MTV once hosted a series called Epic Rap Battles of History. I don’t suggest watching it, as it’s highly offensive.
The gist is this: two historical, cultural, or political figures face off against each other in a rap duel, and one is crowned the victor.
For me, the end of Job is akin to an epic rap battle.
Job is a book of speeches. After the prologue, Job and his 3 friends (well, actually 4—Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar, and Elihu), duke it out for 34 chapters.
Throughout these interactions, Job maintains his innocence. Job’s friends incorrectly believe that he’s committed some sort of atrocity, or that he’s disobeyed Yahweh’s commands, for Yahweh wouldn’t punish the blameless. Job rebuffs their flawed reasoning with a litany of his just actions (27.6, 31.5, 31.7, 31.13).*
Job defends himself to Yahweh as well. He calls Yahweh out, challenging his notion of justice (27.2). He wants Yahweh to account for his actions. If Yahweh justly rules the universe, than Job (who’s done nothing wrong) wants to know why he suffers. He demands a divine hearing (13.3).**
He gets it.
The last five chapters of the book are known as the Yahwistic speeches. With the exception of chapters 1 and 2, where Yahweh converses with the satan (the accuser), he’s silent for 36 chapters, until he reappears in chapter 38. These speeches are broken down into two cycles (Job 38-40, 40-42), in which Yahweh speaks and Job responds.***
When Yahweh appears on the scene, he lays the smackdown. His opening line sets the tone for the entire exchange:
“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me” (38.2-3).
Yahweh proceeds to put Job on the spot. He questions where Job was at during the creation of the world (38.4), if he understands the inner workings of the universe (38.18), and whether he comprehends the order of the animal world (39.1-4). Then, Yahweh calls Job to respond (40.2).
“See, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth. I have spoken once, and I will not answer; twice, but will proceed no further” (40.4-5).
Yahweh isn’t satisfied. His indignation doesn’t end here. He lays the smackdown again:
“Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me” (40.7).
In this second cycle, Yahweh sarcastically, and condescendingly, questions if Job would like to run the universe for a day. Yahweh seems to be saying, “If you’re so dissatisfied with how I’m doing things, why don’t you give it a try. Since you’re clearly so knowledgeable, wise, and powerful, here are the keys. You’re the universe’s CEO. Re-order and re-structure the world according to your perception of morality” (40.10-14).
“I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. ‘Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you declare to me.’ 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” (42.2-6).
In light of God’s awesomeness, Job confesses that he knows nothing. Yahweh is the clear winner.
If we’re honest, for most of us, Yahweh’s answer (or lack thereof) is less than satisfying. We’re not exactly thrilled with his victory.
Job’s question, “Why?” is fundamentally human. We try to make sense of our world, to create order and meaning out of events, to understand the chaos and injustice that so frequently surrounds us. We want answers, especially when life is kicking us, or those we love, in the groin. We believe God owes us an answer. Therefore, we engage in our own epic rap battle with him, demanding that he make himself known, petitioning him to account, desirous to show that we know better than him.
Considering our critical disposition, God’s responses are rarely adequate enough for us. They leave us feeling bludgeoned and unmoored. However, this dissatisfaction is the very thing that exposes our own defective reasoning.
And, perhaps this is the point.
Job forces us to sit in this discomfort and tension. It compels us to acknowledge the formulas by which we evaluate God’s character, and challenges us to reexamine the boxes we place God in. It encourages us to reevaluate our smallness in comparison to God’s vastness. It invites us to recognize that circumstances rarely adhere to our cookie cutter schemas. It reminds us that God can’t be reduced to a formula and neither can the happenings of our lives.
In light of God’s majesty, along with Job, we confess we know very little.
Yet, we also confess, that we still trust the Creator of the universe; there is nowhere else to turn in moments of despair. Despite seemingly insufficient answers, we embrace the mystery, confident that the world's Architect is constructing something meaningful with our pain and suffering.
* Grimsrud, Ted. God’s Healing Strategy, revised edition. Cascadia Publishing House, Telford, PA. 2010
***Gilbert, Pierre. Old Testament Wisdom Literature. June, 2011.