One of my kids got into trouble last week, and it was that kind of interesting trouble all the other kids love to talk about. Juicy trouble is everyone’s favorite kind of trouble. So his siblings talked, and he was furious at the humiliating injustice of being talked about. I overheard my husband trying to explain to him that if he had acted justly in the first place, the others would have nothing to say.
My little fella isn’t alone. We are all inclined to think that we are right and everyone else is wrong. We like our own version of justice. We are quick to condemn the faults of others and justify ourselves. But we cannot be our own standard of justice, because we are finite and fallen.
This is why it’s hard to understand the book of Job. Bildad’s perspective is more familiar than Job’s, because like Bildad, we redefine righteousness to suit our own ends and try to treat justice like karma. Want to know who has sinned? Look and see how they “got what was coming to them.” But justice isn’t karma. It’s a mistake to assume that when something good happens to us, it is because we’ve been good. When we hum along with The Sound of Music’s Fraulein Maria, saying, “Nothing comes from nothing… I must have done something good,” we are singing the same tune as Bildad.
Instead of basing our outcomes on our actions, Job points out two things. First, justice is God’s, not ours: “Even if I were in the right, I could not answer. I could only beg my Judge for mercy” (Job 9:15). God is the righteous one. When He acts, no one can condemn Him. No one can contend with Him. This is uncomfortable, because we like justice to be defined our way.
Second, God is sovereign. Whether things go right or seemingly wrong for us, God is still in control. Nothing happens outside of His will. “If it isn’t he, then who is it?” Job asks rhetorically (v.24). We’ve already glimpsed into the heavens at the beginning of Job, where God gives Satan permission to torment a righteous man. God’s sovereignty is uncomfortable, especially when the wicked seem to succeed and the righteous suffer.
So we struggle with questions like these: “Does God pervert justice? Does the Almighty pervert what is right?” (8:3). The clear answer is a resounding “No!” God’s thoughts are higher than ours, and His ways higher than ours, and we cannot answer or contend with Him (Isaiah 55:8–9).
Like Job, we want to know why God allows bad things to happen (Job 10:18). But there are a lot of things we don’t get to know in this life. It shouldn’t surprise us that we cannot fully comprehend the Almighty, that He doesn’t bow to our will. But there is good news: God is good, and we are safe in His care (v.12). We need not fear. When we, like children, don’t see the whole picture, we can still trust that God’s justice is good because He is good, and He cares for us.