Bulletin Articles

Bulletin Articles

“Arguing with God”

Categories: Iron sharpens iron

               “But how can a man be in the right before God?

If one wished to contend with him,

               one could not answer him once in a thousand times.

He is wise in heart and mighty in strength

               —who has hardened himself against him, and succeeded?…

               Who will say to him, ‘What are you doing?’ …

Though I am in the right, I cannot answer him;

               I must appeal for mercy to my accuser.

If I summoned him and he answered me,

               I would not believe that he was listening to my voice.” (Job 9.1-16)

The book of Job doesn’t get its fair share of attention. It is generally divided into three parts.  Part 1 comprises chapters 1 and 2, and details how Job, though righteous, lost his family, wealth, and health.  Part 3, comprising chapter 42, explains how God restored Job’s fortunes.  Part 2, the 39 chapters in between…well, most people skip those.

You may notice that, by those numbers, the attention is focused on far less than even a tenth of the book.  And to be fair, it’s a slight exaggeration of the problem—but only a slight one.  Yet, if we’re willing to put in the effort, we’ll find Job is one of the most important books of the Bible, grappling with the big questions and frustrations we often face in this world of sin and death.  Job’s three friends determined to visit him in his sorrow and provide comfort, as friends should.  However, they made unwarranted assumptions about why all this calamity befell Job, and took issue with things Job said, when he was unwilling to accept the blame.

Job’s friends thought God was punishing him for some grievous sin he’d committed—not that they made specific accusations.  They simply assumed that we always get what we deserve in life, despite ample evidence to the contrary.  Job didn’t claim to be perfectly pure and sinless; but he knew he hadn’t done anything to specifically deserve this suffering, certainly nothing worse than the behavior of many who live long and prosperous lives, free from the sort of disaster he’d experienced.  The argument raged back and forth, with both sides trying different tactics but refusing to budge from their positions.  In one of Job’s speeches, he stops trying to convince his friends he’s innocent, and instead complains that he’d prefer to have the argument with someone whose judgment would actually matter—namely, God.  And that’s where we began, in chapter 9.  When we consider all that Job says, it’s clear he’s not just pointing out the universal sinfulness of mankind.  That’s what we might have thought, from verse 2 alone: “But how can a man be in the right before God?”  Yet a few sentences later, he adds, “Though I am in the right, I cannot answer him” (v15).  He maintains that he’s in the right; but he also doesn’t say that God has done wrong.  He knows better than that—hence his confusion.  Someone must be to blame here, but he knows it’s not him, and he knows it’s not God.  Nevertheless, he doesn’t know where else to go with his complaint, but to God, the Judge of all.

He envisions God’s heavenly court—the same image with which the book began—and puts himself in the position of a defendant, with his righteousness in question and a sentence not only looming over his head, but already enacted.  God is the Judge overseeing the trial, but then, who’s the accuser, pressing the charge against him?  With the benefit of having read chapters 1 and 2, we know that it’s Satan; but Job himself doesn’t know that!  He can only conclude that God is the one prosecuting him, and so he says, “I must appeal for mercy to my accuser” (v15).

In essence, Job’s frustration comes from concluding that he stands no chance at all of securing a favorable verdict, and relief from his unjust punishment, because he’d be arguing against God, and he knows that, however right he may be, that’s an un-winnable battle, and one he has no right to undertake in the first place.  He can’t even believe the Judge is impartial, because he’s also the prosecutor!  We can’t fault Job for misunderstanding what was going on in God’s heavenly court—God himself certainly didn’t.  Yet, we now know it was really Satan standing before God as accuser, prosecuting Job for the supposed evil in his heart.

Isn’t that comforting?  Well, perhaps not.  On one hand, it reassures us that God is impartial and perfectly just; on the other hand, it leaves us in the position of trying to out-argue the lord of all evil, who’s extremely skilled in his craft—and on top of this, we know that, despite our best intentions, he does have legitimate accusations to bring against us!  But that’s not the whole story.  We don’t have to plead our case alone. 

But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2.1-2)

Praise the Lord!  The only one with a right to stand before God and plead on our behalf, his own blameless Son, is willing to take up our case, and even to prosecute our accuser!

And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world… And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.” (Revelation 12.9-11)

Are you like Job, frustratedly taking up a losing argument with God?  Or perhaps you’re trying to win the battle against Satan on your own.  Only one man has ever battled Satan and come away unscathed.  He offers his help to each of us.  Will you take it?

Jeremy Nettles