08 April 2012


"If a man dies, will he live again?

All the days of my hard service

I will wait for my renewal to come."

Job 14:14

Job... poses the ultimate question: "If a man dies, will he live again?" It is worth noting that the question is not "If a man dies, will he go to Heaven?" or "Will death turn out to be a doorway into something wonderful?" No, Job's question is a more unusual one than that, for it concerns whether or not a human being, once dead and doomed to Sheol, might possibly live again. What is remarkable in this approach (and that of the Bible as a whole) is that it neither sidesteps nor soft-pedals the harsh reality of death. Instead, making to attempt to belittle death's undoubted finality, Job looks its horror straight in the face. He accepts this dark destiny as his due and so becomes, like Jesus Himself, obedient to death" (Phil 2.8).

In the face of such absolute gloom Job's prophetic eye nevertheless discerns a quickening ray, in the form of the strange hypothesis that even those long dead in the grave might one day be brought back to life. It is important to grasp that this notion had no place whatsoever in the orthodox theological doctrine of Job's day. Later Old Testament writers, from David on, were to deliver startling prophecies of bodily resurrection (see, for example, Ps 16.10, Isa 26.19; Dan 12.2). But in the more primitive Biblical literature there is no such teaching. As commentator Norman Habel writes, "The resurrection terminology employed in Job's speech seems to reflect a popular tradition against which standard Israelite teaching was directed" (italics added). To the ears of Job's friends, in other words, all his fine eschatological conjectures would have been heresy, and Eliphaz says as much in his ensuing rebuttal (see Chapter 15).

There is a funny thing about heresy, however, which is that in the odd case where the heretic turns out to be right, he is no longer a heretic but a prophet. And Job's solution to the intolerable question mark of death just happens to be God's own solution, as proclaimed by Jesus in John 5.25: "I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come where the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live." With what heartrending tenderness Job pictures the enactment o this very event when he predicts, "You will call and I will answer You; You will long for the creature Your hands have made" (14.15). Moreover, he declares that however long it might take, "I will wait for my renewal to come" (v. 14). Surely Job's attitude is the very epitome of New Testament faith, as Christians too "wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved" (Rom 8.23-24). Having posed the question, "If a man dies, will he live again?" Job places so much weight on an affirmative answer that he as much as states with Paul, "If the dead are not raised... your faith is futile, you are still in your sins" (1 Cor 15.16-17).

In the light of all this Job must certainly be seen as a very early (and perhaps the earliest) Christian prophet of the resurrection. In Chapter 14, his thinking on this subject is still groping and tentative. But in subsequent speeches, as he continues to probe the open wound of death, his statements row increasingly bold to the point where in 19.25-26 he will attain to the great climactic confession "I know that my Redeemer lives... And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God." Surely this is the essential Christian hope and promise, so much so that the earthly life of the Christian may be said to consist in practicing for this moment of resurrection: "Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you" (Eph 5.14). Other religions may be quite happy to let the old body rot in the ground, so long as the soul journeys onward or is reincarnated. But to the Christian this is a horrifying evasion of reality -- as it is to all those who have grappled hard and honestly with this issue (including, oddly enough, many a pagan culture like that of the ancient Egyptians, who could not conceive of the hereafter except in bodily terms, and so loaded their tombs with hordes of worldly effects). In the final analysis it is not so much the salvation of our souls that we human creatures are primarily concerned about, as the salvaging of our poor, dear, bedraggled hides. For we do not just have bodies -- we are bodies. And so what we really long for is not to become pure disembodied souls, but rather to have our souls harmoniously reunited with our bodies in order that our bodies can work the way they are meant to without ever wearing out. And lo! -- this very dream turns out to be exactly what our Savior Jesus Christ has for us up His amazing sleeve.

(from pp 163-164, The Gospel According to Job, by Mike Mason)

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