John Alan Turner

Speaker, Author, Mentor, Coach, Facilitator

Filtering by Category: Job

Epilogue: Just Because

The Lord blessed the latter part of Job's life more than the first. He had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand yoke of oxen and a thousand donkeys. And he also had seven sons and three daughters. The first daughter he named Jemimah, the second Keziah and the third Karen-Happuch. Nowhere in all the land were there found women as beautiful as Job's daughters, and their father granted them an inheritance along with their brothers.Job 42:12-15

Q: What are the names of Job's sons?

A: We don't know.

Job has seven sons, and we don't know the name of one of them. But we know the name of each of his three daughters. Curious.

And the daughters were given a portion of the inheritance along with the sons. This also is curious.

See, in the ancient world sons were what it was all about. Sons could work in the field, and sons could take over the family farm. Sons would carry on the family name. Sons could provide for you when you got old. Sons were useful. Providing an inheritance for your sons was a strategic thing to do.

Daughters were liable to get married, take on someone else's name and move away. They might end up working someone else's farm and providing for someone else's parents. You'd never give them a portion of the inheritance. But Job does. Why? Just because.

What am I getting at?

Job now delights in (look at what his daughters' names mean) and gives to the least strategic, least useful offspring. Job gives to those who may never give him anything in return. Job has become more like God. He learned a lesson, and the lesson wasn't, "Stop crying, or I'll give you something to really cry about!" The lesson was that God doesn't give good things to people as a reward for doing right; God gives good things to people just because.

Job learns that lesson, and -- even though he questions God -- he clings to God all the way through this ordeal. In the end, he comes out looking a lot more like the God he's been holding onto than ever before.

Satan was wrong about the human race and about God. And this book was written and preserved for us -- to show us our true potential. Can a human being still hang onto God with love and service and obedience even if it doesn't seem to pay off?

One could. One did. Job didn't know when he was sitting on the ash heap broke, confused, sad and miserable how God was using him to vindicate his whole crazy adventure -- that a community could be created where God was both the center and the circumference.

Job's story inspires all of us who live in Uz. Don't quit. Don't give up. It inspires us because we know what Job did not: one day this God would descend the Upper Stage to the Lower Stage and become one of us and offer to exchange all our suffering for his righteousness so that we could ascend from the Lower Stage to the Upper Stage.

And he doesn't do it to gain anything. He does it just because.

The Kind of Person God Is

Job's asks for an audience with God. He wants to face God and demand some answers. In chapter 38, Job gets his request. God shows up, but he doesn't answer any of Job's questions. Instead, God has some questions of his own: Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set, Or who laid its cornerstone -- While the morning stars sang together And all the angels shouted for joy?

Job 38:4-7

Why does God do that? Why ask Job questions he can't possibly answer?

Is it to show that he's smarter than Job? Is it because he's just tired to Job's whining? Is God warning Job: "If you don't stop all this crying, I'll give you something to really cry about"?

I don't think that fits with what we've learned about God's character and nature thus far in the Bible. God doesn't seem that interested in flexing his muscles and intimidating humans. That would be like me demanding that my kids be impressed with how strong I am. They're kids! Only an immature person does stuff like that. "Look how strong Daddy is. Aren't you impressed? You better be!"

God is pointing out Job's limitations -- especially Job's finite mind and limited perspective. But -- as OT scholar Ellen F. Davis points out: "God's questions indicate something important about the kind of person he is -- the kind of person who creates in such a way that the morning stars sing together and anges shout for joy."

God asks:

Who cuts a channel for the torrents of rain, And a path for the thunderstorm, To water a land where no man lives, A desert with no one in it, To satisfy a desolate wasteland And make it sprout with grass?

Job 38:25-27

In Israel, life depends on water. No one would waste water because it was such a valuable commodity.

Q: Why would God water a land where no one lives?

A: God is generous for no reason at all. God is good for no reason. God does stuff like this without gaining anything in return. He gives for no reason other than it's his nature. God's long speech shows us a person who absolutely delights in creatures that are of no use to him whatsoever. God gains nothing from doing this. He does it because it is who he is.

God created donkeys that will never never be tamed and oxen that will never plow, ostriches that will never fly, hippos and crocodiles (behemoth and leviathan) that will never really be useful. This whole section is not really about nature or animals as much as it is about the God who made nature and animals. These creatures are pretty much useless, but God created and cares for them.

Why? Why would God create a world and fill it with useless things? Because that's who he is. He doesn't need anything, so he doesn't take this utilitarian view of creation like we do. Maybe this is what God means when he says, "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways" (Isaiah 55:8).

God's motives are not our motives. We're always concerned with how something is going to benefit us; God doesn't need anything -- isn't lacking anything -- so he's not concerned with how a thing is going to benefit him. The God of the Upper Stage is gratuitously good and irrationally loving and ridiculously generous.

And I mean ever one of those words -- especially ridiculously. In fact, it was his generosity that brought the most horrible ridicule upon his Son Jesus when he was here on earth.

Job never finds out what happened on the Upper Stage. Instead, he finds out something better. He finds out the kind of person God is, and that's enough for Job.

God Shows Up with Some Questions of His Own

Job has questions. He doesn't say that he's never sinned. He says that his spiritual life doesn't correspond with his change of circumstances. In other words, he lived a very righteous life and enjoyed tremendous blessings. Then his blessings went away and were replaced by tremendous suffering, but (and this is really his argument) his spiritual life didn't change in such a way as to merit such a drastic change in his circumstances.

His friends ask, "So, why has all this happened?"

Job says, "I don't know."

If his friends had been wise, they would have said, "We don't know either."

But that's not what they say. They argue with Job, and here's a wise principle: never argue with someone who is in mourning. Logic doesn't often go hand-in-hand with grief.

Eventually, Job says, "I wish I could sue God. If only God would show up and we could talk about this man-to-man."

In chapter 38, Job gets his request. In fact, it's kind of funny and ironic. Elihu (another one of Job's friends) is in the middle of telling Job why God doesn't have to show up when God actually shows up.

If we misunderstand this next part of the story we'll end up with lots of bad theology.

God never answers Job's questions. God could have explained the first couple of chapters to Job. He could have told Job about the Upper Stage and the conversation he'd had with Satan. But he doesn't. He just asks Job a few questions of his own -- questions that Job cannot possibly answer.


More Thoughts on the Dangerous Doctrine of Divine Retribution

The doctrine of divine retribution is so neat and tidy. No muss, no fuss. If you suffer, it's because you deserve to. If you succeed, it's because you earned it. I think that's part of its appeal: it makes so much sense to us. It is how we would run the universe if we were in charge. Another part of its appeal is how close to the truth it is. God loves to bless obedience. And God does discipline his children. And we often bring bad things on ourselves. If you smoke two packs a day, overeat and refuse to exercise -- don't go blaming anyone but yourself for the health troubles you have later in life.

But God rejects a simplistic one-to-one correlation like divine retribution because it inevitably turns God into some kind of vending machine and righteousness becomes a means to an end rather than an end in and of itself.

Let me reiterate that last thought: righteousness is NOT something we use to gain something; righteousness is what is gained.

But if God is dealing in tit-for-tat tactics we will eventually stop pursuing God and start using God to gain what it is we really want.

If that's our theology, then good circumstances don't breed gratitude; they breed pride. And bad circumstances don't build character; they build despair.

Job's Friends (part 2)

Job ends the silence. They've been sitting together on an ash heap for seven days in silence. And if Job would just repeat what he said and did in chapter 1:20-22, I think the story would be over. But he doesn't. Instead, he pours out a level of bitterness, confusion, sorrow and anger that is difficult to read. In fact, it's so difficult to listen to that his friends -- who up until now have maintained their silence -- can remain silent no longer. They feel like they have to respond and defend God's honor. Eliphas begins and basically says, "Job, innocent people don't suffer. You are suffering. You must not be innocent."

Job pushes back.

Bildad wades in and adds something so hurtful, so insensitive and callous -- I just want to smack him. He tells Job that his children -- the 10 children who have just died -- deserved it. Somehow or other, they brought this upon themselves.

Those of us who are aware of what's gone on in the Upper Stage know this isn't true. But what must that have sounded like to Job?

It probably sounded like some of the people who are blaming the people of New Orleans and Biloxi for Hurricane Katrina.

Job goes ballistic, and Zophar pushes one step further saying, "Job, your sin caused all this."

All three friends are saying the same thing. It's called the Doctrine of Divine Retribution, and it goes like this:

If you are good, then you will receive blessing and prosperity.

If you are bad, then you will receive misery and poverty.

In other words, God treats people the way they deserve. If you're suffering, you have no one to blame but yourself. If you will just repent, then you will suffer no more. After all, God doesn't allow good people to suffer, does he?

The really scandalous thing is that this is still being taught in Christian churches all over the place. It is blasphemous because it makes a mockery of human suffering -- the same human suffering that God himself entered into on the cross.

Talk to someone who has suffered, and they'll tell you that the people who inflict more harm than good are usually Christians. Christians who say things like: "If you just had more faith" or "God is refining you" or "You could think of this as a wake-up call".

We heard it after 9/11. We heard it after the tsunami in Sri Lanka. We hear it now in the wake of Katrina. Eliphaz even claims that this is a divine insight -- a Word from the Lord (4:12). Ever hear that?

We have to be careful about this kind of thing. Eliphaz is sincere, but he is wrong. And that kind of theology breeds a kind of death -- the death of hope, the death of gratitude, the death of joy, the death of grace. Life becomes just one endless cycle of reaping and sowing.

That's many things, but it is not what I would call "Good News".

Job's Friends (part 1)

Job's friends get dumped on a lot. And rightfully so. They take a bad situation and manage to make it worse by accusing Job of bringing this suffering on himself. But before they do that, they get one thing right. When they show up they just sit in silence for seven days (Job 2:11-13). Sometimes there are no words. Sometimes the best thing is silence.

This is such a profound thing that it became a part of the Jewish culture that continues today. It's called "sitting shiva" -- literally "sitting sevens".

This is precisely what the Apostle Paul had in mind when he said "Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn" (Romans 12:15). We do pretty well at rejoicing with each other. We don't do so well at mourning with each other. It's as if we think Paul wrote, "Rejoice with those who rejoice; fix those who are mourning." Or, "Give good advice to those who are mourning and get them back on the right track."

After seven days Job's friends speak, and they reveal how foolish, naive, shallow and bad their theology is. They probably should have just sat there in silence and then gone home, but they didn't. And we'll talk about them some more in the next couple of days. But let's give credit where credit is due. Their words are terrible. But their silence is brilliant.

Do you have friends like that? If not, you better find some because they are extremely rare in the land of Uz.

Questions from The Book of Job

God's question: Have you considered my servant Job?

Satan's question: Does Job serve God for nothing?

Satan is basically accusing God of being naive. Satan is also accusing Job of being depraved in an exhaustive way. He says that Job only serves God out of selfish motives -- because Job knows that God is a good source of blessings. Turn off the blessings, and Job will stop serving God. Mankind, according to Satan, is unable to choose selflessness -- incapable of nobility.

God is saying that this man Job isn't like that. He's not just nerve endings and body parts. Francis Crick and the evolutionary psychologists of the world are wrong. Humans do not merely act out of self-interest. Mankind is created in God's Image and can choose self-sacrificial love. People were created to know, experience and share that kind of love, and it is a more powerful force than either pleasure or pain.

My question: Is God trying to convince Satan or us?

God Is Not A Cow; Neither Is He The Ice Cream Man

There are several important observations we should make before wading into the story of Job. First, it might help to think of there being two different locations in the first couple of chapters of Job. There's what we could call an Upper Stage and a Lower Stage. The Upper Stage is heaven; the Lower Stage is earth.

Second, there's tremendous irony used in the telling of this story. For example, what we usually think of as the plot of the story -- isn't really the plot. And the person we usually think is on trial -- isn't really the person on trial.

See, what we usually think of as the plot -- a good man who suffers terribly -- that's only the plot on the Lower Stage. There's a whole other plot that explains all that. It just plays out on the Upper Stage, and we forget about it.

And the person we usually think is on trial -- a good God who allows suffering -- that's only true if we forget about what we've learned on that Upper Stage.

The actual plot (according to what we learn from chapters 1 and 2) goes something like this: A man who loves God suffers terribly. Will he continue to love God even if it doesn't pay off?

God's not on trial; Job is.

Now, for those of you who have thought of yourselves as being in Job's shoes -- think that through a little. Job thinks this play is a whodunit. But we already know all that. What we want to know is how Job is going to respond to his suffering. Is Job just interested in God the way a farmer is interested in his cow? Is it just about the milk and the cheese?

That's what Satan says to God. He says, "Job loves you like kids love the Ice Cream Man."

Is that true? Do we just love God for the stuff he provides? If so, what happens if the stuff stops coming? What happens when the cow goes dry and the Ice Cream Man's truck breaks down?

Living in the Land of Uz

"In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil." So begins the famous Book of Job -- a story that, according to William Safire, "delights the irreverent, satisfies the blasphemous, and offers at least some comfort to the heretical."

Uz was far away -- east of Israel -- and Job lived long ago -- a contemporary of Abram as near as we can tell. The story might as well begin: "A long, long time ago in a land far, far away...."

I think it begins this way to keep the original readers from going to seek out Job or any of his descendants. That would miss the point entirely. The point is, Job's story is our story. The land of Uz is Job's land. It's our land. It's this land.

The story begins with life as we would expect it. A good man with a good life. The two go hand-in-hand, right? The goodness of a person's life is directly proportional to the goodness of their life. That's the way things ought to be, right?

But that's not how things are in the land of Uz. Uz is a place where very bad things happen -- even to very good people. In Uz, bad things sometimes come without warning and without explanation. Uz is often a place of confusion and despair.

Uz is where we live, and this is our story.