In 9:2 Job asks a profound question: “how can a mortal be just before God?” The problem is not merely one of human sin. The difficulty is that human beings and God are on two vastly different levels.
Job continues to maintain his innocence (9:15). Thus, this begs the question: why is God still punishing him, or allowing Job to suffer?
Job’s longing is simply to have his case heard by God. However, he says: “I cannot answer him.” (9:15) “For he is not a mortal, as I am, that I might answer him, that we should come to trial together.” (9:32)
Job’s words here sound very much like some of the psalms. Often the psalmists express that if their case could only be heard by God, then there would be justice. That is why we encounter the repeated refrain throughout the Bible: “Hear me, O God!” (Psalm 86:1)
Yet, Job takes things a step further. He says, “There is no umpire between us.” I other words, Job wishes that there were someone to adjudicate his case before God…but there is no such person, for Job’s case is against God, so who is there to judge between them?
In chapter 10, Job gives free utterance to his complaint. “I will speak in the bitterness of my soul.” (10:1) This kind of complaining against God is not often, if ever, encouraged in the church today. Thus, people who are suffering often do something worse; they stuff down their feelings; they try to repress their anger, and this causes even more problems. How much better to express what we are feeling, as Job does here? It is much better to vent our anger, even against God. After all, God is big enough. He can handle it.
This is what C. S. Lewis did in one of his most profound books, A Grief Observed. The book was originally Lewis’ journal that he kept after the death of his wife from cancer. Lewis knew what it was like to rage against God, to ask God the deep questions, and to get no answer. After going through this agony, eventually Lewis comes out to a somewhat better place. In A Grief Observed, Lewis says…
When I lay these questions before God I get no answer. But a rather special sort of “No answer.” It is not the locked door. It is more like a silent, certainly not uncompassionate, gaze. As though He shook His head not in refusal but waiving the question. Like, “Peace, child; you don’t understand.”
Lewis wrote an earlier book entitled The Problem of Pain that deals with the intellectual question of how a good God can allow human suffering. A Grief Observed deals not with the intellectual question so much as with the emotional experience of pain. Yet, Lewis finds physical pain to be far worse. He writes,
What is grief compared with physical pain? Whatever fools may say, the body can suffer twenty times more than the mind. The mind has always some power of evasion. At worst, the unbearable thought only comes back and back, but the physical pain can be absolutely continuous. Grief is like a bomber circling round and dropping its bomb each time the circle brings it overhead; physical pain is like the steady barrage on a trench in World War One, hours of it with no let-up for a moment. Thought is never static; pain often is.
Lewis knew what he was talking about. He had served in those trenches in World War One and was wounded on the killing fields of France. If Lewis is right in what he says about emotional and physical pain in A Grief Observed then Job was experiencing the worst kind of pain: a combination of physical pain in his own body and grief for his lost children as well as for his own loss of happiness.
Zophar the Naamathite answers Job in chapter eleven. Like most people who have not experienced the kind of pain Job is enduring, Zophar has no idea what he is saying. As with Job’s other counselors, Zophar assumes that Job is guilty of some sin. “Know then that God exacts of you less than your guilt deserves.” (11:6) As we have already seen, this is a mistaken notion. Therefore, all of Zophar’s beautifully worded wisdom is misapplied.
Job answers ironically in chapter 12, “No doubt you are the people, and wisdom will die with you.” At least Job has not lost his sense of humor, though it is a biting, black humor. In this chapter Job talks about God tearing down, withholding water, depriving of speech, making people wander in pathless waste, stripping people until they stand naked before him, causing people to grope in the dark without light, making them stagger like drunkards. The case that Job makes against God for allowing humans to suffer is a strong one indeed, and it will be many more chapters before we read the answer to Job’s complaint against God.