We are nearing the end of our journey through the Book of Job. As I have spoken with many folks, most agree the book could be much shorter because it seems the arguments between Job and his three friends all seem to be the same…like the old song that says second verse same as the first, little bit louder, little bit worse. But as I ponder this it seems to me that there is good reason for the rounds of speeches between Job and his friends. We have an advantage because we know how trouble has found Job. And in all his arguments, Job is right in saying that he did nothing wrong. But Job does not know that for sure and as his suffering continues, and his friends keep telling him he must have committed horrible sins, Job’s despair grows. His friends know of God and some of what they say is not wrong. But they see no grace in the Lord. Everything is black and white for the friends. If you suffer, then you are a sinner. If you prosper, you are righteous. Job maintains you can suffer even if you are righteous, and sometimes you suffer even when it is not your fault.
As we wind down our time in Job here are some thoughts about Job and us. They are not necessarily all connected, but some are. After losing everything and everyone he had, Job is afflicted by some horrible disease that caused sores to cover his body from the bottoms of his feet to the top of his head, and Job reaches a point where he can no longer cope with the suffering. He questions God’s justice but not His existence or His power. His friends came to sit with him. I believe they had good intentions but very poor execution. Their way of attempting to comfort him is by insisting that God’s justice is absolute and that means Job must then deserve all he is getting. Job finds himself more and more upset, finally calling his friends his enemies, because they have not been at all helpful to him.
I believe the speeches go on and on for a couple of reasons. First of all, this gives Job a chance to draw closer to the Lord in his suffering. Job doesn’t understand why all this has fallen on him but he will not curse God. In fact, there are several times when he lectures his friends about the incredible things God has done. This brings me to my second point and that is, perhaps Job continues to argue with them about God’s good attributes because the friends really do not know God. They just know of Him. And, sometimes we are slow learners when it comes to the things of God. We like our lives just as they are and do not want God to challenge us or put us in situations where we have to rely on Him and His strength rather than our own. It is also possible that through the book, Job is meant to learn humility and understand it is not his place to evaluate or question God. Perhaps we need to be reminded of that as well sometimes. By accepting his suffering Job becomes a better person in the end. Every time we go through the refiners fire we grow and are made more like Him. And I don’t know about you but it seems like there are just some folks that move from one bad thing to another and they never get any reprieve from the fire. Maybe it is because those whom God loves the most suffer and draw closer to Him and the process just keeps repeating itself.
Whether or not we can pinpoint the reason for Job’s suffering, one thing is clear. We have a divine ruler who reigns over the world with ultimate wisdom and a perfect sense of justice. God sees not just part of the big picture but all of the big picture. He has plans for each one of us and while we may not always understand now, there will be a time when we see the big picture too. God does not waste our hurts, sorrows, struggles or pain. Many times what we are going through now God will use to help someone else later. Though we may not be able to understand His reasons for running the world as He does, it is on us to put our trust in Him, believing that everything He does is for the best. All of our life is a journey in Him. There are ups and downs, joys and sorrows, times of light and times of darkness. He walks every step with us…always.
As we have seen before, the Book of Job is somewhat anonymous. The author is unknown and the time and place is unknown as well. Some scholars believe there was no such person as Job. They believe Job is a kind of Everyman or woman. That means this books addresses the issue of why good people suffer, but it’s doesn’t really give us a solid answer. Job is troubled by his personal experiences but he does not abandon his faith in God. That is good advice for us as well. When we find ourselves in uncharted territory it is easy to become not only disoriented, but disheartened. And then we walk away from the only source of hope we know. Job teaches us that it is acceptable to ask questions of God but they have to come from a place of faith in God and His integrity, not out of denial and doubt. There are others who believe Job and the land of Uz is a reference to the Jews and Israel. Throughout history they have lost everything…from their families to their possessions, their homes and even their homelands. They have been afflicted physically, emotionally, and spiritually. But like Job they have also been promised that the light of Israel will never go out. Also like Job, they have at times remained strong and at other times they have questioned. Through it all, they have clung to the creator.
Job is not so much complaining about his sufferings and punishment, but the fact that he cannot see the end of his suffering. He is in the darkness of despair and the darkness has nearly engulfed him. He cannot see his way out. Somehow it is easier to suffer if the end is in sight. Job’s friends have not helped his cause at all. When we move to comfort and console those who are suffering or grieving we need to remember that words can cause more pain and distress while intending to console. Sometimes remaining silent, as Job’s friends did for the first seven days is the best response. Often people who are struggling won’t remember what we say as much as who was there.
Lastly, at the end of chapter 31 Job says his words are at an end. Job is exhausted. He has spent much time lamenting his many misfortunes, speculating as to their probable causes, and arguing with his friends. Now he is done. It is as though Job has finally given up. He no longer has the strength to fight or the energy to protest. Job has spent a lot of time and emotional energy trying to make sense of his suffering. And due to his intense suffering it was hard for Job to recognize as King Solomon did that “For whom God loves, He rebukes”. Proverbs 3:12. The Jews believe that suffering is brought upon a person as a mark of God’s love, while He abandons those for whom He has no regard to the whims of chance. King David also realized that sometimes suffering is a gift when he says “Happy is the man whom you discipline O God.” Psalm 94:12.
The bottom line is, we will not in this lifetime understand God and His ways. The prophet Isaiah reminds us, “For my thought are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-9. Our lives happen in God’s time and in His will. He is not like some holy ATM machine where we put our faith card in and immediately receive what we want or are asking for. Our lives with God are all about the journey. It is about growing faith and trust. It is about leaning into Him when we cannot stand on our own and offering thanks and praise in all things. Because God is good…all the time and all the time…God is good.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W