Posted: 20 Feb 2011 11:00 PM PST
THE SECOND SPEECH OF ZOPHAR (JOB 20) brings to a conclusion the second round from the three "miserable comforters." Job's response (Job 21) brings the cycle to a close.
If they cannot give him any other consolation, Job says, the least they can do is listen while he replies (Job 21:2). When he is finished, they can continue their mocking (Job 21:3).
The heart of Job's response is thought-provoking to anyone concerned with morality and justice: "Why do the wicked live on, growing old and increasing in power?" (Job 21:7). Not only is there no obvious pattern of temporal judgment on the transparently wicked, but all too frequently the reverse is the case: the wicked may be the most prosperous of the lot. "Their bulls never fail to breed; their cows calve and do not miscarry" (Job 21:10). They have lots of healthy children, they sing and dance. While they display total disinterest in God (Job 21:14), they enjoy prosperity (Job 21:13). It is rare that they are snuffed out (Job 21:17). As for popular proverbs such as "God stores up a man's punishment for his sons" (Job 21:19), Job is unimpressed; the truly wicked do not care if they leave their families behind in misery, provided they are comfortable themselves (Job 21:21). That is why the wicked need to "drink of the wrath of the Almighty" (Job 21:20) themselves—and that is not what usually happens. True, God knows everything; Job does not want to deny God's knowledge and justice (Job 21:22). But facts should not be suppressed. Once the rich and the poor have died, they face the same decomposition (Job 21:23–26). Where is the justice in that?
Even allowing for Job's exaggerations—after all, some wicked people do suffer temporal judgments—his point should not be dismissed. If the tallies of blessing and punishment are calculated solely on the basis of what takes place in this life, this is a grossly unfair world. Millions of relatively good people die in suffering, poverty, and degradation; millions of relatively evil people live full lives and die in their sleep. We can all tell the stories that demonstrate God's justice in this life, but what about the rest of the stories?
The tit-for-tat morality system of Job's three interlocutors cannot handle the millions of tough cases. Moreover, like them, Job does not want to impugn God's justice, but facts are facts: it is not a virtue, even in the cause of defending God's justice, to distort the truth and twist reality.
In the course of time it would become clearer that ultimate justice is meted out after death—and that the God of justice knows injustice himself, not only out of his omniscience, but out of his experience on a cross.
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