Skeptics Welcome 2: Job Saved My Life

By on Aug 10, 2015

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The book of Job saved my life. I’m only half-joking.

 

As I mentioned previously, I was in college and the bigness of the world came crashing in on me, and through a series of events I still can’t completely explain, my faith just got up and slowly walked out on me. It was as if a fog of doubt and confusion came creeping over me, suffocating my faith little by little. And I went months without going to church, months without uttering a single prayer, months without reading a single word from the Bible…except for Job.

 

We meet Job in chapter 1 and basically learn that he’s a great guy who’s doing everything right and everything is wonderful in his world. But that all changes when Satan burns Job’s world to the ground. This is Job 1-2. Satan destroys everything Job holds dear—his family, his health, his wealth—and Job response is remarkable and yet, curious. You’ve heard it quoted before, Job 1:21: “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed by the name of the Lord. “ As he watches his life burn to the ground, Job praises God.

 

Strangely enough, a lot of people tend to stop reading Job at this point, so they think the moral of the story is something like:

 

“God, sometimes, takes everything from us, but we should praise God anyways, and get over it.”

 

And that might be the moral of Job if Job stopped at chapter 2—but Job doesn’t stop at chapter 2. In fact, the story of Job has barely even begun at chapter 2—there are 40 more chapters to go. And here’s what happens.

 

Job gets tired of pretending—he gets tired of pretending that he’s ok, tired of pretending he’s certain God is wonderful, tired of pretending that it’s all good his life has been burned to the ground. Job unleashes and let’s God have it. He barrages God with doubts and accusations and borderline blasphemies. He says stuff like this…

 

Job 7:11,17-20: “Therefore I will not keep silent—I will speak out of the anguish of my spirit, I will complain in the bitterness of my soul…What is man that you make so much of him, that you give him so much attention, that you examine him every morning and test him every moment? Will you not look away from me for a while and leave me alone so I can swallow my spittle? If I have sinned, what have I done to you, O watcher of men?”

 

Job 9:16-18,20: “If I summoned God and he answered me, I don’t believe he would listen to my voice. For he crushes me with a storm and multiplies my wounds without cause. He will not let me catch my breath, but fills me with bitterness…though I am innocent, he will declare me guilty.”

 

So Job is saying stuff like that, and then he’s got these three friends and every time Job speaks and let’s God have it, they say, “Whoa, whoa, whoa…Job…you can’t say that to the big guy. You can’t talk to God like that. You can’t doubt like that. So, you know, just praise God, don’t doubt, and get over it. Quit causing a scene.”

 

Praise God, don’t doubt, and get over it.

 

So they go round and round, when finally…God shows up…in a whirlwind. And God puts Job in his place—no doubt about it (38:2-3). But what’s really interesting is what happens next. God turns to Job’s friends—his friends who were telling him to praise God, don’t doubt, and get over it—and this happens:

 

“It came about after the Lord had spoken these words to Job, that the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends, because you have not spoken of Me what is right as My servant Job has. Now therefore, take for yourselves seven bulls and seven rams, and go to My servant Job, and offer up a burnt offering for yourselves, and My servant Job will pray for you. For I will accept him so that I may not do with you according to your folly, because you have not spoken of Me what is right, as My servant Job has.” So Eliphaz the Temanite and Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite went and did as the Lord told them; and the Lord accepted Job.” (Job 42:7-9)

 

Did you catch that? God says that Job—the guy who has verbally harassed him for 35 chapters with doubts and accusations—has spoken rightly of God. Whereas Job’s friends—who told Job he can’t talk to God like that, who told Job to praise God, don’t doubt, and get over it—have spoken wrongly of God and God’s wrath is kindled against them. What in the world could this mean? How has Job spoken rightly? He’s said all sorts of terrible and wrong things?

 

Interpreters are often puzzled here, but perhaps Job has spoken rightly (in some measure) in the sense that he had the courage to speak honestly. Job spoke rightly in the sense that he tells God the truth, even when the truth is laced with anger and skepticism. While everybody else is talking about God and insisting Job should just praise God, don’t doubt, and get over it, Job is demanding to talk to God. As Job himself says it with provocative faithfulness: “Though He slay me, I will still hope in him. But nevertheless, I will argue my ways before him.” (Job 13:15)

 

Job saved my faith because he taught me to stop trying to convince myself that I don’t have doubts and start telling the truth about them. He taught me that I don’t have to be afraid of my doubts—that my doubts aren’t a virtue or a vice, they’re not something to be proud of or ashamed of, they don’t make me a saint or a sinner.[1] Job taught me that what really matters is what I do with my doubts. Will I stuff them down and fake it, or will I bring them before God and others and tell the truth about them?

 

The times are changing, and your faith had better learn to change with them. Because if not, you’ll fake it till you get tired of faking it, and then your inner skeptic will win and you’ll give up. Faith evolves or it dies—I’ve seen it again and again.

 

That said, what we learn from Job is that faith’s evolution is really just a return to its roots. Because biblical faith has always been willing to ask the tough questions, to live the doubts, and to wrestle with God. That’s what we do—because we take our faith too seriously not to. We are children of Israel—the people who wrestle with God (Genesis 32).

 

And we don’t demand or expect certainty—because we’re little, bitty humans, living in the universe of a really big God. And on top of that, you don’t need certainty to have faith. All you need is a bit of trust and a willingness to commit and act despite uncertainty. That’s what faith is. As Daniel Taylor says it, “If I doubt and yet still commit, then I have faith. Faith is believing and committing to something despite uncertainty.” And that brings me to one last thing.

 

In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus says we have to become like children if we want to enter into the kingdom…

 

When I was a little boy, I spent most of every day asking my parents questions. And if you’ve got a little boy, it’ll come as no surprise to you that most of my questions were about who would win in a fight: who would win in a fight between dad and Hulk Hogan? Or more paradoxically, who would win in a fight between God and Godzilla? These are the questions that haunt a 5 year old. And this is what kids do with their parents.

 

So it occurs to me that when Jesus tells us we need to become like children if we want to enter into the kingdom, he’s not telling us that we’d better pretend we’re certain, and hide the questions, and fake it. Are you kidding me?—that’s not what kids do.

 

No—rather he’s inviting us, begging us, welcoming us to ask the questions, all the questions, even the big, ugly ones like who would win in a fight between God and Godzilla. That’s what I want my son, Wyatt, to do with me, and I’d be crushed if he thought he had to hide his doubts and questions from me. I want to be the first person he comes to with them, not the last.

 

And this is the childlike trust at the heart of the biblical faith: a willingness to barrage God with all of our questions and doubts…because we love him, and he loves us too, and so…who else are we gonna ask if not our Father who art in heaven?



[1] Hebrews 11:1 and James 1:6-8 are often referred to in order to support the idea that faith is about certainty and doubt is a terrible vice. Hebrews 11:1 is notoriously difficult to translate so I encourage people to simply look at the people of great faith mentioned in chapter 11 and see if their faith included being certain. The answer to that is obvious: no. Abraham, Sarah, and Moses were saints of great faith, but they most certainly were not certain. Read their stories. As to James 1:6-8, I think the vice in view is “double-mindedness” more than doubt. This refers to conflicted loyalties more than epistemological uncertainty.

  • Leighton Flowers

    So good!!! I love this.

  • http://www.esbchaskell.org/ Jay Beerley

    I really like your points of having room for doubts in a life of faith. But I think you’ve left out some key things concerning Job. First of all, his friends were not insisting he needs to get over it. They were insisting that he was RESPONSIBLE for it. It must have been some sin Job had done. Secondly, you kind of just glanced over where God dresses Job down and Job’s reaction to it. God spends 4 chapters saying, “Who are you to question me?” That doesn’t sound like applause. And Job’s response to God was not, “Man, God, I’m glad you’re cool with me accusing you of unrighteous deeds.” This was Job’s response:

    3 Then Job answered the Lord and said:
    4 “Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you?
    I lay my hand on my mouth.
    5 I have spoken once, and I will not answer;
    twice, but I will proceed no further.” (ch. 40)

    There is not certainty in ourselves, but there is certainty in God. You can’t argue that the Bible makes it clear that the Lord NEVER changes. He’s been the same and always will be. That’s why we have hope. Because he is certain. So, why would you argue for a faith that’s changing? If God doesn’t change and your faith does, then God is not what you are putting your faith in. It’s yourself and your perceptions of everything. When God is referring to Job’s speech as right in chapter 42, I think he’s referring to his response in 40, not the things he just chastised Job for and Job repented of later. That wouldn’t make any sense. I do think God doesn’t crush us in our doubts and we can be honest with him in those things. But when they turn to questioning the character of God or sacrificing who God is on the alter of cultural pressure, then you are in chapters 38-42 territory. If our understanding of everything puts the creation at the center over the Creator, then we are living idolatrous lives.

    If simply changing your faith in the midst of doubt is the solution, you haven’t solved anything. You’re just in a constant state of wrongness. Where is there hope in that?

    • Austin Fischer

      Hey Jay…some good thoughts here. First, I see no reason to deny that Job’s friends were insisting he was responsible for it AND should get over it. They are related—he should get over it because he deserved it. As Eliphaz says, Job is being “impatient” (4:5). The fact that their first reaction to Job’s diatribe of misery is to lecture him on how he deserved it and is being impatient is also a suggestion to accept culpability and get over it.

      As to Job’s speaking rightly, I think the reading you’ve suggested is a bit “flat” and can’t fully account for the complexity of Job. First, it has a difficult time making sense of God’s rebuke of Job’s friends. If Job’s speaking rightly is simply his repenting of everything he’s said in humility before the massive divine mystery because he shouldn’t have spoken to God like that, well, that’s basically what Job’s friends have been telling him to do the whole time. I think your reading makes for an awkward parallelism—Job is being condemned for daring to speak to God like that and Job’s friends are being condemned for condemning Job for talking to God like that. I suppose you could say Job’s friends are being condemned for saying Job was responsible but God neither God nor the narrator ever gives a nod in that direction in chapter 42. I think Job’s speaking rightly includes his repentance, but is not limited to it—it also includes the whole process we’ve seen play out in Job’s story.

      Second, an often-overlooked detail is the profound irony of God’s two-fold restoration of Job (42:10-12) wherein God performs the act of restitution expected of a criminal (Exodus 22:4,7,9)! In light of Job’s accusations against God, this is a tantalizing piece of narrative irony at God’s expense. There is more going on here. What? I’m not sure, but I think a flat reading refuses to acknowledge the mysterious depths of Job.

      Finally, God does not change (in a certain sense…of course, the Bible teaches that God does change in certain ways), but our faith must change because we always and forever have much to learn about who the infinite God really is. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it sounds like you think that since God is “certain”, you can have faith in God that is “certain” and never needs to change or evolve because it’s faith in God and not your perception of God. I don’t think this is a distinction you can make: there is no escaping your perception of God, as if you could have faith that has a view from nowhere and transcends the subjectivity of our humanity. In many ways, this was the illusion of modernist philosophy and theology that postmodernism so successfully deconstructed. No one has a view from nowhere, no one is objective, no one can free themselves from their perceptions of God and just know God as he is. What would that even mean? Indeed, this seems to me to be one of the primary messages of Job, long before postmodernism came around.

      Great thoughts though and I appreciate the pushback!

  • donbeeson

    Hey, Austin! When I was in Orlando back in May, I met with Steve Brown, Robin(his daughter) and Erik( Steve’s producer). I mentioned you and your book at lunch. Erik said something like ” I remember him now ” and googled you. Steve is friends with Billy Graham and has known Tulian T. since he was born. They have taught together. Steve and Erik are Calvinists but not like MacArthur or Piper : )
    Anyway, they would like to get you on their radio show. I think it would be great! If you don’t know who Steve is , google him and Key Life.
    My email is Beeson2@hotmail.com we can talk more about this.
    How is the WyMan? : ) contrary to popular belief , all babies aren’t equal. He is proof of that : )

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