For I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth;and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God.
It is hard to read these words without them bringing to mind Handel’s Messiah. The soaring solo voice, music filled with faith and assurance, carrying us into the empyrean realms. Christ crucified, the empty tomb, “see my hands and feet,” ascending to the right hand of the father – it’s all there in the music. It’s just not really there in the text. Not yet, anyway.
Job has in mind a much more earthbound meaning when he utters his cry. Job has declared that he wants to chisel his innocence into a stone monument. He knows that his ‘go’el’, the word here translated ‘redeemer’, the family member responsible for avenging any wrong done to him, will rise up to continue Job’s complaint even after Job’s flesh has been destroyed. When his pus-filled sores have broken his health and claimed his life, his avenger will continue Job’s challenge of God. But Job wants to confront God now. It’s not so much “then I shall see God” as “but I want to see God now” in my flesh, while I’m still alive. “March yourself down here right this moment and talk to me, God!”
You have to give it to Job for his boldness. We rarely talk to God that way. We come a supplicants, as children hoping for a cookie, rather than petitioners demanding what is ours by right. But the prayers of scripture are bold. Even the Lord’s Prayer is bold. The ancient liturgies invited the people to say this prayer with the phrase “Let us be so bold to pray.” We don’t hear it as bold anymore – it’s become so familiar – but people didn’t use the imperative case when talking with God. They didn’t try to tell God what he must do. But the prayer Jesus gave us is filled with the imperative: “Make your name holy. Bring your kingdom. Do your will. Give us our bread for the morrow.” The early church was intimidated by speaking to God in such a fashion; it dared to only because Jesus had commanded it – and even then, only by first acknowledging that this was a strange and dangerous way to talk to the almighty.
Jeremiah accuses God of lying to him, abusing him. Habakkuk says something equivalent to “I’m not moving from here until you answer me.” Jonah’s story we all know. Their prayers are not polite and respectful. Their prayers are not wishes thrown up to the stars. They confront God directly – and God confronts them.
I remember the day I prayed like this. Shortly after my daughter was killed, three young women were taken captive in the Middle East. The details are murky in my memory; I just remember standing in front of the TV, alone in my house, in the raw pain of Anna’s death, demanding that God set those young women free. Not asking, demanding. Ordering God to do this. No more young lives should be lost. No other parents should grieve.
I shocked myself. But there was something more than therapeutic in that prayer. Something I miss in my daily prayers. A boldness that expects to see God do what is right. A boldness that insists.
“My demand will not be silenced,” says Job. “My avenger will continue the demand. But I want you to answer me now.”
Again, Job is right.