‘Today also my complaint is bitter; his hand is heavy despite my groaning. O that I knew where I might find him, that I might come even to his dwelling! I would lay my case before him, and fill my mouth with arguments. I would learn what he would answer me, and understand what he would say to me. Would he contend with me in the greatness of his power? No; but he would give heed to me. There an upright person could reason with him, and I should be acquitted for ever by my judge.
‘If I go forward, he is not there; or backward, I cannot perceive him; on the left he hides, and I cannot behold him; I turn to the right, but I cannot see him. But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I shall come out like gold. My foot has held fast to his steps; I have kept his way and have not turned aside. I have not departed from the commandment of his lips; I have treasured in my bosom the words of his mouth. But he stands alone and who can dissuade him? What he desires, that he does. For he will complete what he appoints for me; and many such things are in his mind. Therefore I am terrified at his presence; when I consider, I am in dread of him. God has made my heart faint; the Almighty has terrified me; If only I could vanish in darkness, and thick darkness would cover my face!
Apparently Job has been able to ‘blot out’ all that has been said to him. It is as though he is on his own and this soliloquy lets us see how quickly he fluctuates between complete confidence that God would acquit him of all charges, if only he could present his case, and pure terror at the thought that God has already decided he is guilty. Job doesn’t seem interested in the restoration of his health or wealth; he is only concerned about his innocence before God.
At the outset we sense his desire to engage with God, who is so elusive. Job no longer asks God to come and meet him but muses whether he might be able to approach God in the heavenly realm. His hope that God would ultimately act justly hasn’t been completely abandoned; but then his doubts resurface. He has no idea where to find God and yet he has an overwhelming sense that God is watching his every move ready to condemn him. What if God cannot be dissuaded from pursuing him? That thought terrifies him and he sinks down into dark despair.
We’ve reached the core of the book. We’re faced by the same questions as its characters and author. How does God exercise justice? Can we ever know the ways of God? Can humans bring influence to bear on God through word or action? Where can we go to meet with God? And would we be crushed by the overwhelming holiness of God at such a meeting?
None of these questions are answered simply by pointing to Jesus, for although in him we see God in human form, we remember that Jesus submitted himself to the will of God (Mk.14:36) and knew what it was to feel forsaken by God (Matt.27:46).
In Jesus we find answers to many of our questions: in him we find a friend who is always ready to meet us in our need and to provide real comfort. In Jesus we find a teacher who shows us how to live our human life in accordance with God’s will and purposes. In the risen Christ we have a mediator in heaven between God and humanity (1 Tim.2:5) who intercedes on our behalf. Even so there remains mystery about the God who created all things, holds all things in being and will bring all things to fulfilment when time is no more.
Holy God, we are awestruck by the contemplation of your fullness and I confess that part of me is fearful of meeting you face to face.
Thank you for Jesus who has revealed your human face and taught us that we need not be afraid.
May we always approach you with reverence and with confidence that it is your ‘good pleasure to give (us) the kingdom’. Amen
The Rev’d Dr Janet Tollington is a retired minister and member of Emmanuel URC, Cambridge.