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Facebook – Neil Booth

Guilty or Not Guilty

Then Bildad the Shuhite answered and said … “Behold, God will not reject a blameless man, nor take the hand of evildoers. He will yet fill your mouth with laughter, and your lips with shouting. Those who hate you will be clothed with shame, and the tent of the wicked will be no more.” Then Job answered and said: “Truly I know that it is so: But how can a man be in the right before God? If one wished to contend with him, one could not answer him once in a thousand times.” Job 8.1, 20-23; 9.1-3.

The question that Job poses in this morning’s reading — “How can a man be in the right before God?” — is the question that all of fallen humanity has been asking from time immemorial. And every religion, every sacrificial system, and every rite of purification or appeasement that there is or ever has been was created in attempt to answer it. 

Bildad says that God will not reject a blameless man, and the word he uses is tam — “perfect, morally and ethically blameless and pure.” “Well, yes,” says Job. “You’re right, of course. But that’s of no comfort to me because who is there that is so perfect, so morally and ethically blameless and pure, that they can stand before the judgment seat of God and walk out with a “not guilty” verdict?

“Me? Innocent?” Job imagines all the awkward questions God might ask. He knows he looks pretty blameless to his family and neighbours, but God sees far deeper than they can. God looks at the heart. And Job knows that there are things God sees and has seen there that he will not be able to explain away or justify. Things like lust and greed and pride do not necessarily present themselves on the surface of one’s life where others can see them, but they are ever present.

And maybe Job thinks too of what we might call his “sins of omission.” Job knows he has done a lot of good things and perhaps he truly cannot recall ever having done any bad things; but maybe he starts to think of the many more good things that he could have done but failed to do. Maybe he recalls those promptings to acts of compassion and kindness that we have all felt from time to time but have ignored and brushed aside because to heed them would have been inconvenient or costly. No, Job doesn’t fancy his chances of walking out of the divine court a free man if he has to face God’s interrogation.

“To be in the right” (or “to be righteous,” NIV, or “to be just with,” KJV) translates the Hebrew word tsadaq and it signifies here, as it frequently does throughout the Old Testament, juridical vindication … legal innocence. It is the language of the law court. It is nothing to do with virtue or goodness or even how one stands in someone’s affections (though often “righteousness” is wrongly thought of in those terms), it is all to do with the status that a vindicated plaintiff or an acquitted defendant possesses in law once the court has found in his or her favour.

A few years back, I had to do jury service. I sat on three cases and three times I heard the judge ask the foreman of the jury: “How do you find? Guilty or not guilty?” Twice he gave our verdict of “Guilty, my Lord” and once it was “Not guilty, my Lord.” But in that “not guilty” case, we were by no means convinced of the person’s innocence. We thought that the man probably had done what he was accused of — but the evidence was so inadequate that there was “reasonable doubt” about his guilt so he had to be discharged. Yet, even in that case, the man was “righteous” in the Biblical sense of the word. He had been declared “not guilty” even though he may well have committed the crime of which he had been accused.

So Job’s question is really, “How can anyone get a ‘not guilty’ verdict in the court of God?” And the answer, as you and I well know, is “because of what Jesus did on the cross.” As Paul so graphically puts it: “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by cancelling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2.13-14). Because of Jesus, I have no case to answer. Because of Jesus, I am “not guilty.” Because of Jesus, I can walk free. It really is that simple. It really is that wonderful.

My Lord, what love is this that pays so dearly,
that I, the guilty one, may go free!
Amazing love, O what sacrifice,
the Son of God given for me.
My debt He pays, and my death He dies,
that I might live, that I might live.

Graham Kendrick

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