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Rediscovering Ol’ Man Job

I love the long, gradual crescendo. You know, the song that builds from simple instrumentation and a singular voice at the beginning to a rapturous, sweeping symphony of sound at the end. I love U2’s One. Songs like that have a way of drawing you in – you’ll be driving and quietly whisper-singing the lyrics, and your pulse is slowly rising with the volume as you sing, then shout, and eventually your body is rocking and you’re drumming the steering wheel and the concerned family in the minivan next to you is hitting the power locks as you scream “Carry each other, carry each otheeeeerr oooooooohhhhh!”

I always thought of the book of Job to be a kind of literary equivalent to the long crescendo. Job’s loneliness and pain in the beginning builds to frustration, his friends react to his professed innocence, Job reacts to their judgment, the rhetoric is ratcheted up, Elihu chimes in, presuming to speak for God, and finally in the last chapters, God appears and presents the loudest voice and Job is vindicated.

But, then I read it again recently.

I’m not going to lie. I got bored halfway through. The larger part of the book kind of seems like an endless rehashing of the same argument. The book doesn’t draw me in emotionally like One.
It did not draw me in because Job is not a crescendo.

So what kind of song is Job? I think I’ve found a better comparison. See, what happens in the culmination of the story is not a louder recapitulation of one of the recurring arguments in the book. To put it in musical terms, there is an entirely different melody introduced in chapter 38 when the Lord speaks.

Read the book again, and you’ll see the ending is a violent change of direction–a jolting surprise to all of the characters. On one side (Job’s), God says, “Who do you think you are? Stop talking.” and to Job’s friends, He says, “You’re wrong, stop talking.” Everyone is so wrong–it’s almost like two boys on a hill at night arguing about which star is brightest in our sky–and neither of them names the sun. Chapter 38 is the sun rising on those kids, and God is the sun, beating down and saying, "Booyah!"

God drills Job with 72 questions. He interrupts the entire flow of the book with His own inconvenient truth. Nobody can presume to know what He is thinking when this or that happens. And no one can speak for him. Rather God asks,

“Have you ever given orders to the morning,

or shown the dawn its place,

that it might take the earth by the edges

and shake the wicked out of it?”

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God hits Job with something brand new–no more speculation, just the Truth.

And that’s when it hit me: this book is not a crescendo like the song "One," it is a rare form of song, like Paul Simon’s "Cool, Cool River" or Guster’s "Come Downstairs and Say Hello". I don’t know if there’s a name for it, but both songs are quiet and slow and without a memorable melody–whenever I hear them come through my earbuds I ask myself, “Why do I keep these songs on my iPod?” (Space is very precious after all, when you have only 2 gigs.)

Then I remember–just like Job–it’s the ending I love. At the darkest point, when you’ve sat through two minutes of musical monotony, there is a new melody that bursts forth unexpectedly. The rhythm is different. The tone is different. There is hope in the lyrics.

So it is with Job. The first three quarters of the book leave you drained. Hopeless and searching for clarity in chaos. This is, after all, what you get when men try to explain away pain.

And then God comes. And everything changes. His appearance makes the wait worth it.

He doesn’t play the same tune. He doesn’t pick sides. And most of all, He doesn’t answer Job’s questions. He doesn’t need to. He is the answer.

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