The book of Job is the subject of reflections from August to October. Relying on the Revised Common Lectionary’s readings for Tuesdays, I draw on nominated passages from Job to offer us encouragement and to guide our living week by week.
Job 12: 1-6 (NIV)
1 Then Job replied:
2 “Doubtless you are the people, and wisdom will die with you!
3 But I have a mind as well as you; I am not inferior to you. Who does not know all these things?
4 I have become a laughing-stock to my friends, though I called upon God and he answered – a mere laughing-stock, though righteous and blameless!
5 Men at ease have contempt for misfortune as the fate of those whose feet are slipping.
6 The tents of marauders are undisturbed, and those who provoke God are secure – those who carry their god in their hands.”
Bringing to a close the first round of address-and-response speeches, this reply from Job followed Zophar’s first speech. It is evident that Job was gaining no comfort from the words of his friends. His scathing retort has accused them of claiming to have all wisdom when they have in fact misrepresented Job’s case before God.
It appears that Zophar held the mistaken view that all suffering is a punishment from God for sin for, in chapter 11, he said, “if you put away the sin that is in your hand and allow no evil to dwell in your tent, then you will lift up your face without shame; you will stand firm and without fear” (11: 14, 15).
If sin produces suffering, according to the logic of Job’s friends, then Job’s suffering must be a consequence of an undeclared and unconfessed sin. They considered the suffering Job was enduring to be proof of his sinful nature. Jesus was to encounter similar attitudes as recorded in the Gospel of Luke (13: 1-5):
1 Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. 2 Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? 3 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. 4 Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them – do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”
The book of Job teaches us that while sin may, and often does, lead to suffering, suffering as a regrettable feature of the human condition is not necessarily related to sin.
The other side to this coin is that not all who sin receive punishment in this life. This is the observation in verses 5 and 6 of Job’s reply to Zophar. Those who provoke God seem to be secure in this life! To Job there appeared to be an absence of justice and we might share this observation today. But we, like Job, are not given access to the entire situation, nor to the working of the mind of God. What seems now to be a mystery will, some day, be revealed. For us as for Job it is essential to remain firm in our faith, despite outwards appearances, and to trust in the Creator of heaven and earth.