25 August 2006

The Limit of God's Power

The closing chapters of Job contain God’s response to Job and his friends. In previous chapters, Job wishes he could sue God for justice, but doubts his ability to get the Almighty to appear in court. Chapter 38 opens with God granting Job’s wish:

“Then Jehovah answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said,

“Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up now thy loins like a man; For I will demand of thee, and declare thou unto me. Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? Declare, if thou hast understanding. Who determined the measures thereof, if thou knowest?” (38:1-5)
It’s a terrifying challenge, made all the more unnerving due to the obvious taunt inherent in the doubt expressed: “if thou hast understanding; if thou knowest.”

The following chapters focus on God’s omnipotence and Job’s lack. (For an excellent breakdown, see Mogget’s post at FPR.) To summarize: God proclaims his power over the earth, sea, light, darkness, death, stars, and animals—even the supernatural beasts Behemoth and Leviathan:
“Canst thou draw out leviathan with a fishhook? Canst thou put a rope into his nose? Will he make many supplications unto thee? Or will he speak soft words unto thee? Wilt thou play with him as with a bird?” (40:1-5)
What is God’s motive? Before answering that question, I think there is an important detail that is often overlooked: Out of all the things that God mentions that he creates, controls, and destroys at his whim, there is one omission: God never mentions Job.

In this light, I think Job’s response is more meaningful:

“Then Job answered Jehovah, and said,

“I know that thou canst do all things, And that no purpose of thine can be restrained. Therefore have I uttered that which I understood not, Things too wonderful for me, which I knew not. I had heard of thee by the hearing of the ear; But now mine eye seeth thee: Wherefore I abhor 'myself', And repent in dust and ashes.” (42:1-6)
Job gives up control to God, and in so doing, gives what God could not take for himself: Job’s faith, loyalty, and free will. When reprimanding Eliphaz, we see that God is pleased by Job’s sacrifice:

“[My] servant Job shall pray for you; for him will I accept, that I deal not with you after your folly; for ye have not spoken of me the thing that is right, as my servant Job hath.” (42:8)
God’s purpose in Ch. 38-41, therefore, is to evoke submission from Job. The question that remains is what was God’s tactic? To scare Job? To impress him? To humiliate him? Or was it a more loving approach: to reassure him? (Cf. Psalm 23)


BrianJ said...

I refer the reader to a related post by the always insightful Stephen (Ethesis).

preethi said...

I think that is insightful to recognize that the one thing the Lord fails to mention as being under His control is Job himself. For while He is very willing to help and guide each of us should we ask, God will never do so of His own volition. Our agency, and our decision whether to choose Him, is too precious.

To respond to your question about God's tactic in all this, I'm inclined to agree with your last verb - to reassure. I believe God, knowing Job's need for comfort, made Job aware that power over earth and heaven was available to him, if he only chose to use it. The Lord knew that Job would find solace not in having the Lord's will forced upon him or even from seeing His mighty powers manifest. Rather, God knew that true peace would come from choosing to submit. It would come from choosing God and inviting, through his own agency, the Holy Ghost and "all that the Father hath" upon him.

Aaron said...

I remember a discussion we had about Abraham and the sacrifice of Isaac. God already knows our heart and knows how we will react to decisions. He knew how Abraham would react. The test was to show Abraham that Abraham is capable of complete obedience and that God is with him. Now Abraham knows what God already knew. Likewise, God knew Job. Job needed to learn for himself, so he was tested in a unique way for him.