has not been punishing him for his sins, yet is he far from what he ought to be, and must become. “Behold,” he says, “I am vile; what shall I answer thee? I will lay mine hand upon my mouth.”

Commentary

by Jess Lederman

How do we deal with problem of pain, the problem of evil? Any thinking person wrestles with reconciling the goodness of God and the existence of horrific evil, and Job is no exception. I love the gritty reality of the Book of Job, the debunking of a naive notion that suffering is simply the result of sin, but it used to trouble me that at the end of the story, Job regains what he lost (and more). After all, too often in this life, people are struck by random tragedy and never recover, but end their lives in pain. However, to be a Christian is to have a deep and abiding belief in Happy Endings. As Paul writes in Romans 8:18, "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us."  To the ancient Hebrews, with their hazy notions of the afterlife, happy endings needed to take place on this side of the Great Divide; that we will delight in the New Jerusalem only in the life to come is, in the big picture, a mere detail. 

Whatever anguish we find ourselves in, when we compare our own situation to that of Job, the revelation of God in Jesus Christ makes all the difference. This was what I had in mind when I wrote the following passage in my novel-in-progress, Hearts Set Free. My fictional character, David Gold, is in a trench in WWI with an extraordinary figure from real life, the Belgian physicist and priest, Georges Lemaitre, who as a young man was fighting in Flanders Fields when the Germans launched the first gas attack recorded in the history of warfare. David has just asked Georges which path he will choose, the priesthood or science, and Lemaitre responds:
     “But why should I choose? I shall do both—I told my father so at the age of nine.”
     “Huh! And how did he react to that?”
     “Patted me on the head and said he’d be proud.” Lemaitre blushed.  “They are practical people, my mother and father, but very much love the church.” 
     “You’re a lucky man,” said David. “If I’d said something like that to my father, he’d either have sneered at me or whipped me, depending on the take from the numbers that week.” Seeing Georges’ puzzled look, he added, “C’est un escroc, un filou.” It felt good to describe his father with the French the Moroccans had taught him for swindlers, rogues, tricksters, and crooks.  
     “I am fortunate, yes,” said Lemaitre. “But we have a perfect, loving Father, both of us.” 
     “I wish I could believe that with all my heart,” said David. 
     “Ah, but you must, you must!—‘This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.’ ‘This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.’ You have seen death and horror, and so you doubt? I think perhaps I have seen worse than you. Last August, my little brother Jacques and I were making plans to bicycle through the Tyrol; two months later we were fighting house-to-house, not two hundred kilometers from our hometown. I have fought in these fields for the past six months, and it is all savagery and madness. But we are not the first to suffer, nor will we be the last. Only, I pray, let me face my death like St. Ignatius awaiting the lions.” 
     Both men instinctively turned their heads in the direction of the German lines. 
     “Did you witness the gas attack?” asked David. Ashamed of his own doubt, and envious of Georges’ faith—which only added to his sense of shame—he was unable to respond directly to his companion’s words. “It must have happened just before we arrived.” 
    “I saw enough. We came to reinforce the French position after the slaughter. They say over five thousand French and Canadians died; I think closer to ten. You could see that men had clawed their own faces, trying to breathe; some had shot themselves to escape the agony. Nothing had survived; not the horses, chickens, rabbits, or rats. Everywhere I looked there was only death. And the strange scent of the chlorine gas, like pineapple and pepper, lingering on the few bushes that were left.”
      “What drives me to my wits end,” said David, “is how to reconcile something so evil with the sovereignty of God. Those men who were gassed—did He dream their tortured deaths before the beginning of the world?”
     “Nothing evil is of God. He gave us the gift of free will, that we might love—love each other and love Him. This gift came with an incalculable cost; for it allowed sin, our sin, and that could be dealt with only by the Cross. Yet will He bring about good from every act of evil, even from all of this—” Lemaitre gestured to the devastated landscape that lay beyond their trench—“and there, David, you find the sovereignty of God. Most of all, He is Emmanuel, He is with us; He is the fourth in the furnace. He is right here, with you and me, even now.”