Christ, Our “If Only…”

Scripture Focus: Job 8.32-35
32 “He is not a mere mortal like me that I might answer him, 
that we might confront each other in court. 
33 If only there were someone to mediate between us, 
someone to bring us together, 
34 someone to remove God’s rod from me, 
so that his terror would frighten me no more. 
35 Then I would speak up without fear of him, 
but as it now stands with me, I cannot. 

Reflection: Christ, Our “If Only…”
By John Tillman

Job cries out for a mediator.

Job speaks with expansive, idiomatic imagery, recognizing an uncrossable gap between himself and his creator. God could no more come down than we could go up, and if God did step down…mountains would melt seas would flee…making Job’s problems inconsequential. 

Job had no illusions that he could actually speak to God. He only asked, “If only…”
If only, he would hear me…
If only I could face him…
If only he could hear my case…
If only I could stand in his presence…
If only there was a mediator…
If only there was a go-between…
If only there was a redeemer…

In the context of the beliefs of his age, Job’s request was foolish, impossible, and inappropriate. To propose God lower himself to address Job was unthinkable. Even as great a man as Job was reported to be, this was considered to be a prideful and sinful desire. Job’s friends, who, out of love, sat in the dust with him for days without speaking, considered this a scandalous bit of madness. This is why Job’s friends seem so harsh to us, so callous. Job is asking not only for the impossible but for the inappropriate.

But thank God that he is the God who abandons propriety to run to us. God’s love for us is foolishly, scandalously undeserved. He is the God who does the unthinkable on behalf of the unworthy.

God is a God for whom there is no uncrossable gap. He crosses the distance to us. God does not step foot on Earth to melt mountains but to melt hardened hearts, turning them back to God. God told Moses he was the Israelites’ “I am.” Christ holds out his hands to Jerusalem, Job, us, and all humanity, longing to be our “If only…”

Jesus did not wade into humanity, timidly cringing at the grossness of flesh, but rejoicing in living among us. He joyfully ate our fish, paid our taxes, touched the diseased, and spoke to (and raised) the dead.

Christ is our mediator if we let him. He stands between us and God. He removed God’s rod from us and placed it on his own back. He will remove our terror of God and allow us to perfectly see God’s tender mercies.

Christ applied for Job’s job posting and did the job. It is finished.

Divine Hours Prayer: A Reading
From the sermon of St. Paul to the people of Antioch: “To keep his promise, God has raised up for Israel one of David’s descendants, Jesus, as Savior, whose coming was heralded by John when he proclaimed the baptism of repentance for the whole people of Israel. Before John ended his course he said, ‘I am not the one you imagine me to be; there is someone coming after me whose sandal I am not fit to undo.’ My brothers, sons of Abraham’s race, and all you godfearers, this message of salvation is meant for you.” — Acts 13.23-36

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Job 9 (Listen 3:22
John 9 (Listen 4:56)

Read more about Greater Footstool, Greater God, Greater Redeemer
As Job begins, Satan walks the Earth and has power over it. Before Job ends, he declares the promise that the Redeemer will stand upon the Earth to reclaim it.

Listen to Pause To Read!
The 2nd full episode of our podcast is out. Have you listened yet? New episodes will come out weekly for a limited time! Please listen, rate the episodes, and share with others to help the show grow.

Principles, Promises, and Presence

Scripture Focus: Job 8.11-19
11 Can papyrus grow tall where there is no marsh? 
Can reeds thrive without water? 
12 While still growing and uncut, 
they wither more quickly than grass. 
13 Such is the destiny of all who forget God; 
so perishes the hope of the godless. 
14 What they trust in is fragile; 
what they rely on is a spider’s web. 
15 They lean on the web, but it gives way; 
they cling to it, but it does not hold. 
16 They are like a well-watered plant in the sunshine, 
spreading its shoots over the garden; 
17 it entwines its roots around a pile of rocks 
and looks for a place among the stones. 
18 But when it is torn from its spot, 
that place disowns it and says, ‘I never saw you.’ 
19 Surely its life withers away, 
and from the soil other plants grow.

Reflection: Principles, Promises, and Presence
By John Tillman

The problem with Job’s friends is not the content but the application. Much of what they say is wise and true.

Bildad’s chapter eight speech is an example. It’s true that plants can’t thrive without water, and we can’t thrive without God. It’s true that trusting in the things our culture prizes is like expecting a spider’s web to save you from a fall. It’s true that plants with shallow roots in rocky ground don’t survive hardship, and when our faith is shallow, it is easily uprooted. We can find similar statements in Proverbs, Psalms, the prophets, and in Jesus’ teachings. The concepts are sound, but the wisdom is misapplied to try to “fix” Job through shame and blame.

Job’s friends interpret words of wisdom as universally true conditional promises. Then, they accuse Job of breaking the conditions. “The reason these aren’t true for you, Job, is you fail to satisfy the conditions of the promise.” They act as if fixing Job’s faith will fix everything.

Words of wisdom are not promises or prophecies. They are principles. When we misinterpret principles as promises, disappointment and disillusionment are inevitable. When we quote principles as promises to those in suffering, intending to cheer them up or “fix” their faith, we damage what we want to strengthen. Fixing their faith, even if we can, rarely fixes everything.

Those harmed in this way can develop an adverse reaction to the Bible itself. We can understand why. They see it as a hurtful bludgeon instead of a healing balm. You may know someone like this or have experienced this yourself. Quoting more verses can’t easily fix this, even if properly applied. It is unhelpful to sing “songs to a heavy heart.” (Proverbs 25.18-20)

Helping friends in suffering like Job’s is harder than quoting the perfect proverbs or Bible verses to teach them a lesson. Before leaning on rhetoric, rest in God’s presence. Awareness of God’s presence with us is more comforting than promises for the future and more corrective than lectures about our past. God’s presence is a power we bring to bear without teaching a lesson or even saying a word.

To the hurting, your presence (and the presence of God you bring) is better than a promise, even if the promise is true. Love must come before lessons and preparing the soil before sowing a seed.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Protect me, O God, for I take refuge in you; I have said to the Lord, “You are my Lord, my good above all other.” — Psalm 16.1

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Job 8 (Listen 2.06
John 8 (Listen 7:33)

Read more about Unhurried Wisdom
If we are not presently in Job’s position, we are one of the friends. The world around us is constantly suffering…

Read The Bible With Us
Share this subscription link with friends, family, or your community of faith. Find joy reflecting on God’s Word!