When asked to picture a holy person, what image do you paint in your mind? Is it a stern man in black clothes, holding a well-worn Bible in one hand and pointing to heaven with the other? Is it a rotund motherly figure with fiery disapproval aimed at young people daring to share a laugh in this sinful world? Perhaps your mind’s brush strokes, tired of our tendency to tie holiness to “long faces and black clothes”, reveal a sanguine lady oozing the joy of life or a smiling preacher serenading his enraptured listeners with the most encouraging words ever preached. Possibly, you have some knowledge of life’s up and downs, so you just might imagine a calm face in the middle of great tribulation, barely whispering Jeremiah 29:11. Few would imagine a diseased man sitting in ash, railing against God and yearning for death.
Yet this was Job, a man labelled blameless by none other than God Himself. The pain of losing all but life inspired no rousing hymns of praise but bitter anguished cries, spurning his birth and longing for death. Like most believers, his friends tried to call him back to piety with the all too human silliness of suggesting simplistic solutions to complex problems. Haven’t we all been taught to express all feelings but anger to God? Testimonies of the wonderful things God has done to and for us are not only welcomed but encouraged. We’ve recently begun to countenance the mournful cries of those whom life has stricken but angry railing is quite another matter. How dare a mere mortal belittle God’s gift of life.
Could it be that the real problem isn’t Job’s railings but the fact that they disrupt our neat religious formula? We’ve spent centuries worshipping an angry God who won’t countenance the slightest insolence and have worked out a way to pacify and even manipulate Him into taking our side. We serve Him not out of disinterested love but out of selfish avarice and so we can’t imagine that He could be benevolent for nothing. Enter, our good works and words. We either use good works to show God that we’ve earned his benevolence or speak good words to convince (emotionally blackmail Him) God to protect us from pain. Thus, we see here, the reason behind most pious works and “holy” words: we hope to gain endless pleasure, wealth and health or at least to avoid pain. Why, oh why, could Job stick to the formula instead of complaining and challenging God to speak? Oh the horror of it all!
We’ve built more than cathedrals, churches and even mansions on our formula, we’ve built systems of belief that have even spilt over into our way of life. We can’t forgive because we expect others to be working overtime to win us over. We cannot bear to have arrows of anger shot at us without shooting more of our own or retreating behind shields of enraged silence and passive aggression. When given positions of leadership, those who dare to speak nothing but praises and supplication, choosing to rail and accuse, find themselves painfully afoul of our burning wrath. In short, Job’s complaints disturb the authoritarian picture of God that we’ve built our lives on. How can a man be angry at God and still be blameless?
In the midst of all this, Job’s faith in God stands firm, even in the face of impending death (Job 13:15). It is not the loss of his wealth and children that causes him anguish. It is not the foolish simplistic answers of his friends to the complexities of life that pull the searing cries from his heart. It is the silence of God. Neither Job nor his friends know the reason behind God’s silence (although his friends think they do) but they all hear it. It’s what they choose to do that shows the difference in faith. Job’s friends try to work a dead formula while Job calls out for God. Satan predicted that heavy losses would make Job turn from God but instead, when God is silent, Job looks and calls out to Him, feeling all the while that death is preferable to a life without God. Should this surprise us when as Christians we rally around a man who bruised and broken, in the face of God’s silence, cried out, “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?”