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Sunday, March 6, 2011

Job: Trouble, Trouble, Trouble

Do you feel a righteous anger? Is this anger an outcry that makes you question the purpose of your existence? If you have been searching for your fit in the puzzle of existence, you are not alone. Many people cannot seem to find significance in the world. They put forth great effort and still struggle with jobs, money, relationships, and health. Feeling they deserve a better life, many look upon those more affluent or more content and angrily strike out against any perceived impediment to happiness in their way. Some even blame God.

Perceptions of injustice and of inequity are merely human understandings. The degree of any person's suffering may be evaluated by human eyes and human brains, but, very often, the causes for pitiful conditions remain unclear. Without evidence, many wonder how God could let these terrible things happen. Enter the story of Job.

Job of the Bible was a wealthy man, a community leader with ten children who was renowned for his wisdom and philanthropy. The Bible tells us that God believed Job was blameless and upright, a man who feared God and turned away from evil. (James Hatton, "Bible Study: The Book of Job,", March 4 2008)

But, as God praised Job, Satan confronted God, questioned Job's motives, and said that Job had reason for not fearing God. Satan continued, "He just serves you for what you do for him. You have given him riches and a family and servants. If you took these things away, he would not serve you."

"If you, God, would take away his wealth and his health," Satan conjectured, "Job would curse rather than fear you." Satan felt God could only buy a person's respect. In essence, Satan had challenged God himself.

God gave Satan permission to prove his accusation but, whatever he did, he wasn't to take Job's life. So, Satan caused certain events that took Job's herds, burned up his crops, destroyed his oldest son's house and killed all ten of his children.

Expecting Job to curse God and die, Satan was stunned when Job replied: "The Lord has given, the Lord has taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord." In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.

Yet again, Satan scoffed at Job’s faith in God. "A man will give all he has for his own life,"  Satan said. "But stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face." God again granted Satan his wish to put Job to the test as long as he didn't kill him.

So, Satan caused poor Job to be struck with putrid sores all over his body. The fall of the house of Job was complete. How could Job persevere though God seemed to have forsaken him?

Later, Job was visited by three old friends who came to comfort him. When they found him, they were shocked and hardly recognized him covered in sores from head to toe. He was outside the city sitting among the ashes, the local dump where garbage was burned. He was alone, tormented, and confused. Job, himself, did not understand why this evil was happening to someone who had faith in God.

Job was not a victim of time and chance but a part of God’s orchestrated purpose. Job had no inkling he was the star actor in a God-directed morality play on earth. As far as Job knew, God has disappeared from his life. (Paul Kroll, "The Trial of Job," Grace Communion International, 2011)

To have suddenly come upon hard times like Job had done was construed to be a sign of the judgment of God for some secret, willful sin. His friends sat for seven days without saying a word until Job finally broke the silence.

Job's first reaction was complete denial. He has three wishes: (1) he wished he'd never been born, (2) he wished he'd died at childbirth, and (3) he wished he could die. Yet he really didn't want to die for fear of cursing God.

As Job suffered the depth of depression, his three friends told him that he was obviously under the hand of God's judgment and his best option would be to confess his sin, get right with God and wait for the blessing to return. Although at first, these friends had come to console Job, they began attacking him relentlessly as a hideous sinner. Job prayed that God would speedily intervene in his life. Still, he became weaker and weaker.

The problem was that Job's friends suspected certain sins but could not tell Job what he had done wrong. Nothing was evident, nor could it be. At this point, Job turned to bargaining as he pleaded with God to tell him what he had done wrong. God didn't answer.

Then, Job and his friends went around and around until Job becomes angry with God. Job was unaware of any wickedness on his part and yet, here he was, being punished by God. Job’s discouragement, his lashing out at God, was not disbelief, for Job never questioned God’s existence. Job knew that somewhere in the universe God must be alive. "Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him," Job cried out. (Job 13:15)

Finally, God spoke. He doesn't answer Job's question, however, He plied Job with questions, seventy questions, in fact. Questions such as the following: What do you know  about the creation of the world? What do you know about the stars and what are the names of all the stars? What about the weather? What about the animals?

Job realized God had created and sustained all things but Job didn't know how: he just trusted God to get on with running everything. Job didn't respond to God with accusations of injustice; he merely put his hand over his mouth. Speechless, he understood.

God did not condemn Job for his past anger and accusations. God only corrected Job’s misconception about His ability to rule creation.

God’s point to Job, Philip Yancey wrote in Disappointment With God, was this: "Until you know a little more about running the physical universe, Job, don’t tell me how to run the moral universe." Job now knew there was a purpose for his suffering — God’s purpose. That was quite enough for him.

In Philip Yancey’s words: "One bold message in the Book of Job is that you can say anything to God. Throw at him your grief, your anger, your doubt, your bitterness, your betrayal, your disappointment — he can absorb them all." God is much bigger than we are.

Job repented.  Job explained, "Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know." Job had been too hasty in concluding God was unjust. His new understanding was a byproduct of his suffering -- his test of faith and love. It seemed that God needed to know something about Job, and Job needed to know something about himself and about God.(Paul Kroll, "The Trial of Job," Grace Communion International, 2011)

Job repented with no certain knowledge that his situation was going to change. There, among the ashes, covered in sores Job trusted God simply because God was worthy to be feared. 

Understanding Some Lessons

1. Suffering may occur for reasons we don’t understand unless or until God reveals them to us. (John 9:1-7)

2. Trials may come because God needs to know something about a faithful servant. (Genesis 22:1-12)

3. Trials and suffering provide spiritual enrichment and build a relationship between us and God. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10; Hebrews 12:4-12; James 1:2-4; 1 Peter 4:12-19)

4. Just because Christians suffer trials or tragedies does not mean God is punishing them for some sin.

5. It is possible for humans to love God unconditionally.

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