Guest Post from Glen on the story of Job:
So here’s the story: Job loses his wealth, his health and his family in a series of extraordinary calamities. The reader is aware – though Job is not – that the whole thing began in heaven with a kind of wager between the LORD and Satan. The LORD is proud of His servant Job and so permits truly diabolical attacks which He knows Job will endure. But the suffering is intense. Job himself sits down in the ashes and wishes he was dead, his wife tells him to ‘curse God and die’ and his three friends – who are meant to be comforters – end up tormenting him in the most grotesque way imaginable.
Twenty times Job asks what we all ask when we suffer: “Why?” Why me? Why now? Why this? In Job, the reader knows the answer – or at least, knows more than him. But Job is in the dark and the why question remains conspicuously unanswered, even when the LORD shows up for an almighty happy ending. Apparently the question which Job asks most is one the LORD was content to ignore.
What do we learn? Let me give five observations…
1) The folks who were most eager to answer the “Why?” question were the rank legalists (the “comforters”) who gave the worst kind of answers: observations like;
When your children sinned against him, he gave them over to the penalty of their sin. (Job 8:4)
Beware people who think they have answers as to “Why now? Why me? Why this?” Beware your own heart in trying to answer the question. Most likely you will prove a miserable comforter to yourself – concluding “It’s all my fault.” Answering the specifics of the why question most often ends in legalism and bitter (self-)condemnation.
2) The LORD is never drawn into double entry book-keeping on the matter. He never says “X amount of suffering achieves Y units of subsequent glory”. He never even hints at an argument that evil is, after all, quite good (since it leads, in the end, to a redemptive outcome). No, evil is evil. Loss is loss. The LORD will redeem it, but not by calling it “good” or “worthwhile”.
Instead He says to all those who want to do a turn at cosmic book-keeping: “Do you know the laws of the heavens? Can you set up God’s dominion over the earth?” (Job 38:37) Only our Maker is able to preside over the whole ‘good and evil’ thing. We can ask specifics about “Why me? Why this? Why now?” but only the Creator is fit to answer in detail. Some things are best left to the professionals – and knowing the ins and outs of particular suffering is best left to Christ.
3) But that doesn’t stop Job from praying. It doesn’t stop him asking, seeking, knocking. He wrestles in prayer with the LORD. The book of Job does not teach us to resign all our questions before the sovereign will of God. It encourages us to raise them to the highest height and do business with God. When the Apostle James looked back on ‘the patience of Job’ (James 5:11) – that was a bird’s eye view of the whole book. The patience of Job – in the thick of it – looks like bafflement, heart-break, anger and tears. The God of Job is big enough to handle our questioning, even if He’s wise enough not to always answer.
In all this Job is given two comforts…
4) First, He’s given an experience of the LORD in the midst of suffering.
Most starkly this comes from chapter 38 when the LORD answers Job out of the whirlwind. But even before then, Job has a confidence in Christ, his heavenly Friend:
Even now my witness is in heaven; my advocate is on high. My intercessor is my friend as my eyes pour out tears to God; on behalf of a man he pleads with God as one pleads for a friend. (Job 16:19-21)
Notice the four descriptors of Christ: Witness, Advocate, Intercessor and Friend.
In suffering we want someone to see. We want someone to plead our cause. We want someone to pray for us. We want a friend. The LORD Jesus is that Friend for us. He takes up our cause when we’re too baffled to know what’s happening. He prays for us when we’re too burdened to pray for ourselves. Christians the world over can testify to this truth, that the LORD Jesus is most precious to us when we’re most oppressed and suffering. Then we know Paul’s experience as our own: We “fellowship in Christ’s sufferings” (Philippians 3:10). This is the first comfort Job has in suffering – the present comfort of the LORD. But secondly….
5) Job is given hope in the future redemption of the LORD.
It’s so easy to forget the ending of Job. The final sentence is “So Job died, old and full of years.” By the end he has double what he had at the start. Job’s story tells man’s story – through suffering man is brought out to a greater future than we began with. And even in the midst of suffering, Job is confident:
I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes – I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me! (Job 19:25-27).
Again just look at four of those words:
Redeemer: Jesus is not a Replacer, ignoring our war wounds. He’s a Redeemer who will transform our battle scars the way He transformed His own in resurrection.
Earth: Job’s hope is not to be rid of his earthly life but to see it transformed in resurrection glory. We look forward to the very earthy hope Jesus showed us in His Easter appearances: country walks, fishing with friends, breakfast on the beach, face to face fellowship and lots of feasting joy.
Flesh: Job has a bodily future. His skin – in life so diseased and painful – would be renewed. His eyes – in life so ringed and sunken – would be restored. His voice – in life so rasping in lament – would sing out in triumph.
See: In life, Job kept seeking answers but one day he would see the LORD. And in Him he would find joy. So often we think we need a reason when actually what we need is our Redeemer. And one day we will see Him with these very eyes. We will know God as we are fully known (1 Corinthians 13: 12). All Christ’s ways will be transparent to us and we will gaze upon Beauty Himself.
In suffering we have something so much better than reasons. We have a Lord who is known in suffering and a future hope held out beyond it.