Job – A Reflection from the Middle of the Story
Job – A Reflection from the Middle of the Story
Through a great swathe of the book of Job – from the beginning of Ch.3 to the end of Ch.31 – we are listening, largely, to Job himself. As we do so, one thing stands out more clearly than anything else. Job is a man who is struggling. He is carrying the most terrific weight of sufferings and is manifestly finding it hard.
His sufferings were heavy from the outset. In the course of a single day he lost almost everything that he had – all his livestock, all his servants, and, most tragic of all, all ten of his children. Who can measure the pain of that? Then his health broke down. Satan so afflicted him with painful sores that Job could say ‘My body is clothed with worms and scabs, my skin is broken and festering’ (Ch.7.5).
Then there was the appalling way in which people treated him. ‘God has made me a byword to everyone’, he complains, ‘a man in whose face people spit’ (Ch.17.6). Job became as universally despised as he had once been universally loved. And then there were his three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. They came with the honourable intention of comforting Job. But they failed miserably. By their groundless accusations of wickedness, they simply made matters worse.
At first Job’s response to his sufferings was astonishingly positive. He acknowledged that they had come from God and accepted them with submission – even with adoration. As time went on, though, and his sufferings increased he found himself struggling greatly under the weight of them.
It comes out at first in his cursing of the day of his birth (Ch.3). So great is his anguish that he wishes that he had never been born. In the same chapter he asks a series of agonising questions. Job is so overwhelmed by the mystery of his sufferings that again and again he cries out ‘WHY…?’
He despairs, too, of things ever changing for the better. ‘My eyes’, he laments, ‘will never see happiness again’ (Ch.7.7). So miserable is he in fact that he simply wants to die: ‘O…that God would be willing to crush me, to let loose his hand and cut me off!’ (Ch.6.9).
It is in his feelings and thoughts about God, however, that the intensity of Job’s struggle is most apparent. He never doubts that God is the author of his sorrows and eventually it becomes a huge problem to him. God is angry with me! God is treating me as an enemy! God is wronging me! God is acting toward me without pity! That is how Job feels! And he tells God so to his face.
Thus far Job. What now about ourselves? Some observations on what we’ve seen will prove helpful to us, I trust, as we struggle with our own sufferings.
Job’s experience is true to life. It is no uncommon thing for Christians to find it as hard to cope with suffering as Job did. Many, for example, are no strangers to the depression that often accompanies suffering. They find themselves wishing they had never been born, or despairing of things ever improving, or even longing for death. How many of us, too, have found ourselves overwhelmed with the mystery of our sufferings, asking all kinds of agonising WHY? questions. Like Job we can have all kinds of negative thoughts and feelings about God, doubting his fairness, convinced that he is our enemy. And all of these things – as in Job’s case – can be bound up with the poor state of our health.
Job demands our sympathy – whatever fault we may find with him for some of his utterances. Our fellow Christians need it as well. Like Job they may be saying things both to and about God that they shouldn’t be. Their reactions may be bad in other ways. But before we begin to reprove we need to feel for them. In the providence of God they have been dealt hard blows and anything we say to them by way of counsel and correction must come from hearts that sympathise.
Job is to be commended for turning to God. He may not be doing it with becoming reverence. He may be charging God unjustly and saying things for which he will afterwards repent in dust and ashes. But at least he is praying! And for that we commend him. It is always better to turn to God in our anguish, even if it is very imperfectly, than to fail to turn to him; - or worse, to turn away from him.
Job was wrong in his conclusions about God. Appearances notwithstanding, God was not treating Job as an enemy or pitilessly and unjustly afflicting him. And the lesson – isn’t it a hard one? – is that we must not argue upwards from our circumstances to the character of God, but downwards from his character to our circumstances. He has revealed himself – supremely in Jesus – as a God who loves his people with an unfathomable and eternal love. It is in that light that we are to contemplate all his dealings with us.
Job persevered! For all his anguish and doubt Job never turned away from God. He never cursed God to his face as Satan said he would. And by God’s grace our experience will be the same. God is committed to our perseverance and he will always keep us pressing on – no matter what.