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    The Trouble with Job

    May 3, 2010 by Brandy Vencel

    [dropcap]T[/dropcap]he book of Job has been on my mind this past week. I’ve found it coming up in conversation with friends, at a class Sunday afternoon, and even in articles I’ve read over the last week. It has filled my mind, as I’ve watched an old friend go through something particularly tragic, endure years filled with a number of tragedies, actually, and asked a lot of questions {and I know some of you are asking questions, too}.

    The Trouble with Job

     

    Job is the book for tough questions, no? It prods at the unsettling aspects of the universe, and it comforts us in some ways, if not for the fact that our suffering is one in a long line of human suffering. We are never alone. Our suffering is never unique {even though it sometimes feels like it is}. After thousands and thousands of years of human history, we do not have to feel as if we walk alone among men.

    Job.

    You remember Job, right? Job was a man of God. He was capital-G Good. In fact, the Bible declares him to be a man perfect and upright, who feared God and eschewed evil. From verse one, this book is set up as a beautiful, elaborate literary version of the question Why do bad things happen to good people?

    Job’s life is perfect, and we feel that this is deserved, considering his reputation with the Most High. God grants him ten wonderful children — seven boys and three girls — who fear the Lord and love one another. Job was fabulously rich, the greatest of all the men of the East, possessing huge herds of cattle.

    And then the reader knows that everything in Job’s life is going to go all wrong because in verse 6 of chapter 1 we read that when the sons of God came to present themselves to the LORD, Satan came along, too.

     

    The Cosmic Drama

    That serpent of old, the one who grabbed the carpet of Paradise and ripped it out from under us so quickly our ancestors hardly had the chance to blink — we know that when he appears, something bad is about to happen.

    God and Satan talk about God’s faithful servant Job:

    And the LORD said unto Satan, “Whence comest thou?”

    Then Satan answered the LORD, and said, “From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it.”

    And the LORD said unto Satan, “Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil?”

    Then Satan answered the LORD, and said, “Doth Job fear God for nought? Hast not thou made an hedge about him, and about his house, and about all that he hath on every side? thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his substance is increased in the land.”

    This conversation, first of all, answers the question of why Job’s life is so great to begin with. Hast not God Himself made a hedge about Job? Job is under God’s gracious protection. And herein lies Satan’s challenge to God. Is Job really a servant of the LORD? Or is he just good to God because God has been so very good to him?

    Now, we know that our omniscient God can peer deep into the heart of man. He knows that Job is truly His servant. But God sets about to reveal Job’s superiority of character in every way by removing the hedge of protection about Job.

    Satan really thinks that Job will curse God if his fortunes change. He says:

    But put forth thine hand now, and touch all that he hath, and he will curse thee to thy face.

    And everything of value to Job is indeed “touched” by catastrophe:

    And there was a day when his sons and his daughters were eating and drinking wine in their eldest brother’s house: And there came a messenger unto Job, and said, “The oxen were plowing, and the asses feeding beside them: And the Sabeans fell upon them, and took them away; yea, they have slain the servants with the edge of the sword; and I only am escaped alone to tell thee.”

    While he was yet speaking, there came also another, and said, “The fire of God is fallen from heaven, and hath burned up the sheep, and the servants, and consumed them; and I only am escaped alone to tell thee. ”

    While he was yet speaking, there came also another, and said, “The Chaldeans made out three bands, and fell upon the camels, and have carried them away, yea, and slain the servants with the edge of the sword; and I only am escaped alone to tell thee.”

    While he was yet speaking, there came also another, and said, “Thy sons and thy daughters were eating and drinking wine in their eldest brother’s house: And, behold, there came a great wind from the wilderness, and smote the four corners of the house, and it fell upon the young men, and they are dead; and I only am escaped alone to tell thee.”

    All of his riches–his huge herds which made him the “greatest man of the East”–and his beautiful, beloved children were gone, in but an instant.

    And Job, faithful Job, servant of the LORD, is faithful still:

    Then Job arose, and rent his mantle, and shaved his head, and fell down upon the ground, and worshipped,

    And said, “Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.”

    In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly.

    This alone could be the end of this cosmic drama. How much can a man be expected to endure? To lose all material wealth and comfort, as well as all of your children, is too much. That is what everyone in our therapeutic culture will tell you.

    At this point, the question for me becomes: How did Job stand up under this great burden called life? I comfort myself with the fact that no matter what life holds for myself or my fellow brothers and sisters, we have a Helper and are never alone.

    But this tragedy isn’t over yet. Unfortunately for Job, it is all just beginning:

    Again there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan came also among them to present himself before the LORD.
    And the LORD said unto Satan, “From whence comest thou?”

    And Satan answered the LORD, and said, “From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it.”

    And the LORD said unto Satan, “Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil? and still he holdeth fast his integrity, although thou movedst me against him, to destroy him without cause.”

    And Satan answered the LORD, and said, “Skin for skin, yea, all that a man hath will he give for his life. But put forth thine hand now, and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse thee to thy face.”

    And the LORD said unto Satan, “Behold, he is in thine hand; but save his life.”

    God parades Job’s triumph before Satan, but still Satan will not believe that in Job the LORD has a servant. Rather, he travels downward through Maslow’s hierarchy of needs — will not Job forget the LORD if he loses his health also?

    We are all lesser men than Job. We are all tempted to be God’s fair weather friends — to serve Him when life is good, but to stamp our feet and accuse Him when it is not.

    Satan is relentless. Job finds himself covered in boils from head to toe. And at this point, one who should have been his friend and comforter in this time, has lost her faith:

    Then said his wife unto him, “Dost thou still retain thine integrity? curse God, and die.”

    Even then, when he is in physical pain, he suffers one more additional pain, caused not by a cosmic drama, but by human frailty. His wife turns her back on her Maker. Job somehow musters up the strength to rebuke her, even though he appears, to human eyes, to have been deserted by God:

    But he said unto her, “Thou speakest as one of the foolish women speaketh. What? shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?”

    I think at this point most folks are familiar with the story. Job’s friends hear of his misfortune, and come to “comfort” him. They do such a poor job, that they are a byword among men: “Job’s comforters” — a sort of epithet for people who do all the wrong things at the wrong times when someone is journeying through a trial.

    Job goes through all the familiar anguish. He wishes that he had been stillborn, that he might have been at rest, instead of suffering. It is interesting to note here that this sort of thought is not considered to be a blasphemy or a sin. It is taken as natural — that in life’s darkest hour, we rue the day we were born, or at least that we have breathed unto this moment of pain.

    We again find camaraderie with Job, when he admits that this is the worst thing that can happen to a man, and something we all secretly dread:

    For the thing which I greatly feared is come upon me, and that which I was afraid of is come unto me.

    This is the terror of all men — the fear of what life may hold.

    The next few chapters of Job contain the words of his friends, who hypothesize on why these things would happen. They, being ignorant of the cosmic drama, of which Job is actually the Hero, begin to think that perhaps this is repayment for some sin which Job has been hiding. Job is here seen to be quite like the man born blind, born as such not due to the sin of his parents or the sin of his own soul, but that God may be glorified, but who, unfortunately, everybody wonders about.

    And everybody still does.

    I remember that while my husband was sick, I received an email that hinted that perhaps, just perhaps, he deserved it. And as outlandish as that sounds {as well as how insensitive}, how many times have we secretly wondered about others? Yes, of course, there is the reaping and sowing of life, but we do well to keep in mind the cosmic drama, the theater of war which we cannot see, but which, we are assured, is there.

    In chapter 38, God begins to speak to Job out of the whirlwind. We are tempted to hope that now Job, who has respectfully maintained his innocence before his critics, and blamed the will of the LORD, will finally know the meaning of it all. He will know that God set about to show him to be righteous above all others, a glorious display before the the ruler of darkness. Job will know that he is the hero, we think.

    But it is not so.

     

    The Rebuke

    Instead, Job is meant to know how big God is. God says:

    Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding.

    As great a man as Job is, God is greater still, and He decides when and if He will explain Himself. God’s rhetorical questions go on. And on:

    Hast thou perceived the breadth of the earth? declare if thou knowest it all.

    And later:

    Canst thou send lightnings, that they may go and say unto thee, Here we are?

    In chapter 39, also, He continues:

    Hast thou given the horse strength? hast thou clothed his neck with thunder?

    Chapter 40 begins with a single question:

    Shall he that contendeth with the Almighty instruct him? he that reproveth God, let him answer it.

    And Job’s response begins with this:

    Behold, I am vile…

    Here we have God’s perfect righteous man {like Noah in his own day, perhaps} deciding to question God no longer:

    Once have I spoken; but I will not answer: yea, twice; but I will proceed no further.

    Job had his days and days of grief. He had his wailing. He had his time to wish that he would perish, or to regret the day of his birth. And now he finds it is best to be silent before the God whose ways are higher, whose knowledge is greater, whose plan is better.

    But God continues with the lesson. Chapter 40 contains more questions explaining to Job how very other He and God are when compared with one another:

    Hast thou an arm like God? or canst thou thunder with a voice like him?

    In Chapter 41, God drives home Job’s powerlessness by daring him to challenge the king of beasts:

    Canst thou draw out leviathan with an hook? or his tongue with a cord which thou lettest down?
    Canst thou put an hook into his nose? or bore his jaw through with a thorn?
    Will he make many supplications unto thee? will he speak soft words unto thee?

    Job cannot take on a fierce dragon, so why in the world would he dare to take on the Maker of the beast? That is the force of the argument.

    And Job shows himself to be righteous until the very end of this ordeal. In Chapter 42, it is written:

    Then Job answered the LORD, and said, “I know that thou canst do every thing, and that no thought can be withholden from thee. Who is he that hideth counsel without knowledge? therefore have I uttered that I understood not; things too wonderful for me, which I knew not. Hear, I beseech thee, and I will speak: I will demand of thee, and declare thou unto me. I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.

    Job flings himself once again upon the will of the LORD. And now all of mankind knows that God was right about Job after all: Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him upon the earth? We all of us consider this man who is faithful in the midst of unfathomable tragedy, whenever we hit upon the {comparatively} slightest hardship.

    The book of Job ends with restoration. His friends gather around him and give him money and comfort {and respect}. His flocks are renewed to twice their previous size. And he again has children — seven sons, and three daughters.

    After this lived Job an hundred and forty years, and saw his sons, and his sons’ sons, even four generations. So Job died, being old and full of days.

    I’m not sure exactly how long this trial of Job’s lasted, but it does seem that there came a day when he again found comfort and fulfillment in his earthly life. Job, of all men in history, hit the absolute bottom, and lived to tell about it, retaining his integrity through it all.

     

    The Trouble with Job

    The trouble with the book of Job is that, as far as any reader of the book can tell, Job never really knows why all of this happened. The only sense that Job is given is a chapters-long rebuke that, in brief, argues that God is a great and mighty God and that is all he needs to know. Job remained faithful, Job was a great hero — and yet he never knew it.

    Charlotte Mason once wrote,

    We do not know; we are not meant to know; we have our limitations. If we understood everything, there would be no room left for faith in God, because we should only believe what we could quite well see and understand. But it is just possible that the sudden loss of all these precious lives may mean that life and death are not the great and final things in the eyes of God that they are in our eyes. We are sure that people go on existing; and how they do so, we must trust to our Father, because He is our Father and theirs.

    This is sticky, for we often think that in understanding, we find our consolation.

    At least, I often think that. When I look back on the great and small tragedies and traumas of my own life, I can, for the most part, make sense out of them. I can see how God brought about my own personal good through the vast majority of the hardships I have faced.

    But in Job we see God bringing about a hidden, cosmic good. That His aim was good, we do not doubt. That Job triumphed as God’s chosen warrior in his time, we do not doubt. But it is unsettling to realize that Job himself likely did not understand this, and found no personal good brought about, though he did have consolation in the form of restoration, as well as in a better understanding of his God.

    Mason quotes Goethe as writing,

    [T]here is one special quality in which men after God’s own heart may not be wanting — it is the unshaken belief that God hears and cares for them and theirs.

    I suppose this might be the triumph of Job: his conviction, his faith. And Job, having had a real, live discussion with God, learned in the absolute sense that God hears. In his restoration and vindication before his friends, it was confirmed to him that God cares in a real, physical, this-world {and not just other-world} sense.

    And this can comfort us also in a number of ways. We do not have to have the answers. The greatest virtue in time of trouble is to continue in our uprightness {which does not conflict with crying out to God as Job did}, in our faith. The heroes — the conquerors — they are the ones who never stop believing. They prove that God has real friends, as compared to fair weather friends.

    To those of us who sometimes struggle with the tragedies which we cannot understand, which never make sense, which seem to have no redemption hidden in them at all, I can only say:

    Hast thou considered my servant, Job?

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    4 Comments

  • Reply Gracie May 7, 2010 at 10:56 pm

    Bran: Wanted to let you know that I saw your little message on google. 🙂 Thanks! I’ve read it and just having trouble forming my thoughts as a comment. It was very well executed and my mind is digesting right now. Thanks for this and the reminder!

  • Reply Brandy Afterthoughts May 6, 2010 at 10:55 pm

    You’re welcome.

    And Rahime: Sorry you’ve hit upon some hard times.

  • Reply Rahime May 6, 2010 at 6:43 am

    thanks. I’ve had some very trying times in the past few days, and this was a (strangely) comforting reminder of God’s faithfulness.

  • Reply Claire May 4, 2010 at 3:03 am

    Thanks for posting this – I’m reading through the Bible and will be in Job soon.

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