Get angry at God: Job did

Satan, Job and his friends Photo Credit - Andrevanb

A Biblical basis for expressing anger at God

 
Last week I posed this question, ‘If anger is the correct emotional response to injustice, surely being angry at God is calling God unjust. Therefore, is it a sin to be angry with God?

 
I was really grateful for your answers, which were all thoughtful and thought-provoking. They were so good that I collated some into 6 Top Tips for dealing  with Anger at God.
 

I have been thinking about how I might approach answering that question from the Bible, and I immediately thought of Job.

 
I have spent the past month or so looking in detail at Job. After my extensive study I have come to the conclusion that Job and I could honestly be BFFs. So often he says exactly what I am thinking, and I find myself cheering him on in his speeches. I look forward to having a good catch up with him in heaven.
 

What is Job about?

 Job 1 starts with a cosmic wager: Satan bets God that Job, the most righteous man on earth, will not remain righteous if he undergoes great suffering. So God allows Job to undergo great suffering, without any sort of explanation.
 

His friends, on the other hand, have plenty of explanations, which centre around ‘God only punishes those who have grievously sinned, so you need to repent of whatever it is you’ve done wrong.’ Poor Job knows he hasn’t done anything wrong and is baffled, and desperate to be vindicated.
 

This is the big question of Job: will Job curse God and turn his back on God? Or will he prove God right, that it is possible to undergo great suffering and remain righteous?

 living bible museum

1. Does Job charge God with wrongdoing?

 Job 1 says that Job’s initial response was to respond in worship and acceptance, and in v 22 we get the important statement, ‘Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.’ This would imply that it is indeed a sin to be angry at God, and certainly wrong to question his morality.

 
The funny thing is, though, throughout the rest of the book, Job spends much of his time telling his friends that God has got it wrong and that God is being unfair. Although he doesn’t ‘curse God and die’, as his wife suggests, he does question God.

 
His speeches are raw and passionate, and they say the things that we dare not voice aloud to God ourselves. Here are a few quotes. As you read them, ask yourself,

  • Does he sound like he is angry with God?
  • Does it sound like he is questioning God’s morality?

“Does it please you [God] to oppress me,
to spurn the work of your hands,
while you smile on the schemes of the wicked?” Job 10:3

 
“Surely, O God, you have worn me out;
you have devastated my entire household.” Job 16:7

 
“He [God] throws me into the mud,
and I am reduced to dust and ashes.
I cry out to you, O God, but you do not answer;
I stand up, but you merely look at me.” Job 30:19-20

 
“Oh, that I had someone to hear me!
I sign now my defence – let the Almighty answer me;
let my accuser put his indictment in writing.” Job 31:35

 
“As surely as God lives, who has denied me justice,
the Almighty, who has made me taste bitterness of soul…” Job 27:1

 
“…then know that God has wronged me
and drawn his net around me.
Though I cry, ‘I’ve been wronged!’ I get no response;
though I call for help, there is no justice.” Job 19:6-7

It sounds very much like Job is both angry at God and questioning his morality. This isn’t just the ‘I’m-feeling-angry-right-now-but-I-know-deep-down-that’s-wrong-because-you’re-a-good-God’ kind of anger but the “God!-this-isn’t-fair!-you’ve-got-it-wrong-this-time” anger.

Me Screaming

 

2. Are Job’s angry words sinful? 
With most other books of the Bible, like when Jonah gets angry with God (‘I am angry enough to die!’) we aren’t directly told whether what they said was sinful. God doesn’t condemn Jonah for his anger, but then again, Jonah isn’t what you would call an exemplary saint –  he ran away because didn’t want the Ninevites to be forgiven and when they repented he had a massive sulk.

 

The book of Job is unusual in that we do get to discover God’s verdict, which comes at the end.

 

Throughout the book, Job is crying out for an encounter with God, so that he can justify himself to God. Yet when God finally does speak, far from starting in on his justification, Job repents of his hasty words. He is just thankful to have had an encounter with the living God:

“My ears had heard of you
but now my eyes have seen you.
Therefore I despise myself
and repent in dust and ashes.” Job 42: 5-6

 

Because he repents, this could suggest that his angry words were sinful.

 

However, God’s verdict on Job’s words comes just a verse later to challenge this perception. God’s proclamation is astonishing:

 

“After the Lord had spoken these words to Job, the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite: “My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.” (Job 42:7, ESV).

 

That’s right – the pious-sounding ‘God never punishes righteous people and He is entirely good and not to be questioned’ friends’ speeches are declared wrong.

 

Remarkably, angsty, angry, questioning Job is the one who is declared righteous and has spoken of God rightly. And this is not just at the beginning of the book, before his speeches, but at the end as well.

"The Lord also accepted Job" - Photo credit Mike Legend

 

*********

 

What do we conclude from Job?

 

We end up with two paradoxes:
1. Job initially ‘did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing’ – but then spends 30-odd chapters seemingly doing just that.
2. God declares Job and his words righteous, but Job repents anyway.

 

*******

 

There are some who will say, ‘it’s fine to be angry at God, and we can be as angry as we like.’ There are others (like Jerry Bridges) who will say, ‘it is never fine to be angry with God and it is a sin.’

 

The book of Job contradicts both of these bald statements with a more nuanced approach. I like Job’s paradoxes better, these contradictory statements held in tension.

 

Although Job got angry and said that God wasn’t being fair, God still proclaims Job as righteous and to have spoken rightly.

 

Job is praised for his righteousness, for his questions, for his truthfulness. God wins his wager. For all his anger and questioning of God, he is the one who really knew God and sought after him. He clamoured for an audience with God.

 

Conversely, although Job is not rebuked for his anger, Job still feels sorrow. He repents even though he doesn’t need to.

 

Why? Because he met with God.

Job asked for two things; for his suffering to be taken away, and to be given an audience with God (Job 13:20-22). Then, when he did have an audience with God, he didn’t plead his case, and he didn’t beg for the suffering to end.

 

This is why Job is praiseworthy. In the end, the desire to be vindicated was not as strong as his desire to meet with God. Once he had had an encounter with God, his anger disappeared. It was enough to know God and to have been heard by Him. When you meet with God and are confronted by his majesty and goodness, your heart is changed, your knees wobble, your pride falls, the things you were so desperately clinging to fall away. The questions may still be there but they are asked with a different tone.

 

There is an anger that leads to a renewed relationship – and there is an anger that distances ourselves from God. It is my conviction that the kind of red hot, passionate, dialoguing anger of Job’s is not sinful but an essential part of the process and conversation with God when we are faced with things that we don’t understand. Don’t worry about the red hot anger, worry when it solidifies into a cold resentment,a bitter silence that pushes us further from God and communion with Him.

 

Pastorally, I don’t think we should be telling people that their anger with God is a sin. We should be reading Job with them. We should be feeling with them the sorrow and confusion and fear. We should be praying for the only thing that has the power to take away that anger: that God meets them in midst of their questions and speaks to them out of the storm.

Over to you:

  • Which of Job’s words most surprised or struck you?
  • Do you agree that these paradoxes are a more helpful way of approaching the question of whether anger with God is sinful?

If you are angry at God at the moment, ask:

  • Is my desire to be vindicated stronger than my desire to meet with God?
  • How can I ensure that my anger is ‘red hot’ rather than ‘cool bitterness’?

Linking with Women Living Well, Imperfect Prose, Intentional Me, Joy in this Journey

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48 Responses to Get angry at God: Job did

  1. Bobbie Cole 4th June, 2013 at 1:31 pm #

    I got really angry at God when I had cancer. It built up as I went through Job-like setbacks. I tried to save my breast and failed. I tried to get the best reconstruction I could and that failed. I got a lesser reconstruction that was inadequate and required further surgery… It went on and on, until I raged.
    The cancer brought my marriage to its knees. Alone, I raged on. I was Mrs. Angry.
    Then He claimed me in a Christian church in Jerusalem, where I was not supposed to be – I was only accompanying a Christian friend who’d graciously come to synagogue with me the previous Friday.
    As I accepted God, He began to bless me. He gave me a new husband of faith.
    He turned everything around for me.
    Here’s my point: We cannot see the stars’ dazzle except for the dark sky.
    Job could not have understood blessing or God’s love without the dark days. God allowed Satin to take him and test him. Ultimately, his faith was strengthened through the experience.
    Bobbie Cole recently posted…TestMy Profile

    • Sheri 4th June, 2013 at 9:39 pm #

      That is an amazingly beautiful example of how the redemptive work of our YHVH works!
      We have to have something to be redeemed FROM and TO!
      May He continue to bless you and make His face shine upon you!

      • Tanya 5th June, 2013 at 11:56 am #

        Thank you, Sheri!

    • Tanya 5th June, 2013 at 11:56 am #

      Thank you so much for sharing your story! Amazing stuff!

    • Jessica Sideways 1st May, 2014 at 2:23 am #

      This comment was offensive and has been deleted.

  2. Sheri 9th March, 2013 at 5:37 pm #

    Yes please notify me of any follow up responses etc. : )

  3. Sheri 9th March, 2013 at 5:33 pm #

    I am looking for answers.

    I am ministering to a diseased and infirmed 86 year woman who is born again but wants to die because she has very little quality of life due to pain. I would say that is true. I have been her caregiver for 5+ years.

    God showed me recently that she has “nursed” a grudge against Him all her life for the premature deaths of her mother (age 15) and her husband (at age 60).

    I would definitely say that her initial anger at God turned to cold bitterness and to her own hurt. Its been difficult to cause her to see and understand this. Three weeks ago, she repented of her grudge against God and there was an immediate drop in her pain levels to zero!

    But old habits die hard apparently and she still voices about why God would take two such good people prematurely. Yes, some pain has returned!
    Ugh! Such breakthrough and then to go back!
    I’ve spent almost 6 years building trust and now this! I’m disappointed and frustrated, but not giving up!

    Just thought I’d vent a little here!
    I was actually looking for articles about forgiving God. Wanting to know if there is scriptural basis for it because someone suggested it for her.
    I am a literalist regarding the Word of God. I can’t see exactly where someone forgave God for doing something.
    No sense doing something unscriptural because I believe it opens the door to the enemy. This lady’s door has been wide open to him since she was 15 years old!
    No sense doing something unscriptural thereby giving him more legal rights as a “squatter” on her Land (body)!

    I welcome any advice and counsel!

    thanks

    • Tanya 11th March, 2013 at 7:27 pm #

      Hey there

      Thanks for this. It is a tricky situation and I have been pondering it!

      The main thing I think I would say is that it is hard – really hard – to be old and lonely and living in pain. And it is really hard to change old habits, as you say.

      So I guess I’m not that worried that she has returned to her anger. I know it can be frustrating as. A carer and counsellor, but recovery rarely looks like a straight line, before and after thing. More often it looks like a series of wandering circles that go roughly in the right direction, 2 steps forward, one step back. It’s hard to let go of things you have held onto for a long time, even when those things have caused you harm.

      That doesn’t mean you give up, of course, but maybe it means you adjust your expectations slightly? It might be that she needs to talk it through a bit more, and keep practising the letting go as a gradual thing as well as a one-off. I hope that makes sense?

      I think for me personally I would feel more comfortable using the term ‘letting go’ of anger rather than ‘forgiving God’. They may look very similar in practice, but I think the term ‘forgiving God’ is problematic. Whether it’s worth insisting upon this point is a difficult one to call though – requires discernment, I guess.

      One thing that I have found helpful in the past in situations such as these is to write a psalm of lament, an ‘angry psalm’ that voices all the pain and anger in a psalm. And then to discipline myself to write a psalm of praise (perhaps some time later). I then hold the two side by side. I am glad there are both in the Bible!

      Hope this helps!
      Blessings.

      • Sheri 13th March, 2013 at 6:09 pm #

        Thank you so much for your counsel!
        A good reminder that progress is more circular than straight.
        She has back pedaled on some the things that she repented of and the pain has come back worse than before.
        The Lord told me to back off because she is at an impasse with Him. All things are possible with God but He will not violate our will.
        At least this week has been more peaceful in our relationship with God removing me from the “counseling” position with her.
        I’m in agreement about the concept of “forgiving God”. Letting go of anger is a more accurate description of what needs to take place.
        Thank you again for your willingness to help total strangers via the net.

        • Tanya 14th March, 2013 at 1:03 pm #

          Thanks so much for replying! I’m really glad you found it helpful :-)

  4. Nailah 10th January, 2013 at 1:42 am #

    This has really changed my view, because I thought it was a sin to be angry at God. The reason i was angry at god is because ive been sick for three months ive been reading his word and deep inside my heart i know I will be healed but its taking so long. Its hard when your young and you have to miss a semester out of school because your sick ad doctors cannot find a diagnosis or cause. But i know Gods grace and mercy will never leave me. I know Gods time is the right time and he works everything out for good even when the situation seem impossible.

    • Tanya 14th January, 2013 at 6:23 pm #

      Thanks so much for stopping by, and engaging so deeply with this. I really feel for you with the uncertainty of it all. Praying for you now. X

  5. Annie Barnett 12th October, 2012 at 4:35 pm #

    I found your post here through your comment at Seth Haine’s post on the goodness of God. And I just want to say that this speaks so much to me. Learning to live in the paradoxes and tensions has been a huge relief to me, pushed me into more honest relationship with God, quiet the voices of shame and should. Thank you for this.

    • Tanya 12th October, 2012 at 6:38 pm #

      Thank you so much for reading and taking the time to comment – I really appreciate it. I know what you mean about quieting the voices of shame and should – it’s hard to do…

  6. Melanie Dorsey 1st August, 2012 at 7:33 pm #

    I used to avoid the book – too messy. But after losing my son, I have found a friend in Job.

    • Tanya 2nd August, 2012 at 8:10 pm #

      I was amazed how the book transformed for me when I was suffering, from being an impenetrable rambling book to breathing life back I to me. I’m so glad it helped you as well.

  7. Donna 11th July, 2012 at 4:14 am #

    I came across these posts (and your blog!) when I was in the middle of a fight with God, about prayers I have prayed for over 30yrs about a particular problem that don’t seem to have been answered at all. I can see the damage that problem has done to me and my family – particularly my children. And I cannot see any benefit that has resulted through my prayers not having been answered.
    It is not unheard of for me to ‘rant’ at God – and I have, on occasion, had the disconcerting feeling that He was giggling, just a little, as He listened to me carrying on.
    :)
    But this is different.
    And I don’t know how to resolve this.
    I do know that I still want and need relationship… but I don’t know how to get past this.

    • Tanya 23rd July, 2012 at 1:22 pm #

      Hi Donna. Sorry it has taken me so long to reply to you – I hope you see this.

      Thank you so much for stopping by and for your honesty in this. I feel your frustration and your confusion at God’s seeming indifference to your situation. It’s a bit of a christian cliche to say that ‘it all works out for good’ – that is what Rom 8 says, but that is not to say that all that happens is good. Some is pure evil, some is messy and unhelpful; sometimes God intervenes and sometimes He is silent. I have been greatly helped by Pete Greig’s book on this topic: ‘God on Mute’. Pete is in charge of an international prayer movement that has seen miraculous answers to prayer and dramatic healings – and yet his ongoing prayers to God to heal his wife’s debilitating epilepsy have not been answered. The book is about how he works this through – it’s thoughtful and in-depth and just brilliant.

  8. Nikki 28th June, 2012 at 4:46 pm #

    I’m late to the party, but am so glad I stopped anyway. Very insightful!

    My grandma used to tell me that honesty is all God requires. So if we’re angry, tell Him. He already knows it anyway for He sees our heart. Because it’s when we stand before Him honestly that He shows up and can speak to us clearly. And if it’s a sin that I feel this way, He’ll show me and I’ll know to repent. But I won’t know it unless I’m honest before Him to begin with…..

    anyway. I’m rambling.

    Very good thoughts here! Thank you for giving me something to chew on!

    • Tanya 29th June, 2012 at 11:08 am #

      Welcome to the party! Latecomers always most welcome! :-)
      I think your grandma a very wise woman. It’s so important to be honest with God. It makes me wonder why I’m not always honest…
      Thank you for sharing!

      • Mary Beth 2nd July, 2012 at 7:58 pm #

        I’m late as well! My thoughts were similar to Nikki’s. I tell my clients (and myself) all the time that if you’re angry with God, just be honest with Him about it. He knows anyways. And He’s a big God. He can handle it.

        This quote especially stood out: “the desire to be vindicated was not as strong as his desire to meet with God.”

        When our desire truly is to meet with God, everything else vanishes in His presence.

        Thanks for linking up with WIP Wednesday!

        Mary Beth
        newlifesteward.com

        • Tanya 5th July, 2012 at 4:15 pm #

          It’s great that you can give such reassurance to your clients: that can be so significant. Nice to see you via WIP Weds – thanks for hosting the party!

  9. Marcus 28th June, 2012 at 12:57 pm #

    Some believers who had recently been tortured for their faith said to me “have you Brits not read Job? When you don’t know how justice and suffering work out you tend to talk about God, complain about God and then intellectually dismiss God. We, on the other hand, talk to him, complain to him and then we worship. We are much more biblical than you. Like Job, our great need when they pulled our finger nails out was to see him and know him, which we did.”

    I didn’t know where to look

    • Tanya 28th June, 2012 at 2:31 pm #

      Oh wow. That’s so powerful I just tweeted it (hope it didn’t lose too much in the translation).

      I noticed the pattern in Job – Job would ask questions to God, his friends would make pronouncements about God – but hadn’t linked it with the way that we so often do this ourselves.

      This is why it’s so good to have a global perspective on our faith; we need our brothers and sisters to teach us where our social and cultural idols are, to remind us of those bits of the Bible that are dusty and unreal to us.

      Thanks so much for taking the time to read and comment – much appreciated.

  10. tanya @ truthinweakness 28th June, 2012 at 3:16 am #

    by the way, just shared this post w/ my TruthInWeakness community on Facebook!
    thanks again, friend — i know they’ll be challenged & encouraged by your words, too!

  11. imperfect prose 28th June, 2012 at 3:01 am #

    oh my goodness. so much to learn here. i love that you are approaching this, and setting us free to feel. i always derive so much encouragement from Jesus’ response to the men selling their wares in the temple, the anger he showed when he overthrew their tables. that’s the kind of man i’d want to follow.

  12. tanya @ truthinweakness 28th June, 2012 at 2:29 am #

    oh wow, tanya . . . i think i need to soak in this particular paragraph again & again:
    “the desire to be vindicated was not as strong as his desire to meet with God. Once he had had an encounter with God, his anger disappeared. It was enough to know God and to have been heard by Him. When you meet with God and are confronted by his majesty and goodness, your heart is changed, your knees wobble, your pride falls, the things you were so desperately clinging to fall away. The questions may still be there but they are asked with a different tone.”

    that is so very TRUE! but as i think about a particular area of life where i have longed for vindication, i am so incredibly challenged by your observation — that his desire for vindication was not as strong as his desire to meet with God. (see the mark on my face where that one hit me right b/t my eyes??) ;)

    so, so much to be learned about the Lord through job’s story, isn’t there? the freedom that you share here to express anger (with the ultimate desire being centered on our relationship w/ Him) reminds me much of something i read in a powerful book:
    “Job, Jacob, and I have the same privilege – as arrogant and deceitful people, we can wrestle with God, knowing that we will not be destroyed; Someone else went through that in our place.” – Dan Allender (Bold Love)

    oh, the freedom to wrestle . . . the freedom even to get angry . . . it’s all covered with such scandalous grace, isn’t it?

    want to share one last thing. it’s a comment that a sweet friend left on one of my earliest blog posts — the one that most directly talks about my health crisis. she said this:
    “In my own crisis of recent years a friend reminded me that it was ok to go to God with all my broken pieces and cry out to Him, to even beat upon His chest in my hurt because He is big enough to take it and that at least there as I beat upon His chest, I would be in the circle of His arms so that He could comfort me in my loss.”

    that’s exactly IT, isn’t it?

    such a treat to connect with you today, my friend.
    in His grip,
    tanya

    • Tanya 28th June, 2012 at 2:28 pm #

      Lovely kindred spirit Tanya – thanks so much for your encouraging words! I’m so glad this connected with you and that you got excited by this as I did. I love your quote about Jacob and Job et al. Yes – the freedom to wrestle within the canopy of God’s grace – love it! And the comment left on your blog – yes! that’s such a perfect way to put it. Sometimes I feel like I am a toddler having a tantrum before God, and then I am scooped up into his fatherly arms.

      (and thanks so much for sharing it with your online community – much appreciated!)
      Praying God will bless you abundantly this week! :-)

  13. kelli 27th June, 2012 at 9:35 pm #

    Wow. I’ve never been here before, but you remind me of something I read about good writers: they’re not afraid to pick a fight.

    Your writing brims with brutal honesty and is unashamed at the naked truth. Thank you for such an engaging topic.

    Really glad I came by . . . and thanks for visiting me, too. :)

    • Tanya 28th June, 2012 at 2:22 pm #

      Thank you so much for your encouraging words – it’s really lovely to get positive feedback on my writing and I value that immensely. I really enjoyed your blog – look forward to reading more. :-)

  14. brian miller 27th June, 2012 at 9:05 pm #

    nice..this is well thought through..and i liked reading the above response as well…god is an easy target for our anger because he doesnt fight back…i think that anger with god def is ok on some level and if it was a sin to be angry with god i think we would all be condemned…thank goodness for grace…i like your summation though on the gaining of the audience with god…nice post…

    • Tanya 28th June, 2012 at 2:21 pm #

      Hi there – lovely to see you on here again. “thank goodness for grace” – a big amen to that! Sometimes writing these blog posts makes me realise more than ever just how large God’s grace is.

  15. Alastair 27th June, 2012 at 5:47 pm #

    Good post. Some very helpful thoughts here!

    A few comments from my own reading of Job:

    1. There seems to be a progression in moral universes in Scripture. Within the books of the Law, for instance in the blessings and curses of the book of Deuteronomy, we see a very close relationship between action and blessing or curse. Job at the beginning of the book seems to be living in such a world.

    Within the wisdom literature we still see a relationship between moral action and blessing and curse, especially in the book of Proverbs. However, the relationship is considerably more complicated (such as one sees in the book of Ecclesiastes), and envisages a situation where one might have to wait for many years to see the righteous come out on top (the ‘why do the wicked prosper?’ question recurs in the Psalms). Rather than a fairly straightforward cause-effect style relationship, we see the need for patience and faith that God’s justice will eventually come through. Rather than functioning as a sort of natural law of the universe, this justice must be sought in struggling prayer.

    In the prophetic literature we see an even more radical vision, as the prophets are associated with suffering and martyrdom, and God’s vindication moves even further into the future, demanding even greater faith and perseverance.

    In the book of Job, God removes the ‘hedge’ of protection surrounding Job – the hedge that preserves a simple cause-effect style moral universe – and thrusts him out as his chosen servant into the complex moral universe of Christlike suffering against the evil of Satan. Job must learn to move beyond the morality of sight advocated by his friends to a morality of faith in God’s vindication. This is akin to the process that we experience growing up. We initially start off with the ‘hedge of protection’ of the home environment, where there is a fairly strong relationship between crime and punishment, goodness and reward, before being put out into a world where things are a great deal more complicated.

    2. I do not believe that Job accuses God of wrongdoing. Rather, Job’s complaint is that God is not bringing justice to his situation, which is slightly different. Job is angry at the injustice and is righteously wrestling with God – all the while keeping his faith that one day God WILL vindicate him – to set things right.

    God is the God of justice, so our anger about injustice should be brought to him. He wants us to be persistent and unrelenting in our complaints about the injustice in our world. We need to bother him without ceasing, like the persistent widow of Luke 18:1-8, and not let him go until he sets things right, like our wrestling father Jacob. While we do not accuse God of wrongdoing, our frustration and anger should be directed to him, because he is the one who permits it to arise and to continue.

    I believe that through this process God is strengthening us to be his covenant partners in setting the world to rights. God doesn’t want us just to be passive recipients of blessing, but to be able to fight at his side against evil and injustice in our world, and not just be resigned fatalists.

    3. This refusal to be resigned fatalists is incredibly important. It is at this point, I believe, that people like John Piper go wrong. In stressing the sovereignty of God – important though the sovereignty of God is – they fail sufficiently to stress the reality of injustice in God’s world. So eager are they to maintain that God is sovereign over all things, that all things work together for good for those called by him, and that God is just, that they lose sight of the huge biblical emphasis upon a deep struggle between good and evil, justice and injustice, in history.

    We need to have a profound sense of tension. The doctrines listed above do not fit together. There is evil and injustice in the world. This does not fit with the existence of a loving and good God. While many would reject Christian faith on this point, the biblical answer is far more interesting. Rather than speaking in terms of a static justice, the Bible speaks of God’s commitment to make the world right. No, evil and injustice do not fit with the existence of a loving and just God, which is why God has defeated death in his Son, is reconciling the world to himself by his Spirit, and will one day set all that is wrong right.

    Rather than trying to justify the way that the world currently is relative to God’s justice in some theodicy that leaves our world untouched in injustice and despair, we should focus on pointing people to God’s promise of a justice that will flood the earth, like the waters cover the sea, a justice that will heal and restore. We should point them to the firstfruits of this in Christ’s resurrection victory over death.

    Until this point, we should be angry about injustice, and bring that anger to God, constantly calling him to set things right, to uphold his name and justice, to restore his world, and to vindicate his people, holding tight and refusing to let go. It seems to me that Job is a perfect example of how to go about this.

    • Tanya 28th June, 2012 at 2:17 pm #

      Thanks so much for this in-depth response. Some great Alastair nuggets, as ever! I find it helpful the way you articulate the progress of understanding of ‘delayed justice’ rather than ’cause and effect’ justice. (My instinct is the term ‘righteous’ means something slightly different in Job and the wisdom literature to how Paul uses it in Romans, for example – would you concur? Don’t think I’ve read anything specifically on the concept of justice and its progression through the Bible in the way that you’re articulating here – any recommendations?)

      “Rather than functioning as a sort of natural law of the universe, this justice must be sought in struggling prayer” – yes – very helpfully expressed. That also makes me ponder, if Job is to be understood as early, does this make its theology of suffering, delayed justice/vindication prophetic in terms of pointing forward beyond itself?

      2. “I do not believe that Job accuses God of wrongdoing. Rather, Job’s complaint is that God is not bringing justice to his situation… all the while keeping his faith that one day God WILL vindicate him – to set things right”

      I think I hear you saying that Job was complaining that God wasn’t bringing justice now, whilst having confidence in God that he would bring justice eventually. I agree with that, but I also hear a lot of indignation and accusation in Job’s words – ‘why do you smile on the schemes of the wicked?’ – is that not accusing God of wrongdoing in some sense? I don’t know that there’s such a big difference between saying God isn’t bringing justice and saying that he’s doing wrong.

      I agree with you that he does have confidence that he will see God and be vindicated before him, though I wouldn’t want to overstate it. I get the impression that that is more to do with the fact that when he has his day in court he can find out what he’s been accused of and refute all wrongful accusations then. There’s a mixture of confidence in God’s justice (shown by the fact that he believes God will vindicated him eventually) and a lack of confidence in God’s justice (shown by his constant questioning and saying that God is ignoring him and there is no justice – Job 19:6-7 etc). ‘I know that my Redeemer lives’ etc has a bit more of the hopeful tone to it though. I love the way there’s such a mixture as he goes back and forth.

      “God is the God of justice, so our anger about injustice should be brought to him” – big Amen to this, and Luke 18 really relevant here, yes.

      “God doesn’t want us just to be passive recipients of blessing, but to be able to fight at his side against evil and injustice in our world, and not just be resigned fatalists.” YES! Oh YES! I’m noticing a slight movement (faction, perhaps?) within evangelicalism at the moment to a very passive faith. Being saved by grace alone and faith alone does not mean that we are then inactive fatalists – we work with God.

      3. Re Piper et al: “So eager are they to maintain that God is sovereign over all things, that all things work together for good for those called by him, and that God is just, that they lose sight of the huge biblical emphasis upon a deep struggle between good and evil, justice and injustice, in history.” YES! Thank you – again, you have put eloquent words to my uneasy feelings. It was in this regard that I parted company from Jerry Bridge’s response to anger – he was saying that every bad thing that happened was in the will of God for our good, therefore we should be thankful for it. That comes a bit too close to saying bad things are good for my liking. The bad is still bad, though good can come from it.

      Really helpful stuff on justice not being static, but a process that God is in charge of, thank you.

      “Until this point, we should be angry about injustice, and bring that anger to God, constantly calling him to set things right, to uphold his name and justice, to restore his world, and to vindicate his people, holding tight and refusing to let go.” – PREACH IT!

      Thanks so much for taking the time to read and comment; I always value your learned and Bible-soaked insights!

      • Alastair 28th June, 2012 at 9:59 pm #

        Thanks, Tanya!

        1. I haven’t really read anything on the subject of the development of forms of justice in the Bible either. My comments on this subject are based on my own thinking, which I could support and argue for in far greater detail, but built on the work of people like James Jordan and Peter Leithart on the priest, king, prophet pattern in Scripture. Perhaps I should write a more detailed exploration of this development myself at some point.

        I think that the word ‘righteous’ does vary in meaning in Scripture. However, I think that people are too quick to detach the OT meanings of the word from those of the NT. I find N.T. ‘Tom’ Wright’s work very helpful in this area (see his commentary on Romans, for instance).

        Yes, I think that the theology of suffering in Job does point beyond itself in various ways. Like figures such as Enoch, Abraham, and Moses, Job transcends to some extent his moment in redemptive history and serves as a model and anticipation of people yet to come. I read a really fascinating piece not too long ago on the book of Job, which argued that it is about sacrifice into elevated sonship: like Christ, Job is being made perfect (or mature) through suffering.

        Also significant to notice is that in his suffering Job is not just a plaything of God’s sovereign caprice. Rather, unbeknownst to him, God is using Job as a suffering warrior to attack Satan where it will sting Satan the most – in Satan’s sense of pride. The sufferings experienced by Christians in Christ are not merely things that are inflicted upon us as passive victims, but quite the opposite – means by which we actively wage spiritual warfare against Satan by God’s strength made perfect in our weakness. The sufferings of active warriors are interpreted very differently from those experienced by passive victims. Far from a distant and detached God playing games with Job from afar, Job’s sufferings are the means by which Job is established as an active partner of God in the struggle against evil in the world.

        2. Yes, there is indignation and a measure of accusation in Job’s words. However, he continues to appeal to, rather than denying, God’s justice. This, I believe, is the crucial distinction. Even in his lowest moments, Job does not deny God’s justice, just protest that it isn’t present in his situation. His confidence about his own state may be torn to shreds, but the ground of his appeal continues to be that God is a God of justice.

        To understand how this works, I think that it is important to move away from a totalizing focus upon God’s agency, and to distinguish sharply between God’s silence and permission of evil in our lives and the notion that he actively and positively wills all evil that occurs to us. God’s will permits the presence of evil and injustice in Job’s life: this isn’t the same as actively willing its presence. Job recognizes God’s permission behind all that is occurring to him and so rightly calls out to God. However, he also sees that the source of the injustice and evil is not God’s positive action, but the absence of divine action. If Job doubted the justice of God he wouldn’t be able to call out to and protest to God in the way that he does. Paradoxically, our protests to God about injustice in the world must be founded upon the conviction that God is a just God.

        I think that you are right not to want to overstate Job’s confidence. Job has moments of doubt whether he will ever see God’s justice, without having the same doubts over whether God is a God of justice. I think that most of us have found ourselves in slightly analogous positions, for instance when, while never denying that God is a good God, we regard ourselves as exceptions, doubting and despairing whether the goodness and joy of God experienced by others will ever be known in our experience.

        Job experiences and articulates the excruciating tension between his beliefs concerning God and his experience, which is giving him a completely different message. The tension is one that many of us have experienced: that of being unable to reconcile what we believe with what we are experiencing and living through, but being unwilling to let go of either of the two sides of the tension. Each side of the tension is brought to bear on the other. Job presses the truth and justice of God against the reality of his experience and presses the reality of his experience against the truth and justice of God. However, the tension is always maintained and never abandoned by dropping or denying one side of the tension, which would be the easy way out. Piper et al, like Job’s friends, tend to deny the reality of the sufferer’s situation – a righteous person suffering for no cause in an unjust situation permitted to continue, but not positively willed, by God, and inconsistent with his character – while others risk denying the justice and goodness of God.

        I hope that this helps to clarify my position a bit!

        • Tanya 29th June, 2012 at 11:06 am #

          Thank you SO much for this- such great stuff here! It’s really helpful to read and clarify my thinking and explore these issues further. I especially like your thoughts here on the significance of suffering as being spiritual battle against Satan and combatting his pride. I’d never seen it that way before, and that is a very helpful line of thinking.

          I definitely hear what you’re saying about Job’s appeals to God against injustice demonstrating that he believes God is just. I probably understated that in my post, so it’s good to have a bit more balance on that in the comments section.

          So helpful to have you exploring the complexities of a theology of suffering with such nuance and clarity. Thank you.

          • Alastair 29th June, 2012 at 11:08 am #

            Thanks once again for the thoughtful post and stimulating interaction! :)

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