On one level, Job rightly maintains his innocence against the advice of his friends. Incidentally, their traditional title of Job’s ‘comforters’ seems a bit inappropriate, given the airy and irrelevant wisdom they bring to him.
On another level, Job declares that he knows he is guilty before God, in that everyone is. The gulf between God and mortals is absolute, and no mortal measures up to the standard of God’s holiness. God is entirely within his rights to punish Job, even if Job with his clouded vision can’t work out where his particular sin is.
At the same time, there’s an undercurrent of protest. He doesn’t doubt the justice of God, but he still wants to understand it, and so far he cannot. Beautifully, Job laments that there is no umpire between him and God, so how can justice be seen to be done?
For he is not a mortal, as I am, that I might answer him, that we should come to trial together. 33 There is no umpire [ 46 ] between us, who might lay his hand on us both. 34 If he would take his rod away from me, and not let dread of him terrify me, 35 then I would speak without fear of him, for I know I am not what I am thought to be. (9:32-35)
It’s a wonderful image of our need for a mediator, not here to bring salvation and forgiveness, but to assure us that – even when it is hard to believe – God does not have it in for us. Job feels deeply the need for one who might ‘lay his hand on us both’, to bridge the gap. But where can we find someone who can see and understand our pain both from God’s point of view and from ours?
This isn’t a passage I remember ever noticing before, but it speaks to my certainty, formed by years of pastoral ministry, that I could not worship, certainly not love, God were it not for Jesus. I feel too much for Job in his grief and confusion. I could not love a god who kept distant from suffering. I can only love, Worship and trust the God I see coming into the world in Jesus. He stretched out his hands to lay them on us and on his Father. Only he, as fully God and fully human could do that. And while he stretched out his hands, we humans put nails through them.
He understands undeserved suffering. Job didn’t know that. I do. And I love him and trust him.