(Did Job Speak Irreverently to God?)

QUESTION: Ernest asks, "Did Job ever talk back to God? A friend of mine said he heard a preacher say that Job sassed God."

ANSWER: You ask a wonderful question. I've studied and taught the book of Job for over 40 years, and am still learning from it. I have posted a whole Bible study series on my website about Job called Job Studies. It takes a little different angle on the story than most, but I believe it is true to the book.

As to your question: The answer is yes, and no. (Sorry for the "political" response!) It's a rather loaded question, you see. The terms "talk back" and "sassed" seem to characterize Job's words in a negative way. They suggest the man had no respect for the Lord, but that is not the case.

Job was going through a time of extreme suffering which, from his perspective, seemed to have no purpose or explanation. One day he was a righteous man, enjoying the blessings of God. (The Lord says he was the greatest saint of his day, Job 2:3.) Then he suddenly lost everything, his children, his wealth, his health, and more.

Job knew nothing of the devil's malicious plan. He could only think that all his troubles came directly from the hand of God. But why? He (Job) had not changed. His three "friends" insist he must have committed some great wickedness, and was being punished for it. But Job knew in his own heart that was not so.

The man was in agony. Constant physical pain, and sleepless nights disturbed by nightmares, brought a depth of anguish few have ever had to face. (Satan is skilled at these things!) And the most painful thing was the issue that tormented Job: What is God really like? If God can suddenly turn against a righteous man, if God can torment and "punish" a good man for no reason, what does that say about Him? Could it be that God is fickle, and does things on a whim, with no good purpose in mind?

What the preacher you mentioned calls "sassing" the Lord is actually a great saint being honest with God about his doubts and fears, and his emotional distress. But Job was not struggling with these things because he was rebelling against the Lord, rather because he was desperately trying to find Him in the darkness, and cling to Him. That's a big difference!

There are times when servants of God, confused and uncertain about what the Lord is doing, pour out their hearts honestly before Him. Looked at from outside the experience, sitting in our comfortable chairs, we may be inclined to say, "Tisk, tisk! What a terrible thing to say!"

But the Lord understands the motivation, and the turmoil of the human heart. "He remembers that we are dust" (Ps. 103:13-14). He understands the difference between contempt and disrespect on the one hand, and an honest venting of perplexed emotion on the other. (This is a distinction Job's three self-righteous companions could not appreciate, Job 6:26.)

The prophet Jeremiah is another who was perfectly honest in his prayers about how he felt. At various points he accuses God of deception, of lying to the people (Jer. 4:10), of being unreliable (Jer. 15:18), and of coercing or seducing him to do wrong (Jer. 20:7)! But the Lord understands where he's coming from. Or consider how Moses blamed the Lord after his first failed attempt to get Pharaoh to free the people from slavery: "Why have You brought trouble on this people?" (Exod. 5:1-2, 22-23).

I'm not trying to minimize the seriousness of such language, or suggest it's all right to be irreverent, but merely pointing out that we need to understand the motivation. It's important to be honest with God about how we feel. The praying of a troubled saint should not become an exercise in "let's pretend"! In calmer and more settled moments, each of these men reveals a deep reverence for God, and a desire to serve Him. And the Lord knew their hearts.

The devil was convinced Job was only serving God for what he was getting out of it, Job 1:9-10. And within the confines of the book, Job never receives an explanation from God about his troubles coming from Satan. Somewhere along the line, the Lord obviously revealed this to someone--if not to Job, then to the one who wrote his story. Otherwise, we would not have Chapters 1 and 2. But it is important to the lessons of the book that Job reaches out to God without an explanation.

One of the characters in the book who appears later, Elihu, gives us the whole point of Job's experience in five words: "God is greater than man" (Job 33:12). That may not be very satisfying, but that's it. The Lord knows what he's doing. And in the end Job accepts that. He leaves the just resolution of his suffering to the Lord. And in so doing he has proved, for all time, that the devil was wrong. That it is possible to love and honour God for what He is in Himself, apart from any material blessings He might give.

Job is one of the Bible's greatest saints--perhaps the greatest of all. Satan chose his target well. If he could prove Job to be a hypocrite--God's best man (apart from Christ, of course)--that would cast doubt on the motivation of all of us. But Job stayed true to the Lord through the worst possible ordeal. He says of God, "Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him" (Job 13:150. Oh, for such a faith as that!