Setbacks, tragedies, and worries were raining down
My brother died. A vital supplier reneged on our contract. My father died. An associate cheated me out of a lot of money. As recession deepened, many customers defaulted on payments, so I had to close my business. I was criminally assaulted and injured. Setbacks, tragedies, and worries were raining down, and I was devastated. So, what did I do? I turned to Job. Job’s story was just what I needed to lift my spirit. As my faith revived, I recorded my thoughts in a booklet titled “What comfort Job?. All that happened in 1991, but the courage of Job’s faith inspires me afresh each time I return to his story.
Job is different from other books of the Bible. Although it’s part of the Jewish scriptures it makes no reference to the Jewish Law or Priesthood, so was probably written before they were established. It is one of the Wisdom books NOTE 1, and could be the oldest book in the Bible. The story in brief is that Satan singled out a man called Job and persecuted him to see if he would turn away from God. Job lost all his wealth and possessions, his sons and daughters were killed in one violent storm, and he was struck with a disease that made him repulsive. He sat by a rubbish heap, then some friends came and sat with him and spent the rest of the book arguing about why he was suffering. The problem of suffering is what drew me to study Job. The book deals with the age-old question, “Why do the innocent suffer?” In my life I have suffered many setbacks and disappointments, though my worst sufferings were slight compared with what many people endure every day. Nevertheless, every person’s suffering is real to them – and they are bound to ask “Why me?” Job asked the same question and found answers – and answers don’t come easily on this subject.
The book of Job is not easy to follow at first reading. The story comes from an age when fireside storytellers told tales that went on for hours, to people who willingly listened for hours. Twenty-first century culture prefers fast-moving plots – but be patient with this book – Job is a gem. People may wonder whether Job’s story is based on truth. We don’t know – but its message is truthful. Most questions that can be raised about pointless suffering are raised in this book, where God’s goodness, and even his existence, is put to the test. Job protested – note that! In his anguish he looked towards God and shouted at him. God accepts our screams.
Some atheists deplore the shocking idea that God might gamble with Satan over the fate of an innocent man, but that implies an unnecessary literalism. I don’t believe God plays dice over our affairs; but He has placed us in a chancy world. Rain floods and rain refreshes. Fire cooks, and fire burns. The continual activity of our earth brings both blessings and disasters. We can’t run away from reality, we can’t choose our chances, but we can choose how to respond. There’s a fundamental question at the root of Job’s story. The writer has Satan saying, “Does Job fear God for nothing?” NOTE 2 Let’s rephrase that to include you and me – “Will anyone serve God for nothing?” – and there we have the central challenge of faith.
If Job hoped for encouragement when friends turned up to sit with him, his hopes were short-lived. Rather than lightening his worries, his ‘comforters’ laid extra burdens on him. They were everything a counsellor should not be. They tried to convince Job that he was being punished for hidden sin. Some of their opinions may have been doctrinally correct, but good doctrine spoken unkindly creates bad outcomes. Correctness should never displace love. They tried logic, but suffering isn’t logical. They tried religious doctrine, but doctrine doesn’t bring comfort. In the end, when they lost patience with Job, he rightly responded, “you are miserable comforters, all of you!”NOTE 3
Job could have responded in several different ways. He could have taken his anger out on his friends; he could have turned in on himself in an agony of guilt and self-hate; he could have turned his back on God. Job went through every level of grief and despair and, of course, he wished he could return to his prosperous past –
“Oh, how I long for the good old days … Oh, how I miss those golden years … when everything was going my way, and nothing seemed too difficult.” NOTE 4
But, when disaster strikes, there’s never a way back to the past. We have to move on with the memories, the consequences, the scars, and the lessons. Job wasn’t yet sure how to move on, but he didn’t seek revenge, he didn’t let the pressure crush his spirit, and he didn’t stop trusting in God.
At the end of the story, God makes a dramatic entry and speaks to Job from “the whirlwind” NOTE 5. That reminds me of another Bible story. Elijah came close to God when he was in distress “but the LORD was not in the wind” NOTE 6. This isn’t the way God works in history. He doesn’t do high drama. He speaks with a “still small voice” NOTE 7. God didn’t give Job an explanation. He challenged him with the mysteries of the universe and the natural world, saying in effect that if Job couldn’t understand those mysteries, he had no chance of understanding the problem of suffering. He needed to trust God.
“Do you still want to argue with the Almighty? You are God’s critic, but do you have the answers?” NOTE 8
The author of Job created an allegory to put over truths that go beyond history – timeless truths. Some truths are too deep for us. Suffering really is as inexplicable as we feared. But fear not – God has an answer. He doesn’t take away the suffering, but takes the suffering onto himself. He shares our pain.
“Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me.” NOTE 9
Remember Job’s central challenge – “Will anyone serve God for nothing?” One person in history proved that it could be done – just one person – and his name has same the first initial as Job. You can work out for yourself who that was, but answer this – will you follow him?
1. Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon
2. Job 1:9 (NIV)
3. Job 16:2 (NIV)
4. Job 29:1-6 (The Message)
5. Job 38:1 (New Living Translation & King James version)
6. 1 Kings 19:11
7. 1 Kings 19:12
8. Job 40:2 (NLT)
9. Psalm 23:4 (NLT)