Job: Undeserving Sufferer
In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil. (Job 1:1 NIV)
My deep felt questions required deep answers. And no manner of trite “Christian” responses would suffice. This wasn’t a time to simply “pray through” or “wait on God.” I needed something real, something that spoke to the immense pain I was feeling. My dreams were all dead and dying and my world was caving in. Rejoicing in the Lord always is a nice little song, but my head and my heart were at war. My faith was on the line. I needed to pour out my heart to the Lord. Job seemed like the perfect place to start on my journey to understanding what was happening in my life.
One day the angels came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with them. The Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?”
Satan answered the Lord, “From roaming throughout the earth, going back and forth on it.”
Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.”
“Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied. “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. But now stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.”
The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your power, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.” Then Satan went out from the presence of the Lord. (Job 1:6-12 NIV)
My greatest struggle with the book of Job isn’t his suffering. It isn’t his pain. It’s God. When all is said and done, he did this to Job. He allowed the affliction. He actually showed Job to Satan as an example of someone who loves him and then told Satan to strike him with everything he had. It seems so futile, all this torment just to prove Job’s faith and devotion.
It’s so unfair. Job, a blameless and upright man suffering so much anguish. Did he, as his friends proposed, sin against God and therefore deserved his punishment? But no, he’d done nothing wrong. Just like babies born with AIDS have done nothing wrong. Just like children who lose their parents have done nothing wrong. Like the apostles’ martyrdom for their faith in Jesus. Like missionary friends of mine who wanted nothing more than to see Muslims understand who Jesus is and then ended up in prison. All the while ridiculous entertainers flaunt their disdain for God and prosper obscenely. And gang leaders convince young kids to commit dreadful acts while hoarding their own power.
It’s so unfair. So wrong.
Many have tried to explain it away by saying that God is fair, just have more faith. We’re promised by some to have health and prosperity if we believe enough. But there’s no truth in it. Because if there was, my friend wouldn’t have been beaten ruthlessly for her faith in Jesus. Children others have earnestly prayed for wouldn’t have died. And I wouldn’t stare in the faces of the collateral damage from a ruthless civil war and see horror.
Is God unfair?
Much like Job’s well-meaning friends, people want to fix things, to make them right. So we often hear, “God wants to teach you something. He wants to bring you to a deeper place in him. You should take joy in this pain. Pray harder and you’ll have your miracle, you just need more faith.” And in the midst of my torment all I want to do is punch them in the face. Because ultimately, not only are their words trite, but they don’t begin to answer the deep questions of the soul.
And the bottom line is this: life is unfair.
“Life is pain, princess!” Screams Wesley as he and Princess Buttercup argue over who had it worst: the one waiting to die at the hands of a pirate or the one left behind thinking her love was dead. (The Princess Bride)
And God is good.
My head knows that God is good. Scripture is full of references to his goodness, his kindness, his mercy, his love. Pick any Psalm and it’s right there.
And I’ve seen his goodness in my own life. I’ve stood by and watched as he provided all the finances we needed to move overseas. I’ve prayed for people and they’ve been healed. I see his goodness in the beauty of a lookout on top of a mountain. I sense his kindness to animals when viewing the small plants in a vast desert. My salvation from sin proves God’s goodness.
And yet God almost baited Satan by dangling Job’s blameless life in front of Satan like a carrot in front of a horse’s nose. And Satan took the bait. I can picture Satan cowering in a corner, wringing his hands, wide-eyed just waiting for a glimpse of Job’s inevitable curse of God.
Only Job didn’t curse God.
Then he fell to the ground in worship. (Job 1:20 NIV)
Untold pain from the demise of all his herds and flocks and the deaths of all of his children. And he worships. He recognized that even in his pain God is good.
Even in my pain, God is good. I must worship him. Simply because he is God. I don’t want to. I don’t feel like it. But I must drag my heavy feet over to my piano and bang out some praise to The Lord. And so I do. It isn’t beautiful. It’s painful. My heart is still crushed. But God is good.
But Job didn’t stop there. No, Job, in a series of gut-wrenching poetic lines, pours out all his anguish to a God he knows to be good. He begs God to let him die because the pain is too great.
“Why is light given to those in misery, and life to the bitter of soul, to those who long for death that does not come, who search for it more than for hidden treasure, who are filled with gladness and rejoice when they reach the grave?” (Job 3:20-22 NIV)
Job was in anguish and he let God know. Not to accuse God, but because he is God. He knows God to be loving and merciful. He knows God is the only one to truly understand. He cried. He yelled. He fell of his face. He hid nothing from God.
And God was silent.
And yet still Job did not sin. In a moment of beautiful clarity he responds brilliantly to his despondent wife, who must be feeling just as much pain from the deaths of all her children: “Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?” (Job 2:10 NASB)
He saw God’s goodness in spite of the tragedy. He accepted God’s judgment or wrath or curse or whatever you’d like to call it as part of his goodness. He watched as his entire life, all his dreams, went up in smoke in front of him. And he trusted God’s goodness through it all.
Surely Job’s faith is greater than us all.
And so we, too, should prepare ourselves for the adversity that comes with God’s testing as well as for the good that he brings. Trusting God doesn’t mean he will exempt us from pain or hardship. Nor does faithfulness guarantee prosperity. It may not always make sense, but sometimes the greatest gift God can bring is pain.
“Is it possible for God’s people to love and serve him because of who he is and not just for his gifts? Can the righteous maintain their faith in and love for God in the midst of unexplainable tragedy and undeserved suffering?” Life in the Spirit Study Bible page 717 (reference Job 1:11)
In my despondency I didn’t want to hear this. I didn’t want to think that this was for my own good. What I wanted to hear was butterflies and rainbows. Instead I heard storm clouds and thunder. And a deep sense that God was in it all. Including the pain.
In the last few chapters of Job, God never tells Job why he suffered. God simply states the reasons for why he is still good. He set the world in motion and created all the various types of beasts. He separated darkness and light and created snow. He rules the world with wisdom and justice, and this includes suffering.
God doesn’t explain. He explodes. He asks Job who he thinks he is anyway. He says that to try to explain the kinds of things Job wants explained would be like trying to explain Einstein to a small-necked clam…. God doesn’t reveal his grand design. He reveals himself. Frederick Buechner Wishful Thinking, page 46.
And he is good.
Knowing the cause won’t alleviate the suffering. In much of the Old Testament, the prophets knew the cause of the suffering: disobedience. And still they cried out to God. Just look at Jeremiah, Isaiah, Hosea, I could go on forever. Each suffered and knew why but it didn’t change the pain that comes with suffering.
In my own life, we found out why we couldn’t have kids. We have a diagnosis. We understand the science, the genetic issue. We talked with our doctor about treatment for the symptoms, knowing there was no cure. And still my heart breaks continually for the child we will never have. I still cry when I watch friends with their kids, knowing I’ll never hold one of my own. Knowing why we couldn’t have kids didn’t assuage the pain the hole in my heart created.
Knowing why something is happening doesn’t really matter. What matters is God is still God. And he is good.
But I still had a lingering question when I reach the end of Job: So? So what happened? Was Job permanently changed? How did he respond to God now? Was he fearful that all his “replacements,” so to speak, would be taken from him? Did he go on to do great and mighty exploits for the kingdom because of his deep faith? Or did he go back, being blameless, but still living as he was? What happened next?
I am desperate for an answer because I need to know what to do. I need to know where this leads. I need to know that it’s all for a purpose greater than just the faith of one man. I want it to mean something, to effect eternity. I want scores of people to understand the truth of God as a result of Job’s experiences. But in the end, all we see is God’s double blessing on Job for his faithfulness. That’s nice and all, and I’m sure Job appreciated it, but to what end?
And then I saw it. A tiny little glimmer of hope. Like the first rays cresting the horizon at dawn, light began to infiltrate my soul as the answer to my longing started to take shape. No, I still didn’t know the end of Job’s story, but I began to see the reality of what was shared of his tortured life. Job made a difference. A far greater difference than I could comprehend. This one man living somewhere in the ancient Middle East, probably not that far from where I sit even now as I write, was chosen. His life is an example to people like me, suffering great trials. But it’s bigger than that.
So much bigger.
Can I truly believe that one person, one minuscule speck on a tiny planet, can make a difference in the history of the universe?
Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm. (Job 38:1 NIV)
Job was part of a cosmic war of supernatural proportions. His response to his testing mattered. Unbeknownst to Job, his trials affected those in a realm we cannot see or even begin to comprehend. The story of Job is beautiful in its message of hope: the faith of a single human being counts.
For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like those condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to human beings. (1 Corinthians 4:9 NIV)
I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. (Romans 8:18-21 NIV)
Our trials, our suffering, our pain, has eternal consequences. Our responses effect not only our planet, but the unseen supernatural world.
It’s bigger than me. Or you.
Our choice to love God, to worship him in the midst of tragedy proves our devotion to a good God. In our freedom to choose, we can choose to ascend to God, even when all hope seems lost, even when there seems no reason to do so. In these dark moments of the soul, we no longer choose God because we are conditioned to thanks to his many blessings. We choose to have faith in God simply because he is God.
His goodness is so big, it can even encompass our sorrow.
And all of heaven waits with bated breath to see what our response to our trial will be. Will we trust God?
Will we trust that our good, loving God feels the pain we feel?
Will we allow the pain to be used to show his goodness? To increase our faith? To prove to the universe that we are devoted in spite of the trial?
The kind of faith God values seems to develop best when everything fuzzes over, when God stays silent, when the fog rolls in. Philip Yancey, Disappointment with God page 204
To believe in the supernatural is not simply to believe that after living a successful, material, and fairly virtuous life here one will continue to exist in the best possible substitute for this world, or that after living a starved and stunted life here one will be compensated with all good things one has gone without: it is to believe that the supernatural is the greatest reality here and now. T. S. Eliot