I was reading Job 11 and 12 this morning. It struck me how very "God-centred" that worthless comforter Zophar was. Or so he would claim.
Job has been insisting on his innocence in suffering throughout the book. Long chapters consist of Job saying "I really am suffering, but no I'm really not guilty." But the existence of righteous suffering is not a possibility in Zophar's philosophy. (Of course the works-driven flesh detests the idea that our rule-keeping can't insulate us from calamity). So Zophar addresses Job with impatience, saying:
4 You say to God, ‘My beliefs are flawless
and I am pure in your sight.’
5 Oh, how I wish that God would speak,
that he would open his lips against you
6 and disclose to you the secrets of wisdom,
for true wisdom has two sides.
Know this: God has even forgotten some of your sin.
7 “Can you fathom the mysteries of God?
Can you probe the limits of the Almighty?
8 They are higher than the heavens—what can you do?
They are deeper than the depths of the grave—what can you know?
9 Their measure is longer than the earth and wider than the sea.
And you can read this and think, Well said Zophar. Some kind of confrontation with God is indeed in order here. And all that stuff about God being greater than our doing and knowing, that is very much a theme which the LORD Himself will take up when He enters the fray from chapter 38.
But as far as Zophar is concerned, the real power to reverse Job's fortunes lies with Job himself:
13 “Yet if you devote your heart to him
and stretch out your hands to him,
14 if you put away the sin that is in your hand
and allow no evil to dwell in your tent,
15 then you will lift up your face without shame;
you will stand firm and without fear.
16 You will surely forget your trouble,
recalling it only as waters gone by.
17 Life will be brighter than noonday,
and darkness will become like morning.
18 You will be secure, because there is hope;
you will look about you and take your rest in safety.
19 You will lie down, with no one to make you afraid,
and many will court your favor.
20 But the eyes of the wicked will fail,
and escape will elude them;
their hope will become a dying gasp.”
Well again there's distorted truth here. There will be a dramatic reversal to Job's fortunes. Chapter 42 will be like sunrise on the darkness of Job's suffering. But how will the reversal happen? Zophar thinks it's all up to Job.
And right there he reveals his true colours. Not so God-centred now are we Zophar? All those protestations of the transcendent majesty of God, but what it all boils down to is "God helps those who help themselves." And who is then left centre-stage? Well the spotlight is on Job. Does he have it in him to turn things around? Is he righteous enough to force the hand of the LORD?
Well if he is, how sovereign is this God Zophar speaks of?
In Job, this is what brings the reversal. It's nothing that Job does. The LORD shows up. And, absolutely, He blows Job away with a display of incredible power, speaking out of the whirlwind. But then it's the LORD who restores Job's fortunes, and it's the nasty legalists who need to be forgiven (Job 42:7-9).
The gospel according to Zophar says God is like karma-writ-large. He is some giant force of natural justice, punishing the bad and rewarding the good. And the more he "centres" on such a god, the more his moral performance becomes the real star of the show.
But what if there's a Righteous Sufferer at the heart of our faith? To be centred on Him means a radically different approach to God... He really does take centre-stage (I mean He takes it!)... and suffering - the answer is not to pull up your socks.
And once we've grapsed that, we can give the Zophars of this world both barrels of our sarcasm shot-gun:
1 Then Job replied:
2 “Doubtless you are the people,
and wisdom will die with you! (Job 12:1-2)