After surviving the horrors of Nazi concentration camps, Elie Wiesel wrote a novel titled The Trial of God. Reflecting Wiesel’s own crisis of faith, he created a character who accuses God of “hostility, cruelty, and indifference” for silently turning His back on His people in their time of need. In this plot, the only one who comes to God’s defense is a stranger who turns out to be the devil.
Wiesel’s mock trial of God is written in the tradition of a far more serious drama preserved in one of the oldest stories in the Bible. In the Old Testament book of Job, God is accused of wrongs not only by His worst enemy, but also by one of His best friends.
In the Bible narrative, Satan accuses God of buying the loyalty of a man named Job. As the adversary sees it, Job remains faithful to God in exchange for God’s willingness to prosper and protect Job’s family, wealth, and health.
In response to this indictment, God allows Satan to test Job’s motives and loyalty with a series of personal losses. The reversals are so momentous that three of Job’s friends leave their own homes and come together to sit for 7 days with their friend in silent grief.
At first, Job reacts to his sudden change of fortune with restraint and reverence. But his pain and grief are so devastating that he eventually caves in and accuses the Almighty of wronging him. His three comforters are so unnerved by what they hear Job saying that they take up the defense of God and accuse Job of deserving his pain.
What are his friends thinking? After hearing Job turn against God, his comforters think they know why he is suffering. They are convinced that “you reap what you sow” in life, and back one another up in arguing for a direct correlation between Job’s losses and some secret, moral failure he is refusing to admit (Job 4:7-8). Over and over again they press the same logic. God doesn’t make mistakes. When we suffer, we are getting a return on the bad seeds we have planted.
Actually, his friends are theologically correct. They are right in saying that God doesn’t punish good and reward evil. But in trying to defend God against Job’s complaint of unfairness, they misrepresented both God and Job.
The result is a lengthy series of arguments between Job and his friends as Job defends his innocence and his friends accuse him of a cover-up.
What was Job thinking? Job’s thoughts of God might surprise us. Instead of saying, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” he says, in effect, “My God, my God, why won’t You leave me alone?” Rather than thinking that heaven is ignoring his agony, he sighs and gasps, “What is mankind that You make so much of them, that You give them so much attention, that You examine them every morning and test them every moment? Will You never look away from me, or let me alone even for an instant? If I have sinned, what have I done to You, You who sees everything we do? Why have You made me Your target? Have I become a burden to You?” (Job 7:17-20 NIV).
What Job does not understand is that the court of heaven had declared as inadmissible evidence the prior conversation between God and Satan that would explain his suffering.
Then a surprise ending. When God finally speaks, He doesn’t tell Job why He let him suffer. Nor does He blame Satan for what happened. The Lord of heaven doesn’t even thank the three friends for trying to defend the honor of the Almighty.
Instead, in a surprise move, God speaks out of a storm. In effect, He calls Job to the witness stand and asks him questions like, “Where were you when I created the world? Can you understand how I did it? Can you do what I’ve done?” Then God talks about the weather, the ever-changing wind, and clouds that gather water and then release them on command. With closing arguments that seem to come from nowhere, and then from everywhere, the great Judge of the universe presents a compelling series of physical exhibits.
The implication is clear: “If I am powerful and wise enough to create Orion in the night sky, a wild ox, and an ostrich, can you trust Me in the trouble I have allowed into your life?”
Job’s complaints are silenced. The indictment of his accusers is overturned. The witness of the natural world to the immeasurable wisdom and power of God is enough to bring Job to his knees and to his senses.
And now as we are tested, an eagle soars overhead. A tree pushes roots deep into rich earth while lifting its branches to the sun. A wolf howls. Sheep wander around looking for grass. A full moon lights the night . . . as God waits for the real trial of His Son, on our behalf, to be remembered.
Father in heaven, we acknowledge with Job that the evidence of Your power and wisdom we see in the creation around us is enough to cast doubt on any accusation against You. —Mart De Haan