Job – A reflection from the middle of the story
Through a great swathe of the book of Job – from the beginning of Chapter 3 to the end of Chapter 31 – we are listening, largely, to Job himself. As we do so, one thing stands out more clearly than anything else. Job is struggling. He is carrying a terrific weight of sufferings and finding it very hard.
He suffered heavily from the outset. In the course of a single day he lost almost everything he had – his livestock, his servants and, most tragic of all, his ten children. Who can measure the pain of that?
Then his health broke down. Satan so afflicted him that Job could say, ‘My body is clothed with worms and scabs, my skin is broken and festering’ (Job 7:5).
Then there was the appalling way people treated him: ‘God has made me a byword to everyone’, he complains, ‘a man in whose face people spit’ (17:6). Job became as universally despised as he had once been universally loved.
The question, ‘Why?’
Then there were his three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar. They came with the honourable intention of comforting Job but failed miserably. By their groundless accusations of wickedness, they simply made matters worse.
At first Job’s response to his suffering was astonishingly positive. He acknowledged that it had come from God and accepted it with submission – even with adoration. As time went on, however, and his sufferings multiplied, he found himself struggling under their weight.
It comes out at first when he curses the day of his birth (Chapter 3). So great is his anguish that he wishes 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’ (7:7). He is so miserable that he wants to die: ‘O … that God would be willing to crush me, to let loose his hand and cut me off!'(6:9).
The intensity of Job’s struggle is most apparent, however, in his feelings and thoughts about God. 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? The following observations will prove helpful, I trust, as we struggle with our own sufferings.
True to life
Firstly,Job’s experience is true to life. Like Job, Christians often find it hard to cope with suffering. For example, many are no strangers to the depression that often accompanies suffering.
Some find themselves wishing they had never been born, or despairing of things ever improving. Some even long for death. We too have sometimes been overwhelmed with the mystery of our sufferings, asking all kinds of agonising Why? questions.
Like Job, we may have negative thoughts and feelings about God – doubting his fairness, convinced that he is our enemy. And as with Job, all of these things can be bound up with a poor state of health.
Secondly, Job deserves our sympathy, whatever fault we may find with some of his utterances. Our fellow Christians need it as well. Like Job they may say things, both to and about God, that they shouldn’t. Their reactions may be bad in other ways.
But before we reprove them 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.
Turning to God
Thirdly, Job is to be commended for turning to God. He may not be doing it with sufficient 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 imperfectly, than to fail to turn to him – or worse, to turn away from him.
Fourthly,Job’s conclusions about God were wrong. Appearances notwithstanding, God was not treating Job as an enemy or afflicting him unjustly. 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 must contemplate all his dealings with us.
Finally, 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.