Zophar’s words have cut crudely and deeply, and what remains amazing to me is how Job never seems to bite back. He keeps his heart and mind on the issue at hand, and not on their personalities. How unlike him I am. As we might expect, Job does his best to answer his friend’s accusations, but he refrains from ever falling into the trap of ad hominem attacks in return. He will disagree with them – vigorously, but never resorts to name calling or personal invective. And yes, he will even express his disappointment in them and tell them flatly they are not comforters at all. But all the while he listens. He considers. He dialogs. He remains open even when their words seem not only to do him no good, but actually inflict further injury. No wonder James will be led by the Spirit many centuries later to note: “As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.” (James 5:10–11) Job remains an example to be marveled at.
Job’s third response stays on point: Can’t you see this is God’s hand? I’m not stupid. I’ve searched my heart, I’ve confessed, I’ve repented and sought forgiveness for – whatever. But the suffering remains. This is what I don’t understand. This is what I want God to explain to me.
His response, raw and authentic unfolds like this:
12:1-6 / Man! Do you all think you know everything or what? I’m not stupid you know. I’m in all this pain and all you can do is mock me?
12:7-25 / No one can deny this is God at work – NO ONE! And hear me, I don’t deny God’s greatness in any way in all of this. He is marvelous beyond words. But something is going on here outside of our ordinary way of understanding things.
13:1-3 / Listen, Zophar, I know as much about how God moves and acts as you do. But there is something yet to be explored and understood in all of this we are not getting to yet.
13:4-6 / Won’t you allow for any mystery in this? No! And so all your counsel is worthless! Worse than useless, it adds to my suffering – listen to me!
13:7-19 / God doesn’t need a made up defense. I will own the conundrum here and yet I do not fear it somehow makes Him out to be bad. He can kill me in this, and I will still trust who and what He is. And with that, I will still argue I didn’t bring this on myself, no matter what you might say. You’ve got no proof for your case anyway.
13:20-28 / Prayer: Please God, help me understand. Why all of this? Why? It doesn’t make sense. You don’t make mankind to just to torture mankind. I know you better than that.
14:1-7 / You made us. And you know we are sinful no matter what. So why not just let us live without this kind of sorrow?
14:8- / Cut down a tree and it will grow again. But we are mortal. We can’t start over. Given our mortality – a situation like this is just meaningless pain without hope of a new day. It leaves us with nothing but mourning. Why?
And isn’t that the question we are plagued with in so many of our own sufferings? Indeed. But God has something higher for Job to grasp than why. Something higher for his friends to grasp than why. Something higher for US to grasp than why. He is slowly but surely reshaping their entire theological system, to move beyond a mere cause-and-effect universe, to one that is Christ centered. To one that has its plans and purposes hidden in the mystery of redemption, and outside the scope of just this incident or that circumstance or some other horizontal event. He is moving us to consider a Christ in whose deity, incarnation, death, resurrection and return is found the reasons behind everything. And that takes a much broader view than most of us ever truly conceive of.