How things really are
Job 5: What a blessing when God steps in and corrects you!
If I work my way through the book of Job and pick out various quotes from Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar, and Eliju and then present them to about any Christian I think they’d find the words quite acceptable. On the other hand, I could pick out many things Job says and those same Christians would shake their heads in dismay. How can it be that this old book which has been available to God’s people for so long be so poorly understood? Eliphaz says the same kind of stuff that we say. He reminds Job of his good life and suggests that he draw on that for hope now, in this day of suffering. He tells Job that everyone knows that for God’s people everything will turn out okay. It’s the bad people who need to worry about what the future holds. He even reminds his friend that human beings are born into trouble. In other words, “that’s life.” Job needs to throw himself on the mercy of God who delights in lifting broken people. So now, Job ought to be thankful that God cares enough about him to discipline him. If Job does that everything will be just fine. Eliphaz concludes, “This is the way things are.” The thing that I find spooky here is that if this speech was, for instance, in the Psalms, I’d read it and not think anything about it, just accepting it as truth. It’s only as I realize who it is who says this and then skip to the end of the story that I realize I need to do some serious sifting through this kind of thinking if I’m to actually know “how things really are.” It isn’t that everything Job’s friends say is wrong. Instead it’s that not everything they say is right. This is a book for people who are willing to think about big issues.
Take Away: Beware of things you’ve easily believed.
Telling it like it is
Job 3: Why didn’t I die at birth?
All of my life I’ve heard people speak of the “patience of Job” and, frankly, I don’t get it. Just a quick read through chapter 3 reveals that Job doesn’t stoically accept his condition. He’s miserable and he wishes he’d never been born. “May those who are ‘good at cursing’ curse the day of my birth,” he says. As I look at this miserable man I can’t help but appreciate his stark honesty. This guy isn’t given to platitudes. Instead, he tells it like it is, and at this moment in his life, life isn’t worth living. Somehow Christians have gotten the idea that we ought to behave as Job does in chapter one when he sincerely declares “God gives, God takes.” We read that and make it our model for dealing with pain and suffering. However, we need to keep on reading. Soon we find this same man crying out against his own life. Beyond that, to excuse Job as being “out of his mind” in pain is such a horrible put-down of Job. Yes, he’s in agony but he’s still thinking and the things he says reflect exactly what he believes. When we deny ourselves (and Job) the right to be absolutely honest about how we feel we destine ourselves to continue in a shallow relationship with God. You see, when I’m going through a trial God isn’t interested in seeing me put on a brave front and hearing me say all the right things. It’s honesty that he wants and sometimes that includes our telling him, and others, how miserable we are. Such honesty opens the way for God to work in our lives at levels we didn’t even know existed.
Take Away: There’s never a time to pretend things are different than they are before the Lord.
Job one, Satan nothing
Job 1: God gives, God takes. God’s name be ever blessed.
As round one of Job’s trials concludes we find Job a heartbroken man. Everything’s gone, including his children. Job’s in shock and deep mourning. In this midst of his pain, he falls to the ground — and worships! The test is to see if a man will serve God “for nothing” and, as this round of testing ends, we find Job still worshiping God! His worship doesn’t consist of his shrugging off all that has happened. After all, the pain is real. His actions declare the depth of his pain yet his words carry a philosophic tone. Job declares, “I entered with world with nothing and that’s how I’ll leave.” Does Job serve God for nothing? Job’s answer is “God gives, God takes. God’s name be ever blessed.”
Take Away: Job trusts in the Lord even when everything falls apart. Does that describe us?
Enter the friends
Job 2: They went together to Job to keep him company and comfort him.
Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, and later on Eliju come to visit poor, miserable Job. I think these guys get a bad rap from most people. The first three, at least, are friends of Job and when they arrive and see the pitiful shape he’s in they’re shocked, speechless and broken hearted. They can hardly bear seeing their friend like this. When they do speak, they do so in response to Job’s complaint and the things they say are the same sort of things Job might have said to them had their places been reversed. The debate that follows isn’t based on Job believing one thing and them believing another. Instead it’s about Job’s insistence that things aren’t working as he and his friends always believed they worked. They say, “Bad things don’t happen to good people, therefore, as surprising as it is, Job must be a bad person.” Job says, “I agree that bad things don’t happen to good people, but I’ve remained faithful to God and bad things have happened to me. Therefore, God isn’t following the rules.” The thing about Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar that needs to catch our attention is that they say all the same things we’ve said at one time or another.
Take Away: Do we trust God even when we don’t understand him?
Job 2: Curse God and be done with it!
I’m not sure how far one can go in thinking about Mrs. Job. Obviously this story isn’t about her. It’s Job’s faithfulness to God even when he’s getting nothing out of it that drives this story. Still, I feel sorry for Job’s wife. She’s suffered all the same losses he has. She’s lost everything, including her family. Now her husband sits before her, quivering in agony. Her life is ruined. When she advises Job to give up on God it’s because she already has. Her response is what Satan predicted Job’s would be: if the blessings of God are withdrawn human beings will no longer serve him. Job’s reply is that this is a foolish approach. God grants us life and we enjoy the good days that come. When things turn sour we go on trusting and serving him. That doesn’t mean we’re happy about things or that we don’t change them if we can. It does mean that we’ve chosen to trust God with both the good and bad that life brings. Job is angry with God, as we shall see, but he refuses to turn away from Him, even when serving God has resulted in so much pain.
Take Away: Faith is a matter of the will and not a product of circumstances.
Taking it to the next level
Job 2: A human would do anything to save his life.
Everything of value has been taken from Job in one breathtaking, horrible day, yet Job continues in his relationship with God. Now the adversary suggests that the reason for this is that Job is still playing the game of serving God because he’s still getting something out of it; that is, his very life. The stakes are incredibly high. It’s been proven that Job isn’t serving God because he gets wealth and possessions out of it. Satan suggests that Job’s hanging in there because he gets out of it life itself. The Lord doesn’t hand his servant completely over to this accuser, but he does grant permission for Job to be afflicted physically. What Satan does to Job is intended to be “a fate worse than death.” This is all intended to answer the fundamental question of this book of the Bible: “Does Job serve God for nothing?” Will Job continue in faithfulness when he’s getting nothing out of it? Will he serve God when all the blessings are turned to curses and his very life is a living death? The remainder of this book answers this question.
Take Away: All else can be stripped away but nothing can rob us of our faith.
Story or real?
Job 1: God replied, “We’ll see. Go ahead.”
I’ve heard some say that the fact that God gives permission for Job to be tested brings comfort to them. They tie it in to Paul’s word in 1 Corinthians 10:13: “No test or temptation that comes your way is beyond the course of what others have had to face. All you need to remember is that God will never let you down; he’ll never let you be pushed past your limit; he’ll always be there to help you come through it.” I see what they see in this. In the midst of the pain and suffering there’s some consolation in remembering that God is allowing this and he wouldn’t allow it if he didn’t know I can take it. However, this also troubles me. To think that the Lord grants permission for a life to be devastated (not to mention the very lives of Job’s children) is hard to take. I think this is why some people have decided that this is a parable-like story rather than a historical one. If this is fiction based on fact I can relax and focus on learning the lessons I can learn here. If, though, this is the real deal then I find myself struggling. If you think I am about to come up with some profound answer I fear you’re going to be disappointed. Beyond that, if you decide to skip ahead of me and read how the story of Job ends to find an answer there, well, you won’t find it there either.
Take Away: Sometimes we just have to trust the Lord, especially when we have more questions than answers.
Is it about what I’m getting out of it?
Job 1: So do you think Job does all that out of the sheer goodness of his heart?
While the audience Satan has with the Almighty is challenging from a theological viewpoint, I think it, and this question in particular, is the absolute key to the whole book. We tend to think that the book of Job focuses in undeserved suffering and how Job responds to it, but even more basic is the issue here. The Lord points out Job’s righteousness to Satan, says that Job is his friend, and is an outstanding servant. Satan, that old accuser, replies that the only reason Job lives right and loves God is for what he gets out of it. Certainly, God has blessed Job, delighting in bringing good things into his life. Is Job a righteous man simply because it’s good business, the smart thing to do, or is he righteous because he loves the Lord and chooses to serve him? What if Job wasn’t getting anything out of his service of God? What if, instead of blessings, curses are brought to his life? Will Job then turn his back on God and curse him? While the issue of undeserved suffering is a basic one I think this issue is even more basic. Why do I serve the Lord? Is it to escape hell and go to heaven? Is it so I won’t be plagued with guilt over my sin? What if all the “perks” are removed? Again, this is about as basic a question as there is.
Take Away: Why do you serve the Lord?
One of God’s friends
Job 1: Have you noticed my friend Job?
I’ll leave the discussion about how all this fits together theologically to others (although I will add that I have the deepest respect and appreciation for scholars who take on such issues) and stay in the devotional mode. The question asked by the Lord resonates with me. “My friend Job” is an awesome phrase to hear the Lord utter. This is the Almighty, the Creator of the Universe who’s talking. He’s speaking of a man; flesh and blood with human frailties and failings. But that man is a friend of God and God is a friend to him. When I consider the fact that this story is told long before Jesus, God Incarnate, walks this earth I’m blown away. We don’t know the identity of the writer of this book of the Bible, but he or she has an understanding of God and his relationship with us that ought to thrill us. It ought to challenge us too. Today, I have more reason than ever to aspire to and achieve friendship with God. I can not only be a servant of the Lord who worships him in his holiness, I can be his friend too. What a wonderful possibility!
Take Away: It’s an amazing privilege to be invited to be a friend with our Creator.
Where on earth is Uz?
Job 1: Job was a man who lived in Uz.
So begins the ancient story of Job. The land of Uz was likely in today’s northern Saudi Arabia. No other information is given us, and that doesn’t matter much because the location of the story is pretty much irrelevant. Some folks get all wrapped up in proving that Job is a historical figure but that doesn’t matter very much either. As they say, “there are bigger fish to fry” here. While I lean toward the “historical” side of the debate, I’m much more interested in learning the God-lessons that are taught here than I am in the silly “Job has to be real or the whole Bible’s not true” debate. Here’s a story about suffering; and not just suffering in general, but undeserved suffering. Job doesn’t suffer quietly and he doesn’t just go along with the conventional wisdom of his friends. He complains persistently and loudly: to God! If I spend my time debating the location of Ur or whether or not Satan has face to face consultations with God I miss the whole point of this story. If I’m willing to just let the story be told without my attaching some personal agenda to it, I find myself in some pretty challenging material, dealing with big issues of undeserved suffering and life and death.
Take Away: Every story in the Bible is, ultimately a God-story. To make a story into something else will cause us to miss the point.