What Some Think God Should Have Said To Job, But Never Did2
Most people come to the concluding five chapters of Job (38-42) with great anticipation. Having endured the seemingly endless cycle of repetitive speeches, the time has finally come for God to speak. Now that Job has endured indescribable suffering, now that his three friends and Elihu have had their say, what might one expect God to say? Amazingly, all the things one might think God would say (or should say) are nowhere to be found.
(1) There is no condemnation of Job, no reversal of the divine verdict on his character that was given in chapters one and two. God does not agree with the assessment of Bildad, Zophar, Eliphaz, or Elihu. He says nothing that would lead us to believe that Job's suffering was the direct result of Job's sin.
(2) There are no apologies. Nowhere do we read anything like: "O my dear child, Job. I'm so very sorry for what has happened. You've endured a great many trials on my behalf and I want you to know how much I appreciate it. You've hung in there and shown yourself to be a real trooper. I promise I'll do my best not to let this sort of thing happen again."
As Larry Crabb put it, "Job apparently expected God would listen to what he had to say, pull slowly on his beard, and reply, 'Job, thanks for sharing your perspective on things. You've got a point. Frankly, I really hadn't seen things quite the way you see them. Look, I've made a bit of an error but I'll straighten it all out right away'" (Inside Out, 146).
(3) There are no compliments. After all that Job had endured so that God might prove his point to the devil, one might have expected to hear something like this: "Job, bless your heart! You have no idea how proud I am of you. It really means a lot to me that you've persevered so valiantly. You exceeded all my expectations. We really showed that devil, didn't we!"
God says nothing to Job that one might think would be appropriate for someone who had suffered so much. There are no words of encouragement or consolation; no words of how much good his experience will accomplish in the lives of others who face tragedy. There are no words of praise for his having stood his ground when the barrage of arguments came from his three friends. There are no "Thank-you's" for having held his tongue in check from cursing God when it seemed the reasonable thing to do.
(4) There are no explanations. This is perhaps the most shocking omission of all. At the very least you would expect God to lay it all out in black and white before Job. But nowhere do we find something like this: "Job, let me begin by explaining to you how this whole thing came about in the first place. You see, one day Satan came to me and insisted that the only reason you worship me is because I treat you so well. I couldn't let him get away with that. I had to prove him wrong, and, well . . . the rest is history, as they say!"
Nor do we find: "Job, I know you've been wondering how I could permit this to occur and not be guilty of injustice and hard-hearted cruelty. Well, it's like this . . . " Nor do we find: "Job, you've struggled with why the righteous suffer and the wicked prosper. Sit down and take out pen and paper. You'll undoubtedly want to take notes. There are ten reasons why you, a righteous man, suffered so horribly. Number one: . . . "
Amazingly, there is no discussion of the problem of evil, of divine justice, of human sin, or any such thing. In fact, God supplies no answers at all to any of the questions raised by Job or Eliphaz or Bildad or Zophar or Elihu, or by you and me! Instead, it is God who asks the questions! It isn't God who appears on the witness stand to undergo cross-examination in order to make sense of what has occurred. It is Job, of all people, who is cross-examined. More than 70 times God asks Job an unanswerable question.
Says Phillip Yancey:
"Sidestepping thirty-five chapters' worth of debates on the problem of pain, he plunges instead into a magnificent verbal tour of the natural world. He seems to guide Job through a private gallery of his favourite works, lingering with pride over dioramas of mountain goats, wild donkeys, ostriches, and eagles, speaking as if astonished by his own creations" (Disappointment with God, 190).
For 35 chapters Job has been crying out, "God, put yourself in my place for a while!" God now responds and says, "No, Job, you put yourself in My place! Until you can offer lessons on how to make the sun rise each day or give commands to the lightning or design a peacock, don't pass judgment on how I run my world." In other words, God says, "Until you know a little more about running the physical universe, don't tell me how to run the moral universe. How do you expect to understand the complexities of my dealings with mankind when you can't even understand the simplicity of my dealings with nature?"
So what did Job then say to God?
“I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. ‘Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you make it known to me.’ I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:2-6).