God in crisis

The book of Job kicks off with an interesting back and forth.

  • Job – living a serene life of deserved blessing.
  • Divine court – Peacefully going about business as usual, but on this occasion finds itself disturbed.
  • Job – The Courts disturbance manifests itself in suffering, eventually plateauing.
  • Divine court – Serenity and peace was restored but is again further disturbed.
  • Job – the court’s disturbance is felt once again, plateauing in such a way to give us the rest of the book.

Both locations, in Job 1-2, are the site of an interruption, a disturbance.

We see this as the settings shift.

To elaborate, first, we witness Job as an upstanding gentleman whose life is serene, centred around the standard deuteronomistic moral code of obedience = blessings, disobedience = sanctions.

This is reflected in the serenity we witness initially in the Divine court, where God is especially proud of this gentleman.

A spanner, however, gets thrown in the works. The satan asks a question that ruptures,

“Does Job fear God for nothing?” (1:9)

In a book that explores what humanity’s identity as those made in the image of God entails, and Job’s discovery of what it means in his case particularly, v9 is the moment when something that God took for granted (Job’s uprightness) is thrown into question – “What if Job is not genuine?” Walter Brueggemann writes,

In this exchange in chapter 1, Yahweh values the old order of sanctions and confidently Job as an exemplar of one who is “blameless and upright.” But doubt clouds the celebration of Job in the courts of Yahweh, doubt about the innocence, disinterest, and legitimacy of Job’s obedience. Indeed, obedience, in the wonderment of Yahweh’s court, is not enough. Genuine obedience must include right motivation as well as right action… From Yahweh’s side, the issue is one of trust and authenticity. Is the relation between Yahweh and Job one of calculation, of a formal, mechanical sort that can be managed from either side? Or is the relation of obedience one of uncomplicated, singular devotion, driven by affection? For our purpose, what counts most is the delicacy of the question posed for and entertained by Yahweh. Obedience – the kind Moses, the prophets, and the sages had urged – os not enough. If it were enough, Satan’s question would not have turned out to be so serious and mesmerizing.

The poem of Job thus begins with two parties to the relationship, Yahweh and Job, now in great wonderment about each other. Job asks: Is God reliable? And Job, in his rage, entertains the option that Yahweh is not. Yahweh asks: Is Job serious? And the heavenly counsel entertains in wonderment the possibility that Job may not be… Here both parties have become suspicious of the other.

As all of this is excavated and explored in Job’s dialogue with his friends, we begin to see something of Job’s seriousness and integrity. This in turn pinacles at 21:7, in the middle of a narrative in which Job honestly and uncompromisingly insists on his uprightness and calls out an injustice that God does nothing about.

Why do the wicked live on,
growing old and increasing in power? (21:7)

Central to the book of Job in all of this is certainly Job himself, but also, rather interestingly, is this crisis in the events of the Divine court which Job is not aware of. Job doesn’t know that Yahweh is in crisis, Job doesn’t know of God’s own life. Brueggemann notes,

The other dramatic element that sets up the action is that Job, who asks the question in 21:7, does not know about the conversation around 1:9. Yahweh is summoned to a conversation with Job, to which Job is apparently entitled. But Yahweh is also engaged in another conversation, one that concerns Yahweh’s own life, about which Job knows nothing and to which Job has no access… Yahweh has Yahweh’s own life to live. That life may alter the possible answers to Job’s questions, but Job knows nothing of that.

It is in this sense the poem of Job is instigated with a God in crisis, who experiences the contingency of relationship, feels the inaccessibility of the other, and the insecurity relationship entails. Job is unaware of this crisis but as the book proceeds and eventually concludes, if we follow this crisis – God’s as well as Job’s – through, an accord is achieved in which both parties have reached a new level of relationship with one another.