Posted: 22 Feb 2011 11:00 PM PST
WE HAVE HEARD TWO FULL ROUNDS of speeches from the three "miserable comforters," plus responses from Job. There is one more round, a truncated and imbalanced one. Eliphaz speaks and Job replies (Job 22–24); Bildad speaks very briefly, and Job responds at great length (Job 25–31), with extraordinary sweep and fervor. The comforters have nothing new to say, and are winding down. Job's persistent defense of his integrity, though it does not convince them, grinds them into sullen silence.
Eliphaz's last speech (Job 22), though it extends the limits of his poetic imagery, does not extend the argument; it merely restates it. God is so unimaginably great, says Eliphaz, that he cannot derive any benefit from human beings. So why should Job think that the Almighty is impressed with his righteousness? That same greatness guarantees that God's knowledge and justice are perfect. If so, Job's sufferings are not groundless: God has winkled out Job's hidden sins—sins that Eliphaz tries to expose by shots in the dark.
While he responds with some arguments he has used before, Job embarks on a new line of thought (Job 23). He does not now charge God with injustice but with absence, with inaccessibility: "If only I knew where to find him; if only I could go to his dwelling!" (Job 23:3). This is not a longing to escape and go to heaven; it is a passionate and frustrated desire to present his case before the Almighty (Job 23:4). Job is not frightened that God will respond with terrifying power and crush him (Job 23:6); he is frightened, rather, that God will simply ignore him. However, no geographical search Job can undertake will find God (Job 23:8–9).
Job's words are quite unlike the modern literary protest that God is so absent that he must be dead. Job is not "waiting for Godot." His faith in God is at one level unwavering. He is perfectly convinced that God knows where Job is, and knows all about the fundamental integrity of his life (Job 23:9–11). This integrity is not the bravado of a self-defined independent; Job has carefully followed the words of God, cherishing them more than his daily food (Job 23:12).
That is why God's absence is not only puzzling, but terrifying (Job 23:13–17). Job's continued confidence in God's sovereignty and knowledge are precisely what he finds so terrifying, for the empirical evidence is that, at least in this life, the just can be crushed and the wicked may escape. The "comforters" claim that Job should be afraid of God's justice; Job himself is frightened by God's absence.
When such days come, it is vital to remember the end of the book—the end of the book of Job, and the end of the Bible.
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