With so many personalities returning to Twitter, we wonder who ever really gets the final word in public discourse. It looked as though for a while all the labeling, banning, and outright canceling would have decided that question.
I can’t say that everything on social media is something worth saying, that it’s all helpful, or tactful, let alone spiritually healthy. But I understand the free speech concept. Without it, I couldn’t have written this blog for very long. Some reader would have eventually tattled on me for hurting their feelings, and Bareknuckle would not have survived the last decade.
At times I’ve had to walk away, though, from toxic online exchanges because I knew there could never be an edifying conclusion to them. It’s as though there’s an eleventh commandment to some people: Thou shalt win every debate with skull crushing certainty.
Keyboard warriors of the political/social ilk are the absolute worst of these, but religious people aren’t far behind. After all, the latter can footnote God, clubbing any opponent into submission with reams of cut-and-paste Google theology.
Take Job’s three friends. They apparently knew the man, but with his sudden downturn of circumstances, attributed his problems to God judging some hidden corruption in him. They then began bashing chapter after chapter, as they tripled-teamed Job. At some point he began to buckle under their berating, perhaps even feeling their barbed words were worse than enduring the loss of his children and possessions.
The “teaching” of these alleged friends stands to this day as some of the most poetic examples of empty truisms ever uttered. Presumptive. Opinionated. Misapplied. Pawn shop weapons used on a friend. They whip Job far beyond the Mosaic punishment of “forty lashes, minus one” and there hadn’t been any sin committed! This wasn’t justice, just lazy misjudgment.
Whoever said Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me, was never on the receiving end of a social media dogpile, or a woke-inspired HR lynching, or a hung church lady jury. In every case, words can make you feel like the world has come to an end.
And have you ever noticed that those who listen to those words, even if they are not among the attackers, start behaving toward you strangely aloof, cool, even? In verse 13, Job mentions estranged brothers, in verse 14 the failure of relatives and the neglect of close friends. In verse 15-16 his guests and maidservants no longer seem to relate to him. In the case of the maid, it was a person who should have respected him, if at least by contractual arrangement, but she no longer answers when Job calls. In verse 17 even his wife is estranged, as well as his siblings. In verse 18 the young children who ought to esteem him as an elder despise him. In verse 19 his closest friends abhor him and loved ones turn against him.
When this scenario develops, you know fixing it will be as futile as putting toothpaste back in the tube. And if you’ve lost all decorum over it by pitching fits, as Job did, you’ve no doubt made things much worse.
It is precisely at this point that Job reveals a hidden layer of confidence that perhaps even he did not know was there until now:
19:25 I know that my Redeemer lives,
and at the last he will stand upon the earth.
Some commentators wrestle with the identity of the Redeemer mentioned here, and whether it refers specifically to Christ. Of course Job did not possess the crystal clarity of being on this side of the cross, and thus did not know along with the rest of us that the unique Redeemer to end all redeemers was Jesus, God incarnate. Still, Job’s heart cried out for redemption, a mediatorial work that would make possible his direct access to God.
This may be why in Verse 26 he said,
“And after my skin has been thus destroyed,
yet in my flesh I shall see God”
He believed that this redeemer, not his estranged fellows, nor his critical friends, “at the last” would have the final word. The idea is similar to Romans chapter 8, where Paul writes, 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.” The apostle trusted that his redeemer would overrule any accuser.
In his own way, Job did, too. But unfortunately, he kept on talking, because he was the kind of guy who still thinks on the last day he will have the last word.
This is where innocent folks can go haywire, trying to justify (or, in the words of chapter 19, “redeem” themselves). That’s why the book grinds on, with Job lashing out, stirring up a mud trail you could see from space. He only falls into reverent silence when God appears and rebukes his mouth in chapter 38.
However, that silence is golden. In the wake of it, God then freely speaks on the man’s behalf, vindicating him before his antagonists in chapter 42. One can only imagine Job standing there in rags and covered with sores, but finally quiet, and at peace.
All attempts to malign and condemn him have, in the end, truly failed because Another speaks for him now at a volume no earthly noise can drown out.