I will never forget the first time I heard the satanic voice that sounds again in the book of Job.
The year after I graduated from high school I took a summer job in a factory owned by a company called AMP in Middletown, Pennsylvania, a town more famous for hosting the Three Mile Island nuclear plant that taught us the word ‘melt-down’ just a few years later.
It was a mind-numbing introduction to the real world. My friend Scott Dunzik and I spent eight hours a day fitting one little piece of metal into another little piece of plastic. I have no idea what the gizmo we assembled in this way was for. All we knew was that it was to a little component inside a larger component inside a car.
What kind of larger component? We didn’t know
Ford? Chevy? Cadillac? Nobody was saying.
What would it do for the car? It was none of our business.
We were joined in that little bubble of madness by two grizzled old men—they probably looked a lot like me—who were our gurus. They were cynical, bored, and small-minded. Their task in life seemed to be to make sure that Scott and I ended up just like them.
They found followers of Jesus like my friend and me naïve and vaguely amusing. They would not challenge us head on about things. It was enough for them to assure that our youthful faith should come to seem implausible.
One afternoon the more ‘sophisticated’ of them made a comment I have heard many times since. It hit me then with a spiritual violence that I still hear today when somebody tosses off the same truism.
It goes like this: every man has his price.
It was a shocking thought. Momentarily, it made the men and women of integrity I had known in my first two decades of life seem as though they were living a charade. It was a penetrating, deconstructing claim. If it were true, it would—literally—have changed everything.
I now recognize it as the satanic voice. But it took me some time to do so.
The satanic voice shouts or gently insinuates that there is so such thing as integrity, as righteousness, as trustworthiness. Some may sell out early and some may hold in for longer before betraying what they claim to believe about deepest reality. But eventually everyone sells. Every man has his price.
The biblical figure Job hears the satanic voice. It comes to him, as the satanic voice often does, on the lips of those who are closest to him.
I want to speak to you of this Job this morning as we hear him answering God even as the satanic voice rings in his ears. I want to do so from three angles:
• Job silenced
• Job repentant
• Job vindicated
Job, once a model of what it means to be blessed, becomes a terribly unfortunate man.
As wave after wave of calamity crashes upon him, he loses his property, his employees, and his children. He becomes terribly sick and has to drag his ulcerated body out to the garbage heap at the edge of town and sit there, scraping his boils with potsherds.
Even his wife becomes an acid-tongued accuser whose best once-tender affection now boils down to this counsel of despair: Why don’t you just curse God and die!
Yet for all this one of the worst things that happens to Job has nothing to do with his family or his poverty or his health. It’s his friends.
These guys—there are three of them—are horrible little men. They are total losers. Nobody should have to put up with such people.
Yet they are not losers in the conventional sense. Outwardly they are pious and wise and respectable. That’s what makes their company such an agony. As their putrifying friend Job sits there screaming with pain in the unexpected turn that his life has taken, all they can do is spout pious explanations of why such things happen.
These guys just won’t stop.
Their language is rich and sophisticated and extremely religious. Yet they just drone on and on and on. They don’t listen. They just talk at Job. It actually becomes painful, after twenty or thirty chapters of this drivel, to keep plowing through it all.
If you’ve suffered—even modestly—you learn to hate them for their easy answers … for their facile descriptions of why a noble, good-hearted, generous man like Job has now become God’s declared enemy. You just want them to shut up. Their words hurt. They wound. They kill.
These pious, upstanding, religious men become, together, a satanic voice.
And they never have a clue. They consider themselves truth-talkers. Yet they are the very accusing, acid voice of Hell in the face of a man who has lost everything with no credible explanation of why.
What is Job to do in the face of calamitous loss and then the accusing voice of friends who believe the root of all tragedy lies in the sins of its victims? What is Job to do?
What are we to do?
The word of instruction that comes back to us is not simplistic. It is credible. It is fortifying. It may even be life-giving. But it is not simplistic.
At the risk of getting ahead of ourselves this morning, let me see if I can abbreviate in this way: What are we to do in the face of devastating loss? We are to talk to God.
Now I can almost hear the heart’s cry of some of you who are deep in suffering: ‘But you said the answer would not be simplistic? Now you say ‘Talk to God?!’
‘Good grief, my child is gone. My spouse self-destructed and went away. Disease is eating at my bones. My family is a vipers’ tangle. My mind is a hurricane of chaos.
‘And all you can say in the face of such pain is “Talk to God!” …’
If that’s your response, let me at least say this much: I know … We want more, don’t we? We want action. We want answers. We want solutions. We want safety and healing. We want peace.
But let’s be patient with the book of Job this morning and see if there is more here to say.
God speaks to Job
In the course of his suffering and his friends’ useless explanation of his pain and its causes, the thing that most torments Job is the Lord’s silence.
Have you ever shared Job’s frustration?
There is no voice from above, only the droning on of well-intentioned friends.
Job becomes daring, even provocative, as he cries out to God to appear and to make his case. He sounds uncomfortably confident that, if God were just to hear him out, he could make a strong case for his own integrity.
This is where many Christians put down the book of Job and stop reading. Especially those of us whose understanding of faith has been shaped by the language of the apostle Paul, it makes us squirm to hear a man claiming innocence before God.
Yet this is precisely what Job does. Over against the theories of his friends, Job insists: ‘My children are gone. My wealth is gone. My health is gone. My wife finds me disgusting. I … have … done … nothing … to … deserve … this.
His friends, of course, are stunned by Job’s lack of manners.
‘You don’t just up and accuse God of punishing the innocent’, they shout back at Job in their impeccable wisdom.
‘Well, then, let him show up and prove me wrong!’, Job cries back, not so much at his friends as at the silent heavens.
Finally, after what seems an eternity, the Lord does show up.
• He does not address the friends.
• He reprimands Job.
• He directs his words precisely at the limits of Job’s understanding. ‘Job’, he says, in stronger terms than I would have preferred, ‘you simply do not have a way of understanding all that is going on. I do. You do not.’
The Lord, on the surface uncomfortably in the fashion of Job’s friends, makes his case in a torrent of words:
“Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind and said:
“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me.
“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?
“Or who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb, when I made clouds its garment and thick darkness its swaddling band, and prescribed limits for it and set bars and doors, and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed’?”
(Job 38:1–11 ESV)
I wish he’d been gentler.
Job gets the point. We find the first of Job’s two answers to God at 40.1-5:
And the LORD said to Job:
‘Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty? He who argues with God, let him answer it.’
Then Job answered the LORD and said:
‘Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth. I have spoken once, and I will not answer; twice, but I will proceed no further.’
(Job 40:1–5 ESV)
Here is Job silenced …
Job’s words are a prayer in that—like all prayers—they are a decision to live out loud before a listening Lord.
They are hardly his first prayer, for he has been pounding at the gates of heaven for a very long time.
But they are his first prayer as response to God’s presentation.
Job is silenced, as we often are when we catch a glimpse of how small our understanding is when placed next to God’s mastery over his universe.
Please hear me on this: If the book of Job ended here, with this prayer, with these words, it is Job’s friends rather than Job who might be vindicated. The suffering righteous man would skulk away in silent depression to the nearest dark corner to live out their days in humiliation.
This is not the end of the conversation.
Yet it is an extremely important moment.
Job has not known enough to say all the things that he has said about God’s management of his world or even of Job’s life. Job realizes that he his words have run ahead of his understanding.
This is regrettable. But it is not tragic.
Job’s response is to pull pack, to restrain his tongue, and to listen.
What percentage of us bring some deep suffering to this place today? I hesitate even to guess. It will be a large number.
How many of us have cried out daringly to God for answers or at least for a conversation and have overrun our understanding in doing so?
The number is likely to be smaller, but not much smaller.
Would that it would grow!
As we will see, Job is corrected here, but he is not extinguished. He is on his way to vindication. That path involves a moment of reprimand, of correction, of silencing.
Job has the answer he has been craving. Yet is it not the one he might have hoped for.
Here is Job repentant …
Then Job answered the LORD and said:
‘I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. “Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?” Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. “Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you make it known to me.” I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.’
(Job 42:1–6 ESV)
It is so important that we recognize that the Lord has answered Job’s long, agonizing plea for a face-to-face confrontation. In answer to his daring prayers, God has come to Job.
If we do not begin here, we will misunderstand the character of these words.
Job is here repentant. He now sees that he was interacting with God as all of us do: through the curtain of our limited understanding. We speak about things that are deeper, more wonderful, more beautiful, more holy, more awesome than we realize.
When we are gripped in pain, we venture into these dangerous territories more often than we might otherwise have done.
And we should! We should go there.
We can expect, when we do, to be silenced, as Job was.
We can expect to bow in repentance, as Job did.
But we find God in that place of daring, audacious, transparent, honest crying out to heaven.
Once more, we cannot allow ourselves the laziness of stopping after we read Job’s repentant words in 42.1-6.
The best is still to come …
I want to present to you …
After the LORD had spoken these words to Job, the LORD said to Eliphaz the Temanite: ‘My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. Now therefore take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and offer up a burnt offering for yourselves. And my servant Job shall pray for you, for I will accept his prayer not to deal with you according to your folly. For 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 what the LORD had told them, and the LORD accepted Job’s prayer.
And the LORD restored the fortunes of Job, when he had prayed for his friends. And the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before. Then came to him all his brothers and sisters and all who had known him before, and ate bread with him in his house. And they showed him sympathy and comforted him for all the evil that the LORD had brought upon him. And each of them gave him a piece of money and a ring of gold.
And the LORD blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning. And he had 14,000 sheep, 6,000 camels, 1,000 yoke of oxen, and 1,000 female donkeys. He had also seven sons and three daughters. And he called the name of the first daughter Jemimah, and the name of the second Keziah, and the name of the third Keren-happuch. And in all the land there were no women so beautiful as Job’s daughters. And their father gave them an inheritance among their brothers. And after this Job lived 140 years, and saw his sons, and his sons’ sons, four generations. And Job died, an old man, and full of days.”
(Job 42:7–17 ESV)
I truly believe that in this moment we have before us one of reality’s most profound truths:
All the correct, pious, and conventional speech about God that one could ever hope to hear is speaking wrongly of him if it does not lead us to address him.
Prayer as unguarded and offensive as Job’s is speaking rightly about God.
What can we take away from this for our own lives? At the risk of packing into a formula what cannot be formulated, let me leave you with these five thoughts:
• There is such a thing as a righteous sufferer. It is the satanic voice that denies this possibility.
• Pain and loss are sometimes both devastating and inexplicable.
• We can fortify ourselves with pious explanations or we can risk crying out to God with all the dangerous extremity that pain and loss elicit.
• The Lord may reprimand us for speaking in ignorance. This is better than his silence.
• The Lord hears the words of the righteous pray-er and says, ‘Now this daughter … or this son knows how to speak about me, for she speaks to me, he cries out to me.
May the Lord hear and attend to may audacious prayers from his beloved community at CPC.