Job 42.1-6, 10-17
You may have noticed that we’ve been concentrating on Mark’s story of Jesus lately; and that’s always a good place to be. At the same time, we have been hearing snippets from the Old Testament Book of Job. It’s time to talk about Job.
The story of Job is the tale of a good man—indeed, a ‘blameless’ man—who lived in a place called ‘Uz’ thousands of years ago. It’s long been the majority opinion of Jewish and Christian scholars that the story of Job is a work of fiction. If that bothers you, remember this: the world of fiction contains much truth. When we read Jane Austen or Charles Dickens or JRR Tolkien, we are immersing ourselves in truth within a setting of fiction. If the Book of Job is a work of fiction, it is nonetheless truth.
Now, Job had it all in the terms of his world. He had scads of children, servants, land, livestock. Job had riches beyond anyone’s comprehension.
But Job loses the lot in a very short space of time. His children and servants are killed, his livestock butchered or stolen.
His response to all this?
Then Job arose, tore his robe, shaved his head, and fell on the ground and worshipped. He said, ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.’
But wait, there’s more! Next, he has ‘loathsome sores…from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head’. There’s no escape from these sores. Job is reduced to sitting in the ashes and scratching them.
We’re not fabulously wealthy like Job here, but many of us have known grief, pain, sadness, even suffering. Perhaps it’s hard to identify with Job the blameless gazillionaire, but maybe we can identify a bit more with Job in his suffering. Perhaps ‘the man from Uz’ feels more like ‘one of us’ now.
Then his ‘friends’ come. We still talk about ‘Job’s comforters’. They sit with Job without speaking for a week. Then they spoiled it by opening their mouths. They have all the conventional reasons for why Job is in trouble. Mainly that Job has sinned.
Job hasn’t sinned, of course. Sometimes, bad things happen to good people. We don’t always know why.
Job does give us a kind of ‘behind-the-scenes’ look at God meeting with the angelic beings in the heavenly court. One of them is called ‘the Satan’. This figure isn’t the ‘Satan’ we’re used to, the familiar figure of all evil. In Hebrew, ‘the Satan’ means ‘the Accuser’. ‘The Satan’ of Job is more of a combined prosecuting attorney and bully boy…and a very enthusiastic one! God makes an arrangement with ‘the Satan’, the ‘Accuser’, and allows some pretty dark stuff to happen to Job.
Hang on, Job’s children were killed as a result of this conversation, along with a number of his servants. Does God really do deals with ‘Satan’ in which people are killed in order to test men like Job? It seems that this isn’t a ‘behind-the-scenes’ look at all—because it raises too many impossible questions.
Let me just say that I do not believe in a God who does deals with evil, and that’s one reason I see the Book of Job not as ‘history’, but as a story that conveys deep truth.
And in most of this story, Job is hearing from his ‘comforters’. They are saying terrible things to Job, so that in 16.2 he says:
…miserable comforters are you all.
Has it ever happened to you? You’re suffering from major illness, and people say,
These things are sent to try us.
It’s a cross you have to bear.
I think God is trying to teach you something.
My dad died of the same thing you have.
If you pray harder, you’ll get better.
You know their intentions are good, but you feel like smacking them in the face. You realise that Job was quite restrained merely calling his friends ‘miserable comforters’.
There are times when all our teaching about God’s mercy and grace goes out of the window when we’re confronted with someone we love who is suffering. There must be a reason, and by crikey we want to know what it is!
But sometimes what is required of us is that we ‘walk humbly with our God’. And allow God’s Spirit to do that wonderful inner work.
In the end, Job gets no answer. Instead, he is confronted with the transcendent and eternal Creator God, who says:
Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
Is it by your wisdom that the hawk soars,
and spreads its wings toward the south?
Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty?
Anyone who argues with God must respond.
Then, we read, ‘Job answered the Lord:’
See, I am of small account; what shall I answer you?
I lay my hand on my mouth.
I have spoken once, and I will not answer;
twice, but will proceed no further.
After which God has another go at him!
Job’s answer is the mighty power of God, and that God’s ways are beyond human ways. We don’t always know why things happen; in these times, our trust in God is challenged—and hopefully, grows deeper and surer.
Job never gets an answer to ‘why me?’, but he enters into a relationship with God that grows hope in his heart.
While we’ve been hearing snippets from Job we’ve also heard from the Book of Hebrews. Have you noticed that these selections from Hebrews have talked about suffering? Let me remind you:
It was fitting that God…in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings. (2.10)
…we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. (4.15)
Although [Jesus] was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered… (5.8)
Jesus was made ‘perfect’—in other words, Jesus’ human experience was made complete—through suffering. You don’t have to be a sinner to suffer. Sometimes, people seem to forget that. We want to know what we’ve done wrong. Sometimes, there’s nothing. But God wants to grow us into the person we are meant to be.
Very often, we have to go through what seems to be hell to get there. Sometimes, we wonder if it’s even worth it. But God is with us.
Job’s answer was the awesome majesty of God; the answer in the Book of Hebrews is that Jesus was made complete through what he suffered.
These aren’t philosophically watertight answers. They are satisfying answers to one who has faith. To those of us who do believe, these are reasons enough to trust the God who is there with us as we suffer. Sometimes, it feels like we’re totally in the dark; remember those verses from Psalm 139 we began with today:
…even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
Our darkness is light as day to God in whom we trust. Whatever the future holds for us and for those we love, let us continue to put our trust in God.