Answering his heart not his questions – Friday, 26th Week in ordinary time – Job 38:1, 12-21, 40:3-5
Job’s three friends whom he rebukes as “miserable comforters” (16:2) have nothing more to say. They still thought that Job was completely wrong, but they felt he was so confirmed in his own opinions that it was useless to keep the discussion going.
Job’s friends are followed in their dialogue by Elihu (chaps 32-37), who adds his own advice. Apparently, Elihu was a silent listener to the whole dialogue. Elihu was angry with Job because he felt that Job justified himself rather than God. Elihu felt that Job was more concerned about being right himself than God being right.
Over the previous 35 chapters (since Job 2), God has been directly absent from the account. We read nothing of God’s direct role in comforting, speaking to, or sustaining Job in the midst of his crisis. Over that time, Job has ached repeatedly for a word from God.
At the end of Elihu’ speech, God intervenes with two speeches in which he gives Job the answers to his questions. They cover chapters 38-42; and with that our book ends. In the reading of today, we are given short excerpts from the first of God’s speech. To each speech, Job will give a short response.
In a way, the answer to the ‘why’ of his suffering is that there is no answer; in the sense that no human person is in a position to call into question the infinite wisdom and power of God. Job finally accept his situation. He now understands that he is of little significance in a vast universe which is totally beyond his comprehension. How can he question the God who is behind it all?
Previously, Job had insisted that God answer him. God turned the matter around and told Job that before He would answer any of Job’s questions, Job had some questions to answer himself. Yahweh begins by asking a series of questions full of poetic images. They compare the almighty power of the creator God with the impotence of Job, the creature.
Job is asked if he has ever given orders to the morning or sent the dawn to its place. Has Job ever gone to the “sources of the sea”? Does Job have even the faintest idea of the extent of the earth? Obviously, the answer is No. Only the Master of the Universe could do such a thing.
All of these are places to which only God has access. If Job did know these things, he might have some power to control them but, in fact, he is totally powerless. If he did know all these things, he would now be very old and learned indeed! But so limited is Job’s knowledge that he is in no situation to question anything that God does.
In the last part of the reading, in which we find Job’s response to God, he is for all practical purposes, reduced to stammering and stuttering before God. “I had better lay my finger on my lips, he says. Job now felt humbled about his previous demand. He rightly felt he was in no place to contend with the Almighty, much less to correct Him or rebuke Him. Job’s tone changes because while he once felt that God had forsaken him, now he knows that God was with Him.
Today, we know many things about our world and environment which were completely unknown to Job. But, in spite of all that we have discovered in the intervening centuries, life is still largely a mystery and we are equally unable to explain why many things happen to us or what goes on in the mysterious wisdom of God.
It is important to remember that God never did forsake Job; that while He withdrew the sense of His presence (and this was the cause of profound misery to Job), God was present with Job all along, strengthening Him with His unseen hand. Job could have never survived this ordeal without that unseen, unsensed hand of God supporting him.
The only response that can give us peace in our own struggles, is to hold on to the conviction that God is a God of truth, of love, of compassion and of justice. And, in spite of the disorder and chaos and violence, our world is shot through with God’s truth, His love and His beauty. To sum it up, God answered Job’s heart without specifically answering Job’s questions.