I love finding the story of humanity’s depravity and redemption hiding in unlikely places. Job’s friends, in their imperfect understanding of God’s justice, assumed that his suffering must have been caused by sin. We know they were wrong because God told Satan that he had incited Him to ruin Job “without cause.” (Job 2:3)
Yet as Job and his friends discuss Job’s situation, they keep hinting at a larger picture, and I can’t help but think that this story is peeking at something more fundamental about humanity. “Remember now, who ever perished being innocent?” Eliphaz says. “Can a man be pure before his Maker?” (Job 4:7, 17) “Does God pervert justice?” Bildad asks. (Job 8:3)
I think they’re hinting at man’s sin that condemns him as deserving of the ultimate suffering of death. Job is confident that God’s justice will vindicate him if he could only present his case. “Behold now, I have prepared my case; I know that I will be vindicated.” (Job 13:18) “I would present my case before Him and fill my mouth with arguments… I would be delivered forever from my Judge.” (Job 23:4-7) We know that Job’s sin did not cause this suffering, but we also know that, like all men, Job had sinned. If he had to present his entire life, then God’s justice, far from vindicating him, would damn for his sins!
Job also wishes that someone could mediate between God and him. “He is not a man as I am… there is no umpire between us, who may lay his hand upon us both.” (Job 9:32-33)
Job doesn’t need a mediator to argue that he is innocent. He needs the Mediator, Jesus, who did come as a Man, to argue that even though he is not innocent and deserves suffering and death, the Mediator has taken his place so he doesn’t have to receive what he deserves!
I think there are two levels to this story. There is the limited picture of God’s justice in specific situations in this life, where we learn that Job was indeed a righteous man and that specific suffering is not necessarily caused by sin.
But there is also a bigger picture in which all of us have sinned, and the wages of that sin are suffering and death. (Romans 6:23) In that bigger picture, our righteous deeds are “as filthy rags,” (Isaiah 64:6), and no self-arguing before God can cleanse us of that. I love Paul’s exclamation at the end of Romans 7:
“Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!“