Innocent Blood

Probably not as strange as it may initially seem, but comedians are the actors who most frequently play the part of God: George Burns, John Cleese, Morgan Freeman, Whoopi Goldberg, Jim Parsons, and, in a sense, Jim Carrey, have all played the part of God. In the movie “Bruce Almighty,” God (Morgan Freeman) allows Bruce Nolan (Jim Carrey), a down-on-his-luck TV reporter, to exercise his divine powers for one week. At first Nolan wastes the powers on frivolous and selfish whimsies. In the end, however, he finds the role so complicated and difficult that he is more than happy to hand it back to God.

Is that the point God is making in his response to Job out of the whirlwind? That the act of creating the world (“where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? [38:4]; “Do you know the ordinances of the heavens?” “Can you establish their rule on the earth?” [v. 33]) and the task of running it are extremely difficult, even for God. This is the opinion of Rabbi Harold Kushner, which he bases on Job 40:11–14.[i] He takes this passage to mean “if you think that it is so easy to keep the world straight and true, to keep unfair things from happening to people, you try it ... It is too difficult even for God to keep cruelty and chaos from claiming their innocent victims. But could man, without God, do it better?”[ii]

Kushner’s understanding becomes clearer when he states the three propositions that Job and his friends (and most readers) assume to be true:

1. God is all-powerful and causes everything that happens in the world. Nothing happens without His willing it.

2. God is just and fair, and stands for people getting what they deserve, so that the good prosper and the wicked are punished.

3. Job is a good person.[iii]

These three propositions were defensible until the dreadful calamities that reduced Job to poverty, pain, and despair. After that, as Kushner observes, any two could be affirmed but not all three at the same time. Job’s friends abandon the third option; Job doubts the truth of number two, but Kushner, more radically, suggests that the author of Job gave up on the validity of number one.[iv]Jesus himself seems to qualify proposal one by giving us the Disciples’ Prayer, “Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt 6:10), which seems a rather pointless prayer if nothing happens in the world “without His willing it.”

Philip Yancey makes a compelling point when he observes that “no other part of the Bible,” compared with “God’s ‘self-defense’” in Job 38–42, “conveys God’s power so impressively.” Which means that Kushner’s interpretation of Job 40:10–14 should be questioned. It does not mean that in reminding Job of his inability to understand the mysteries of nature that God was confessing any failure on his own part. Since Job is unable to understand earthly phenomena, how much more difficult it would be for him to grasp the cosmic view that God possesses.[v]Job is frankly out of his depth, so the inadequacy is his and not God’s. Perhaps this is the point of the conversation between God and the Adversary, namely, that there are forces at play beyond our neat cause and effect earthly realm.

At least Kushner’s third proposition is true; God himself declares that Job is blameless (1:8; 2:3; 42:7–8) a description applied to many others in both Testaments: Noah (Gen 6:9); Daniel (Dan 6:22), Paul (Phil 3:6), and Christians (Phil 2:15). So Job had some warrant in claiming to be innocent, which he does rather frequently (6:30; 9:15; 12:4; 23:7, 10–12; 27:6; 29:12–16). His innocence was not just the passive absence of evil; but the practical presence of good.

I delivered the poor who cried, and the orphan who had no helper. The blessing of the wretched came upon me, and I caused the widow’s heart to sing for joy. I put on righteousness, and it clothed me; my justice was like a robe and a turban. I was eyes to the blind, and feet to the lame. I was a father to the needy, and I championed the cause of the stranger

(Job 29:12–16. Cf. 30: 24–26; 31:5–7, 16–21, 32).

But is the innocence of the best of us absolute?[vi]Was Job’s? Eliphaz certainly does not think Job is entirely faultless (15:14–15). The three friends tire of Job’s insistence on his purity and abandon the dialogue “because he was righteous in his own eyes” (32:1), and Elihu became vexed with Job “because he justified himself rather than God” (32:2). Yet is the fact that all humans are flawed relevant to Job’s case? There are sheep and goats, works of the flesh and fruit of the Spirit, good fish and bad, and a broad and narrow way. The whole “experiment” (not a wager or bet) is whether the universe’s moral principle is based merely on personal gain.[vii]Job’s concern is that God seems to treat the innocent no differently from the wicked, and he rightly rejects that any fault he may have explains his treatment at the hand of God.

The belief that dominates the poem is that piety brings prosperity and sin produces suffering. Job’s success and wealth seemed to confirm the causal relationship between behavior and blessing, but this connection came crashing down for Job after the swift succession of a series of destructive events. Job at first accepts the calamities as from the Lord (1:21; 2:10), but his conviction of his own innocence made it impossible for him to continue to accept the retributive-justice principle where sinners are punished and the good are rewarded. As his speeches continue in response to his friends’ admonitions—all of whom accepted the retributive-justice principle—his state becomes increasingly bewildered.

His neat world was in a state of disarray. The twin peaks (Deut 11:29) of blessing (Gerizim) and cursing (Ebal) were shifting as if they were being heaved about by some mysterious seismic force.[viii]No wonder Job wished to die; nothing he believed in was any longer making sense. The first speaker, Eliphaz, tries to restore Job’s hope by assuring him that the innocent are only briefly punished: “Is not your fear of God your confidence, and the integrity of your ways your hope (4:6)?” Sooner rather than later, since Job is righteous, God will restore him to his former blessed status. If he were truly a sinner, God’s judgment would destroy him, but who of those that are innocent has perished or been cut off (4:7)? And Job has not perished, it’s all good then! For God may reprove and even wound but he also binds up and heals (5:17–18).[ix]However, Eliphaz’s effort to console Job simply trivializes the severity of Job’s losses, as Job quickly reminds him in 6:1–2 (“O that my vexation were weighed, and all my calamity laid in the balances! For then it would be heavier than the sand of the sea”).

Bildad, the second “comforter” is also committed to the principle of retributive- justice. Job’s sinful children were justly destroyed (8:4), but “God will not reject a blameless person” (8:20). If Job is pure and upright, God will restore him to his rightful place and his latter days will be greater than his former (8:6–7). Zophar, unlike Eliphaz and Bildad, refuses to treat Job’s pain as a temporary penalty for minor blemishes; he takes Job’s plea seriously and puts his calamities on the scales. Such a weight indicates a heavy load of sin.[x]In Zophar’s view, Job’s hidden perversity is so great that God has obviously exacted less than his “guilt deserves” (11:6b). The way out for Job is repentance, confession and reformation (11:13–14). Then his life will shift from misery to being “brighter than the noonday” (11:16–19).

Elihu is the youthful champion of “justice.” “Of a truth, God will not do wickedly, and the Almighty will not pervert justice (Job 34:12). The Almighty—we cannot find him; he is great in power and justice, and abundant righteousness he will not violate (37:23). Hence Job’s claim to innocence is dubious (33:9; 34:5–6). Elihu, as C. S. Lewis, thinks that suffering is God’s megaphone to arouse a person’s awareness of their sin and to bring them to repentance.[xi] In a debate with William Lane Craig, the enthusiastic atheist, Richard Dawkins, declared that “the why question is just a silly question” worthy only of a child. Even if the question, “why suffering,” is silly and puerile, it’s a query widely asked. Yet the Book of Job does not attempt to answer it. So let’s turn elsewhere for help.

C. S. Lewis’ Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold, which is obviously indebted to the Book of Job, might be helpful.[xii] In the first part (259 pages of 320) Lewis hasQueen Orual of Glome write out her case against the gods:

Let them answer my charge if they can. It may well be that, instead of answering, they'll strike me mad or leprous or turn me into beast, bird or tree. But will not all the world then know (and the gods will know it knows) that this is because they have no answer?[xiii]

Towards the end of the second part a surprising exchange between Queen Orual and her former tutor (the Fox) takes place:

Fox “The gods have been accused by you. Now’s their turn.”

Orual “I cannot hope for mercy.”

Fox “Infinite hopes – and fears – may both be yours. Be sure that, whatever else you get, you will not get justice.”

Orual “Are the gods not just?”

Fox “Oh no, child. What would become of us if they were?”[xiv]

The words “justice,” “sin” and “righteousness” dominate in the Book of Job. And Job wants his day in court: “But I would speak to the Almighty, and I desire to argue my case with God” (13:3); “I would learn what he would answer me, and understand what he would say to me” (23:5). In contrast “mercy” is infrequent, but it is there. Zophar reduces mercy’s value to a discount on Job’s suffering, but Job seems to sense that it has greater value,“Though I am innocent, I cannot answer him; I must appeal for mercy to my accuser (9:15). It’s not a plea from a real sense of need; his innocence, Job imagines, gives him the right to vindication, but God is too powerful an adversary to be defeated in court, mercy is his only hope. Reluctant as Job is, mercy is his only recourse and “mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13).

The author of Job, Job himself, and even his friends have no answer, and in chapters 38–42 God provides none. Though Job in places gets perilously close to sheeting the blame for evil home to God (and God takes his share in 2:3), his complaint seems to be more concerned with God’s inactivity towards evil rather than trying to explain its origin.[xv] God is a Deliverer who does not deliver, a Protector who does not protect, and a Judge who does not judge. The wicked control the earth and the innocent suffer plagues and disasters along with the wicked, and God does nothing about it (9:22–24). If he’s not behind it, “who then is it” (v. 24b)? Job and his friends argue from a strict monotheism. They have neither the moderate dualism of the Christian Satan, nor any clear view of an afterlife. No wonder the poem has the dramatis personae groping in the dark.

Yet Queen Orual found an answer, and so did Job: Lewis concludes the tale with her confession: “I ended my first book with the words No answer. I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer … What other answer would suffice? Only words, words; to be led out to battle against other words.”[xvi]

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 42.5–6 italics added).

In the end God Himself is indeed the answer. We worship God because he’s God, and not because such devotion excludes us from all the vicissitudes of life. We either endure them with Him or without Him, but endure them we all do. In his later life the famous Swiss theologian, Karl Barth, was in the habit of preaching to the inmates of the Basel city prison. One of his most famous sermons preached there was titled “All!” It was based on Romans 11:32 and Barth emphasized the adjective “all” in both clauses: “For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all,” italics added). Job’s need of mercy was greater than his plea for justice; Coram Deo (before God), that is true of us all.[xvii]

[i] Pour out the overflowings of your anger, and look on all who are proud, and abase them. Look on all who are proud, and bring them low; tread down the wicked where they stand. Hide them all in the dust together; bind their faces in the world below. Then I will also acknowledge to you that your own right hand can give you victory.

(texts are from the NRSV).

[ii]Rabbi Harold S. Kushner, When Bad Things Happen to Good People (London: Pan, 1982 [1981]) 51.

[iv]Of course it is questionable whether Job 38–41 is God’s attempt to justify his actions or (pace Yancey) to defend himself.

[v]Norman C. Habel, The Book of Job: A Commentary (London: SCM, 1985) 564.

[vi]See the lesson for Monday (14/11) and Tuesday (15/11) and Rom 3:9, 18, 23.

[vii]The term “experiment” is D. J. A. Clines’ (Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 17, Job 1–20 [Dallas, TX: Word, 1989] 42).

8God said to Job in Robert Frost’s A Masque of Reason

“But it was of the essence of the trial You shouldn’t understand it at the time. It had to seem unmeaning to have meaning. And it came out all right. I have no doubt You realize by now the part you played To stultify the Deuteronomist.”

[ix]By the time Eliphaz delivers his third speech his moderate tone has become strident; Job is no longer guilty of some modest fault, but is now condemned as the greatest of sinners: “Is not your wickedness great? There is no end to your iniquities” (22:5). And against Job’s own claim (29:12–16), Eliphaz accuses him of being ruthless towards the poor, the widow and the orphan (vv. 6–9).

[x]One is reminded of Anselm’s response to his fellow monk, Boso, in the Cur Deus Homo (Why The God-Man?), “You have not as yet estimated the great burden of sin” (Chapter 21).

[xi]“God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world” (The Problem of Pain [Glasgow: Collins/Fount, 1990/ Bles, 1940] 74).

[xii]London: Geoffrey Bles, 1956. For the influence of Job see Peter J. Schakel, Reason and Imagination in C. S. Lewis: A Study of Till We Have Faces (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1984) 17, 86.

[xiii]Ibid, 259, italics supplied.

[xv] The atheist Robin Craig crosses the line that Job resists trangressing when he argues that “theists would claim that men have no right to judge God—an argument God himself is credited with when justifying his appalling treatment of Job (Job 38–41),” see “Good without God,” in Warren Bonett (ed.), The Australian Book of Atheism (Carlton, Victoria: Scribe, 2010) 360.

15Lewis, A Myth Retold, 319–20. Word/s occurs forty-seven times in the NRSV of Job and by no means always positively. “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge” (35.16; 38:2)?

[xvii]“Joy is born when you submit to both God’s mercy and God’s imprisoning without resistance.” See Karl Barth, Deliverance to the Captives (New York: Harper & Row, 1961) 92 (Preached on 22 September 1957).


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/7755
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Should SDA’s, who are familiar with the great controversy conflict & have read the whole bible, have ANY UNanswered questions related to theodicy, suffering, innocent blood issues?
Jesus suffered in many ways for at least 30 years. John the Baptist was decapitated, Abel was murdered by Cain. Many of the OT prophets suffered. What is so puzzling?

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Indeed, but this is beyond all morality and justice.

The restrictive container of the mind must be broken for this light to penetrate.

But Job finds light in the chthonic forces of darkness, where only it can be apprehended.

The practice of sacred contemplation is based on the understanding that the mind’s essential nature is shared equally with whatever it observes, and within that confluence, the ground of all things can be directly recognized.
–David Chaim Smith

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We can read Job, clenching the NT, and quote “mercy triumphs judgement”, as the author has done, but Job could not quote James. Job’s hope for mercy is based on Prov. 21:13 where Job can expect mercy because he has been merciful himself; but that doesn’t work for him either. Ultimately, all die; before that, all suffer, to one degree or another. At some point, our prayers for healing, will be met with silence.

As it turns out, the Hebrews weren’t comfortable with Job either. The conflict of Job is in the poem that sits between a prologue and an epilogue, in prose form. They were inserted at a later date, possibly because they had to place Job’s agony into context where the whole experiment is an unusual test. “Satan” (adversary) is interjected as the ultimate cause here. If we remove “Satan”, (who, by the way, doesn’t show up in the rest of the story), we can’t use the excuse that this situation is somehow unusual. In the prologue, it isn’t God causing Job’s misery. He is giving permission for Satan to do that; while the original view of such “curses” is that God gives blessings and curses - and that is the point of the Job’s comforters.

Actually, here again, we have an earlier predecessor to the story which has been labeled, “The Babylonian Job”. This one ends in the same way where the rich and influential man declares, WHO CAN UNDERSTAND THE COUNSEL OF THE GODS IN THE MIDST OF HEAVEN? THE PLAN OF GOD IS DEEP WATERS, WHO CAN COMPREHEND IT? WHERE HAS BEFUDDLED MANKIND EVER LEARNED WHT A GOD"S CONDUCT IS?

Like Job and his buddies, we like neat answers - good guys prosper/bad guys suffer consequences. Job argues his innocence - still plugged into this paradigm. At the end, he gets it. Do we?

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YES ! The membership of my little congregation ranges to the age from 20 to 85, some with 65 year of earnenst, continuing study of the Bible ( ! ) . The young ones ask questions - we cannot answer, not just by tossing the fragment of a Bible text into discussion. We believe, we trust in God and his wisdom and merrcy - - that is our oinly answer.

And now we get a liitle more insight in Gods ways - and human attempts to be the wiser ones - alt last with verse by verse studying the book of Job., this “forgotten book”

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Whenever I can’t possibly see the point of a writer /writers of a Biblical Book when viewed against of the morality codes we humans are instructed to adhere to , on pain of having our souls (the essence of our existence which animates the physical body) at the general resurrection ,destroyed and the atoms scattered into general matter, I assume there is a hidden meaning of which I am ignorant. The book of JOB seems to deliberately flaunt BOTH major commandment series , the Judaism Ten of Exodus and the “christian” overarching ONE by Jesus of doing unto others etc. There COULD be ELS codes in the book. Modern researchers have found the actual names of perpetrators of massacres NAMED in the ELS codes such as the Oklahoma terrorist , the time he struck and his fate. The only other thing I can think of is KARMA a non-Christian concept. If Job was an incarnation of the prophet Samuel (who advocated those brutal massacres) the book would be easier to understand. As for now I am sticking up for the fairness of Yahweh . I believe he IS a disciplinarian but I can Prove he did not launch the FLOOD, it was caused by natural forces.He did launch the attack on Sodom and Gomorrah in response to a severe attack on his rulership of earth by Marduk King of Babylon in BC 2024. IN GOD WE TRUST!!!

We know this isn’t true, and yet the belief was present in Jesus’ day, and it still exists today. Even though we know it’s not true, our first reaction when something really bad happens is, “Why, God?” There has to be a reason! We don’t live in a chaotic, meaningless world, do we? When God says, “Come now, let us reason together,” we find it hard to blindly accept that God knows what is best, without anything to go on. Yet, he also says, “My thoughts are higher than your thoughts,” so we must. In creating this world, haven’t we always assumed that God just spoke and everything came into being? Sounds so easy. But maybe it was harder than we can imagine? Is the answer to the hardest question in the world, simply that we cannot understand, so we have to accept?

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You say there is no answer to the reason for suffering. I believe there is—we just don’t like it.

In the conclusion “Job prayed for his friends,” then “God restored his fortunes.” All his “brothers and sisters and former friends” came to his home for a “feast” (happy hour). They all “comforted him because of all the trials [sufferings and loss] the Lord [God] had brought against him (42:11).” Not brought on by Satan.

God’s justice is not confined to our definition, he uses a different dictionary. He has no issue with killing the First Born in Egypt or drowning thousands of soldiers who were following orders. He had no problem with destroying the pre-flood and Canaanite societies, making no difference in young and old alike. God was slow to defend and answer prayers of Jewish believes in the Holocaust. God is comfortable in sending pagan nations to kill and enslave old and young as punishment to Israel.

God often declares himself Just, for according his definition, God is just. We try our best to excuse God for neglecting to save desperate prayers from believers who died from the Black Death and a million other tragic human events. God revealed to Job his power in his creation of “birds of prey” (39:26-30) where the “young gulp down blood.” The animals he described reveal his methods.

Job said, “I was talking about things I knew nothing about, thing too wonderful for me.” In his dialogs, Job wanted God to give him justice and declare him innocent. Here Job admits God’s justice is beyond human comprehension. God is not answerable as to why he permits or actively causes evil and trouble in the world. God can send blessings or curses, as Moses taught. His power can bring justice or delay justice, as we see it. God is above human demands for explanations. He is not answerable as to why good (justified) believers find themselves murdered, lives cut short by disease or raped to death.

Somehow, I believe, that all things work together for good, in God’s hands. My part is trust and wait on the Lord.

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