Bildad and Job

The Book of Job is on the menu for Evening Prayer at the moment, and between last night and tonight we have contrasting, but connected texts.  In chapter 17, Job, through verses that are difficult to decipher, makes the case against the easy optimism of his friends, whom he indicates in verse 12, the attitude: “They make night into day; ‘The light’ they say, ‘is near to the darkness’.”  In fact Job himself is struggling to find understanding, and is seeing himself in the role of a suffering servant of God; one who is, “a byword to the peoples, and one before whom men spit.”

However, tonight we come to chapter 18.  I really dislike Bildad the Shuite, one of Job’s pals.  As one commentator has put it, he is like the men who brought the woman taken in adultery to Jesus for condemnation, or, equally obnoxiously, his outlook is much as that of Mr Collins’ judgement on Lydia in Pride and Prejudice.  (The Book of Job by Antony and Miriam Hanson SCM p.67)

So I am not approaching tonight’s Old Testament reading with rose-coloured spectacles.  Bildad was a man marked by self-righteous piety, and he saw in Job a classic sinner who was receiving his just desert.  Job is someone in considerable confusion, and, ‘hunting for words’, but should, in Bildad’s eyes, stop trying to search for God in profound questioning and intensity of spiritual introspection, but rather accept that, “his own schemes have thrown him down,” and that, “he is cast into a net by his own feet.”

Yes, well, such is the the view of Job’s comforter: the timeless view that sin brings its own punishment, as tonight’s reading ends with the assessment of Job’s fallen life in the words, “such are the dwellings of the ungodly, such is the place of him who knows not God.”

But, please do not end Saturday with such thoughts, for after the Old Testament lesson, we are reading through the Canticle that follows, that speaks verse after verse of the love of God (1 John 4: 7-11, 12b), then, we read the New Testament lesson, which just so happens to be the magnificent closing verses of Romans chapter 8 (31-end).  We have an antidote to Bildad the Shuite here, as St Paul concludes these verses of mercy and grace, reminding the Church in Rome of Christ’s self-sacrifice, and of a Father who does not spare his own Son, with these words:

“For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

John Mann