John A. Nelson
Doctrinal cross-examination leads us into a fog of seeming rationality that actually obscures the Creator.
Teach me, and I will be silent;
make me understand how I have gone wrong.
How forceful are honest words!
But your reproof, what does it reprove? – Job 6:24-25
The book of Job is famously tricky to decipher. Job’s righteousness, followed by his undeserved suffering, followed by the (insufferable) judgments of his friends — this all serves a purpose beyond the arguments themselves. It leads us, the readers, into a maze without an exit.
Why does God seem to allow the trickster-accuser to go after Job? There isn’t an answer.
Why does righteous Job suffer? No real answer.
Why do the friends insist that Job must have done something to deserve his fate? Same again.
But one interpretation says: the point of the book is really to hook us with those questions. Once we have sharpened our focus, once we’re committed to the questioning and stuck with no satisfactory answer, God shows up again in the story to take Job on a magical mystery tour of the creation.
In other words: doctrinal cross-examination leads us into a fog of seeming rationality that actually obscures the Creator. The meaning of the book comes precisely through our experience of unresolved tension and unanswered questions — and then our experience of release into awe-struck amazement.
“Your reproof, what does it reprove?” we tend ask along with Job. Give us no more discourse and disapproval! Instead, teach us in the way of great teachers: opening vistas of wonder we had never seen; playing symphonies of grace we had missed hearing.
God, I know that you will not try to argue me out of my doubt or despair, my pain or perplexity, my grief or my grievance. But let my senses be reset and recharged, today, so that I may, even haltingly, begin to rejoice in you. Amen.
John A. Nelson is Pastor and Teacher at the Niantic Community Church, United Church of Christ (UCC/UMC), in Niantic, Connecticut.