jonathan stone's blog

. . . posts on faith and life

Scream

When I hear people discuss the book of Job I sometimes walk away wondering if they have actually ever read the book. For example, I often hear people slamming Job’s friends. You know, stuff like, “I sure wouldn’t want to have friends like that.” To which I always want to respond with something like, “You mean friends who would sit with me in silence for seven days and seven nights? Who would recognize that my grief was very great? Surround me with unconditional love and support? Engage my deepest questions once I was ready to talk? Yeah, who wants friends like that?”

More misconceptions often show up when people talk about what the problem was in the book. You know, who was right and who was wrong (because that’s the most important question to answer). I hear about all the bad theology that Job’s friends were espousing, and all of the great things that Job said about God. To which I always want to respond with something like, “All the great things Job said? Really? You mean like how the first words out of his mouth after his seven days of silence was to curse the day he was born? Or how he accused God of being unjust and tyrannical? Or perhaps how he boasted of his innocence and challenged God to show him otherwise? Or when he asked God if he was having fun torturing him? Or maybe when Job begged God to leave him alone so he could at least have a few moments of joy before he died?”

It’s like the spirit of Job hits me when I hear these misconceptions. I want to scream like Job did. Of course, I never really say those things. I keep myself calm, cool and collected. Unlike Job, I care what my friends think. I care what God thinks. You know why? Because I haven’t suffered enough.

There is a clever insight into the book of Job that was revealed to me by a spiritual father of mine, Rickie Moore. It is a point published in an essay entitled Raw Prayer and Refined Theology, which can be found in this festschrift. It is an explanation of a little word in Job 42:7, which reads:

After the LORD had said these things to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has.”

The key is found in the preposition about. God tells Eliphaz that he is angry with him and his friends because they have not spoken the truth about God, as did Job. If you take the time to actually read the book you will know that something seems wrong here. Job said a lot of things. A lot of what he said was specifically about God, but very little of it sounds like the truth about God. In contrast, read the speeches of Job’s friends. They exalt God. They speak of his justice. They talk about his infinite power. They proclaim his endless wisdom. They say a whole lot about God. And it all sounds like the truth. What is going on here?

As it turns out the Hebrew preposition translated about is a common one, ‘el. It is used hundreds of times in the Hebrew bible, and it can be translated about. However, you will only find a couple of examples where it is translated that way. Every other time it is translated to. In other words, the better translation is this:

After the LORD had said these things to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken the truth to me, as my servant Job has.”

Interesting. One little pronoun. Yet, it changes our understanding of the entire book of Job. We do not think of the power of prepositions as English speakers. But there is a world of difference between speaking the truth about God and speaking the truth to God. The point was not for Job to speak about God, but for him to speak to God. And Job did exactly that for the entirety of the story. It is bewildering that it is almost impossible to find an English translation that gets this right. But one humble, Hebrew scholar saw it easily. How did he see it? I think he saw it because he has suffered.

If you have suffered you might not need this insight. Perhaps you are not waiting for permission to speak the truth to God concerning your pain, your suffering. Then again, maybe you are waiting. Maybe you do need that permission. Here is the truth. Whether your pain is great or small, God wants you to bring it to him. Scream it to him. In the end he will show up and he will answer. And at that point you will know that he is big enough to handle your biggest accusations…your strongest complaints…your loudest screams. But more importantly, for the first time in a long time you will know this: you are not alone. Even when you’re screaming in the dark.

22 comments on “Scream

  1. Mary Ruth Stone
    February 7, 2012

    Wow! You have given me a lot to think about. Another thing about the Book of Job is whether or not one reads the book straight through or whether one reads it piecemeal. It is much more meaningful straight through.

    • Jonathan Stone
      February 7, 2012

      So true, mom! It’s a long read, but you cannot get the full experience without reading it straight through!

  2. Tony Casados
    February 11, 2012

    Jonathan,

    Your post reminds me of the words of Paul in Philippians, “whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in this I rejoice.” I don’t think the preposition is as important as you or your friend is making it out to be. It is impossible for us to speak about God in the third person. He is not some object we can pull out of time and space. When we speak about Him, we speak to Him. I would challenge you that in spite of your exhortation at the end of the post, your conception of God is not sufficiently grand, if you believe you can exclude Him from your conversations.

    • emilyelizabethstone
      February 11, 2012

      However, Tony, I find that there are many people who know ABOUT God…but, do not KNOW Him. Likewise, I find that there are many, many people who talk ABOUT God in this world, including philosophers and athiests, but do not talk TO Him.

      Is God privileged to the conversation and dialogue going on about Him? Certainly. Does that mean He feels an intimacy about the exchange? I’m not convinced.

      The point for me in this passage, as well as others, is that God seems to desire us to face Him at times…even if it involves wrestling (as with Jacob) or screaming (as with Job). Is there time for shoulder to shoulder discourse? Certainly. Is that all God wants from our relationship with Him. My theology tells me otherwise.

      This is a common idea out there way before Dr. Stone or Dr. Moore brought up the prepositions.

      So, prepositions aside…

      Job’s friends, whether you change the preposition or not…talked ABOUT God. Job talked TO God…and I appreciate Job’s example for me. And, “In all of this, he did not sin” Job 1:22. Wow, could this mean that I can be real with God…and, sure, He might answer me back pretty big…but, in all of this…it is not sin?

      What freedom to be transparent and intimate with my Creator.

      I talk more about this here:

      http://emilyelizabethstone.com/2011/09/12/wrestling-playing-tennis-and-ramming-cars/

      • Jonathan Stone
        February 11, 2012

        Well said, Emily. It is, as Rickie calls it, “raw prayer.” Many need permission to pray it!

    • Jonathan Stone
      February 11, 2012

      Tony,

      Thanks for your comment. You bring up a great point. One I had not thought about in precisely the way that you are starting it. And if I were going to expand the point of the post beyond the idea of giving permission to speak to God with congruence then I think it would be an important one to include.

      I think your point is an important point in a deeper study of the book of Job because it brings in another aspect that I ignored (knowingly, and with conflicted feelings), and that is the sort of “correction” that Job gets in the end. When God finally shows up He speaks to Job in much of the same tone that Job spoke to Him throughout the book. When I have discussed the book of job with others in various studies this sense of “correction” often gets expressed. I think there is a sort of correction there, and it is along the lines of what you are saying in your comment. That is, God was never excluded from the conversation. And while Job may have felt alone in his pain, God “corrects” him on that point, and reveals to him a “sufficiently grand” picture of who He is to Job.

      However, God also affirms Job in the same process. There are few pictures in all of Scripture of God drawing so intimately close to a human in so much glory. Yes, Job had not been alone. But I am quite certain that Job had never seen God in all of his power and beauty as he did in the last four chapters of the book. In that sense, God entered onto the scene in a way that He had not previously been. He had always been there, but not in a way that they could sense Him.

      I say all of that to say that I do not disagree with your point about God being in all of our conversations. But your point, in my mind, does not take anything away from the point of the post. As for the issue of the preposition, Rickie published those thoughts in an essay entitled “Raw Prayer and Refined Theology.” You can find that essay in this festschrift.

      Shalom!

      • Jonathan Stone
        February 11, 2012

        EDITOR’S NOTE: I have added to the post a link for the essay mentioned.

      • Tony Casados
        February 12, 2012

        Jonathan,

        Thank you (and Emily) for the perspective and insight. Truth be told, I probably did not read and respond to this post in the right spirit this morning (long story) and could have chosen my words more graciously. Yours and Emily’s responses were much more charitable than my initial comment deserved. Thank you to both of you.

  3. Jonathan Stone
    February 12, 2012

    Tony,

    If you were in a bad place when you wrote then your post probably sounded a lot worse to you when you reread it than it did when I read it. Wasn’t that bad to me. Nonetheless, thanks for the heartfelt words, and thanks for taking the time to read.

    Shalom!

  4. Pingback: To speak well of God (2) « Diary of a Biblical scholar

  5. Stephen Cook
    February 16, 2012

    Jonathan, you make some great points here and I thank you for bringing them to my attention. In his introduction to Psalms Eugene Peterson wrote that biblical prayers in Hebrew are “earthy and rough” and he encourages us to pray with raw honesty, articulating our despair, anger, disappointment and frustration. In the context of Job, to ‘speak well to God’ is to confront him with our concerns when his world appears to be unfair and his ways unjust.

  6. Jonathan Stone
    February 16, 2012

    Well said, Stephen. Thanks for the attention you gave to the pronoun on your blog. I look forward to seeing what you uncover in your investigation.

  7. Media 4 Life Ministries
    February 17, 2012

    Thanks Jonathon, enjoyed reading your post.

  8. anzaholyman
    February 18, 2012

    Thank You it is interesting how this idea was creeping into my current teaching on Job, I love the way that works.

    • Jonathan Stone
      February 18, 2012

      I love it when that happens too. Thanks for stopping by.

  9. anzaholyman
    February 18, 2012

    Reblogged this on Anzaholyman's Blog.

  10. Bob Seidensticker
    February 21, 2012

    Looking at the book as a whole, Job teaches that God did the things that he did simply because he could. There’s no justification (except that might makes right), no moral reason that explains the trials God puts Job through. A discouraging message.

    I also found it odd (at least from a modern perspective) that the book ends with God restoring everything to Job. He has twice the wealth he has and 10 new kids. It ignores the fact that his 10 old kids are still dead.

    BTW, kudos on the look of your blog–very professional.

    • Jonathan Stone
      February 21, 2012

      You’re right, Bob. It is an odd ending. Yet, people act as if the “restoration” of Job’s “wealth” makes everything better.

      Thanks on the look of the blog. I am liking it!

  11. Pingback: For What It’s Worth… Loss | Emily Elizabeth Stone

  12. bellaverita
    March 7, 2012

    Hi Jonathan. Really interesting post. Speaking the truth ‘to’ God is essential to relationship with Him and in the midst of difficulty, we need Him. Talking ‘about’ Him doesn’t cut it, He is the one who brings the hope.

    Thanks for pointing this out & thanks for your comment on my blog, too. Blessings!

    • Jonathan Stone
      March 7, 2012

      You’re welcome. Thanks for stopping by, and blessings today to you and yours.

  13. Pingback: For What It’s Worth… Loss

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: