Posted: 23 Feb 2011 11:00 PM PST
IN THE SECOND PART OF HIS REPLY TO Eliphaz's last speech, Job begins (Job 24) with a pair of rhetorical questions: "Why does the Almighty not set times for judgment? Why must those who know him look in vain for such days?" (Job 24:1). The argument is not that God never rights the books, but that meanwhile a great deal of evil takes place without any prompt accounting, and righteous people suffer without any prompt vindication.
So Job begins another long list of representative evils, frequently unrequited in the short haul, yet commonly observed; and of public injustices (Job 24:2–17). The wicked move boundary markers, steal cattle, abuse the poor and needy, put the poor into indentured slavery, rebel against the light, and feed their sexual lust. Meanwhile the poor barely get by, eking out a living from the wasteland. They glean in the vineyards of the wicked, they are often cold and wet, they carry the sheaves of others and go naked themselves. "The groans of the dying rise from the city, and the souls of the wounded cry out for help," Job contends. "But God charges no one with wrongdoing" (Job 24:12).
The next big section of this chapter (Job 24:18–24) is something of a puzzle. At first glance Job seems to be advancing the kind of argument his miserable comforters prefer: God answers the wicked in kind. Some scholars have suggested the passage has been misplaced; others think Job is deploying massive irony and means exactly the reverse. Yet perhaps the explanation is simpler. Job is not denying that justice will be done someday. To do that he really would have to change his view of God in very substantial ways. But Job acknowledges that the wicked will finally face judgment. They die; they are not remembered. God is not blind; he "may let them rest in a feeling of security, but his eyes are on their ways" (Job 24:23). So in a while they are gone (Job 24:24). All this Job acknowledges: "If this is not so, who can prove me false and reduce my words to nothing?" (Job 24:25). But in the context of the first part of the chapter, the question remains: "Why does the Almighty not set times for judgment?" In other words, why does he wait until the end? Granted that he is the God of justice and that justice will finally be done, why wait so long for it, the wicked becoming more wicked and the victims still suffering?
It is a searing question. Part of the answer emerges later in the book. But at the very least we should acknowledge that instant judgment on every sin would have most of us in pretty constant pain, yelping like Pavlovian dogs to avoid the hurt, but without inner transformation. Do you really want what Job seems to be asking for?
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