Thought for the Day by Malcolm Heath (St Michael’s)
Job, a man of unblemished piety, suffers an appalling series of disasters. His friends jump to the conclusion that God is punishing him for his (supposed) impieties. But if we’ve read the first chapter, we will know that Job’s friends are mistaken. The truth is that Job’s sufferings have been inflicted on him precisely because of his unblemished piety.
In today’s reading, Job’s friend Bildad affirms God’s justice, and assures Job that a wonderful future lies before him—provided that he seeks God and pleads for God’s favour: ‘If you are pure and upright, then indeed He will watch over you and see your just intent fulfilled’ (Job 8.5-7).
In a second round of speeches, Job’s determined insistence on his innocence will provoke Bildad and his companions to condemn Job’s refusal to acknowledge his (supposed) offences. But Job has not committed the offences of which his friends accuse him. They are completely wrong about Job, and therefore wrong about God. In the final chapter God will rebuke them, declaring that ‘you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has’ (Job 42.7).
Presumably, Job was not entirely without sin. But he was not guilty of the sins that his increasingly uncharitable friends attributed to him. It is a sign of Job’s integrity that he was willing to challenge God when God’s will was unintelligible and seemingly unjust. But it is also a sign of the depth of Job’s faith that, even when God’s treatment of him seemed incomprehensibly unjust, he persisted in trusting God.
Paul, in his letter to the church in Rome, maintained that Abraham and his descendants did not inherit the world by scrupulous adherence to law, but through the ‘righteousness of faith’: that is, through trust in God’s faithfulness (Rom. 4.13). The righteousness of faith is precisely what Job’s friends failed to understand. They drew the seemingly logical conclusion that Job’s downfall was due to some offence against God’s law (a spectacularly circular argument, since Job’s unidentified offences have been inferred from his suffering!). But Job trusted God even when he could make no sense of what God was doing to him, just as Abraham trusted God in the face of a seemingly impossible promise: ‘No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God’ (Rom. 4.20).