Job 42: God restored his fortune — and then doubled it all.
Some people, probably the same ones who question Elihu’s contribution to the book of Job, question the conclusion of the book. They think it’s possibly an after-the-fact addition made by someone who felt the book was incomplete without Job’s restoration. Happily, as a devotional writer, I don’t have to take a stand on that. Instead, I can simply read and respond. I do understand where they’re coming from though. The main question, “will a man serve God for nothing” has been answered. The secondary issue, the question of human suffering, hasn’t been answered. Rather I’ve been taken in an unexpected direction to an unexpected conclusion. To finish the story with Job getting everything back does nothing to help us with either of the two primary issues raised in Job’s story. But again, I’m thinking devotionally here and not dealing so much with this sticky issue. So, what’s going on here? I believe that the reason Job is fully restored is that everything is taken from him for unnatural reasons. His loss of family, wealth, and health don’t “just happen.” They happen because Satan is given permission to take them from him. Once the test is over, that permission is withdrawn and God acts to return things to how they were. In other words, these are extraordinary circumstances all the way around. Most of the bad things that happen to us aren’t a result of Satan’s meddling in our lives. After all, it rains on the just and the unjust. We may be tested by such things, but they aren’t Satan-designed tests. Instead, they’re just life. That means that I can’t read the ending of the book of Job and conclude that if I handle my current difficulty of life okay I’ll get it all back, maybe double! When life “happens” and the plug is pulled simply because I live in a world where bad things happen to people, there’s no guarantee that, if I handle it well, it will all come back to me.
Take Away: This is an extraordinary story and we have to be careful to not take the more outstanding elements of it and conclude that that’s how things always are.
God is God
Job 42: I babbled on about things far beyond me.
Job responds to the Almighty’s questions as a humbled man. Here he is, still sitting in the ashes. His children are still dead. His wealth is still gone. He’s still in the agony of his affliction. Job isn’t now humbly spiritual because God has fixed everything or even explained everything to him. So far as I know, Job never learns what this is all about; that it’s all a test designed to answer the question, “Does he serve God for nothing?” Job has proved the Lord’s point though. Through it all, even when he’s struggling with the issues at hand, Job maintains his righteousness and trust in God. Now, God has spoken, revealing himself to Job, challenging him to respond to his own questions. Job responds, “I babbled on about things far beyond me.” This meeting with God makes all of Job’s questions moot. God is God and, even when life is unfair and perplexing, well, God is still God. In his trial, Job tries to state his case; to explain himself to his friends. More, he tries to explain God. This suffering man now realizes that he’s been trying to deal with the details of life but has lost sight of this huge, overpowering truth: God is God. In my life, even as I struggle with circumstances that don’t fit my theology, I must, after all my babbling on about how I think things are, remember this: God is God.
Take Away: Even when I don’t understand…even when I don’t like how things are going…even then, God is God.
Questions and the Answer
Job 41: I’m in charge of all this — I run the universe!
The response of the Almighty to Job centers on who God is, what God does, and what God knows. I’m reminded of the opening words of Genesis in which we’re not given a rationale for God’s existence but, instead, the story of God’s action in creating all things. Now, after Job has demanded an audience with God in which he could straighten things out, God speaks, not to explain things to Job but to declare himself to him. Surely the One who runs the universe is not subject to us! We see here that God isn’t especially interested in our having answers to all of life’s questions. He is interested though, in our knowing him. Job’s encounter with God is centered on all the mysteries of creation. Job needs to not only have a better understanding of God, but he needs a clearer understanding of himself and his relationship to the Lord. Of course, the same is true of us. As I better understand who God is and who I am, I realize that my questions aren’t as important as I first thought.
Take Away: I’ll never have all the answers anyway, but I can trust God to be the answer to the deepest needs of my life.
Now who’s on the spot?
Job 38: I have some questions for you.
Job’s insisted that his ordeal is the result of some cosmic mistake and that if only he could get an audience with God he’d straighten things out. If nothing else, God would at least explain to Job what it is he’s done to deserve these horrible things. Now Job’s getting what he asked for. The Lord has shown up. The thing is God isn’t defensive in the least and he isn’t especially interested in explaining things to Job. Through these tragic events Job has held in there. He’s remained faithful to the Lord, refusing to “curse God and die” even when he’s no longer being blessed in his faithfulness and righteousness. However, that doesn’t mean that Job is 100% correct in what he thinks about all this. Several times he’s said things that are wrong. When God shows up he first concentrates on these things. He says to Job, not “I have some answers for you” but, instead, “I have some questions for you.” Then, God begins to remind Job of Who He is and who Job is. This is a humbling experience but Job will never get a handle on many of the questions he’s asked without this. That’s how it is for us too. We sing, “What a friend we have in Jesus” and that’s a wonderful truth. Still, it has to be balanced against who God is. His awesome power in Creation, his holiness, and his nature in general must humble us even when we’re struggling with issues in life. When God begins to move in Job’s life again, his first move is to bring Job back to these truths.
Take Away: Remembering who God is is the first step to understanding many of the questions of life.
Job 38: And now, finally God answered Job.
Of all the losses Job suffered, his loss of contact with God may have been the most difficult. In Job’s life God has always been close by. In good times he’s praised the Lord and in bad times he’s cried out to God. At all times he’s felt his presence. Then, when a series of disasters that couldn’t possibly be coincidence come, God goes silent. Job cries out to God repeatedly; sometimes in pain, sometimes in fear, and even sometimes in anger but God remains distant and unresponsive. While Job’s story is out on the extreme edge of human experience, facing times when God seems to have withdrawn from our lives is not. David, in the Psalms, often complains that God is unreachable. Even Jesus on the cross says he’s been forsaken. Through the centuries Christians have talked about “the dark night of the soul” or “the winter of the soul.” These are times when God appears to leave us on our own. Why would our Heavenly Father do that? I think the answer is that he wants us to learn to seek him rather than seek the feeling we associate with his presence. Every worshipper likes it when God “feels” close. When life is hard we especially want to feel that God is near. One of the ways in which the Lord helps us grow in our relationship with him is by removing the emotional props and leaving us with nothing but our faith. There’s a big difference between “feeling” that the Lord is with us and simply “knowing” he is there. That’s the level of living he desires for us. Job’s winter of the soul is about to pass as “finally God answers.” Many thoughtful Christians have found that God puts us through times of darkness that we may learn to focus on him rather than on his blessings. Then, when the lesson is learned, “finally” God draws close to us once again.
Take Away: Experiencing a “dark night of the soul” doesn’t necessarily mean we’ve forsaken the Lord and that he has rejected us. It may mean he’s helping us to live without the “training wheels” of feeling.
A short look at Elihu
Job 32: And rest assured, I won’t be using your arguments!
I’m not sure what to do with Elihu. He’s the fourth person who comes to speak to Job. When the first three speak, Job interacts with them, responding to the things they say. Elihu, however, has a long monologue. Job doesn’t answer him and, at the end of the book, God addresses the three friends but not Elihu. The experts say that his speech is likely an “add on” to the book of Job, written after the fact. That, though, is confusing too. Why would anyone do that? In spite of the fact that Elihu claims that he won’t be using the arguments of Job’s friends, he actually doesn’t say anything that hasn’t already been said to, and refuted by, Job. As a devotional reader and writer, I’ll leave these puzzling things to others, but I don’t think I want to work my way through his sermon with the same intensity I did with the other speakers. So what will I do with this? Maybe it’s reasonable to focus in on the fact that Elihu doesn’t seem to have been listening very well to what the others said. Sometimes we’re so intent on what we are about to say that we don’t hear what others say. When we do speak, we just restate, in our own words, their thoughts. Or, I can think about Elihu’s waving of the “youth flag;” thinking he’s bringing a fresh perspective, when he’s just as bound by the old way of thinking as Job’s three friends. Being a traditionalist who can’t handle opposing truth is not necessarily tied to one’s age. Finally, I can see here an example of how, if we start with the wrong premise we’re bound to arrive at the wrong conclusion. Like Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, Elihu starts off thinking that bad things only happen to bad people. Because of that, he arrives at the wrong conclusion: Job must be a bad person. Okay, enough of Elihu…on to the appearance of the Lord, Himself!
Take Away: Start with the wrong premise, arrive at the wrong conclusion.
Serving God for nothing
Job 30: What did I do to deserve this?
Job’s final reply to his friends is his longest speech. He doesn’t summarize so much as restate all he has already said. He’s cried out to God for justice, but can’t get an answer. He’s lived a just life, avoiding immorality, falsehood, dishonesty, and pride. He’s treated people with respect and honesty, caring for the poor and the stranger. Now, in the midst of the trial, all he’s wanted is an audience with God, an audience which has not been granted. Job, like his friends, believes that bad things only happen to bad people. He maintains that he’s lived a life pleasing to God, yet bad things are happening. If he could only sit down with God and work all this out! Were that to happen, he’s sure this mess could be straightened out. Among all the other losses Job has suffered is the loss of his comfortable understanding of God and life. However, even with that taken away (and maybe this is the last thing to go) Job continues serving God. And he does so, yes, for nothing! At this point, Satan’s accusation from the opening paragraphs of this story is proven false. In spite of the suggestion otherwise, a man will love and serve God even when he’s getting nothing out of it; even when it seems God, himself, is breaking the rules; even when all else is taken away. If the book of Job ended with chapter 31, the point of the whole story is made.
Take Away: Yes, it’s possible for a person to love the Lord and trust the Lord even when there appears to be no tangible gain in it.
A longing look back
Job 30: How I long for the good old days.
Job’s longest speech comes after his three friends have had their say. His comments range from direct replies to their statements to his view of the world and the inequities he sees in it. A portion of these thoughts are focused on how things have changed for him. There was a time, he remembers, when he was wonderfully blessed by the Lord, and, he says, “Everything was going my way.” Job handled these blessings well. Instead of it all going to his head, he became a friend to those who were going through loss or who needed help along the way. Those were good days, but remembering them isn’t a source of comfort to Job. Instead, the memories add to his pain as he realizes he’s lost more than wealth and health. As I read Job’s story I note that loss comes in a wide variety of forms. Job is unique because he lost it all at once, but it’s painful to have even a small portion stripped away. That includes loss of influence, which often comes with the passing of years. Those who have given their lives in full time ministry aren’t exempt from this. The day comes when our ideas are no longer sought after and younger voices dominate the conversation about what God is doing “now.” Like Job, it’s natural to “long for the good old days.”
Take Away: As time passes so does our influence. It’s possible to graciously accept that and to simply go on, trusting the Lord with that which is beyond our influence.
The difference between imperfection and unrighteousness
Job 25: Even the stars aren’t perfect in God’s eyes.
The final statement from one of Job’s three friends (although the fourth speaker, Elihu, is still to come), is a short one and it causes us to wonder if maybe Job has argued them to a standstill. However, Bildad does take us down a bit different track. He argues that only God is truly perfect, and next to him, everything else comes up short. Even the stars of the sky are lacking in God’s eyes. Since that’s true (according to Bildad) God is justified in bringing calamity on anybody, including Job. After all, we’re all less than insects when compared to God. That’s his argument, but it isn’t a very good one. Job replies that he maintains his integrity even in the midst of what he sees as an unjust trial. His argument isn’t that he’s perfect. Rather, it’s that he’s just. Job understands something that many modern Christians fail to grasp. There’s a difference between imperfection and unrighteousness. God looks, not on our performance, but on our intent. My humanity guarantees that I’ll have a sub-par performance. However, by God’s grace, I can live for God and maintain my integrity before him even in the worst of times. Samuel learned this truth before anointing David King of Israel: “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7) Job may be struggling with several theological concepts, but he has this one down pat.
Take Away: By the grace of the Lord it is, indeed, possible to have a pure heart in his sight.
Believing against the evidence in the justice of God
Job 24: If Judgment Day isn’t hidden from the Almighty, why are we kept in the dark?
One topic that surfaces often in the book of Job is that of “inequity.” Job considers how often it is that the innocent suffer while the wicked get away with their evil. Still, Job’s sure of this: God knows what’s going on. Job doesn’t understand why it is that God doesn’t immediately make things right (he says “God does nothing, acts like nothing’s wrong”) yet he believes God is a God of justice and that sooner or later the Lord will act. This is a huge statement of faith for a man who’s experiencing his own “fate worse than death.” Even though the wicked appear to get away with it all Job says that “God has his eye on them.” Even as Job suffers his own personal torment, he still trusts that, in the end, God will make things right. This is a powerful understanding of the nature of God.
Take Away: We may not understand the here and how but we can understand that, ultimately, the Lord will make all things right.