Complaints, turmoil, hope, desperation, anger, revelation, frustration and praise – all these are included in Job’s dialogue with God. He is called righteous, blameless and upright, yet the Lord challenges him in his evaluation of suffering.
Earlier this year, I looked at what the book of 1 Peter says about our attitude towards suffering. Here is a little reminder, and the whole discussion can be found here: https://lostnowfoundk.wordpress.com/2014/06/01/1-peter-5-suffering-in-the-right-perspective/
- If suffering comes our way, do not be dismayed, do not be ashamed and do not be afraid
- Instead, hope in the Lord and rejoice in Him
- Look to glorify God through committing our souls to Him:
- Being firm in the truth of His Name
- Being prepared to give reason for your hope in Christ
- Continuing to do good
- Remember, each will receive his own reward in Christ
Now, in the book of Job, we see what it looks like to pronounce this attitude, in particular, how we can speak it out to God even in the midst of suffering. The book of Job is full of dialogue, and that dialogue reveals the attitudes of the heart. As Luke 6:45 says, “A good man out of the treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.”
The way Job responds to God is also a declaration of who he says God is. However, Job is not always sure about why particular things are happening and he expresses this confusion to God in the form of anger, complaints and petitions. Job shows us that intimacy with God consists not only of praise and adoration, but also the honesty of grappling with suffering and times of testing. When faced with similar situations, what can we say to God? What can we declare? Let’s take a look at what Job said.
1. “All is the Lord’s, and I will trust Him”
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
And naked I shall return there.
The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away;
Blessed be the name of the Lord.”
In all this Job did not sin nor charge God with wrong.
Job’s first trial comes as all his wealth, sons, and daughters are destroyed. In other words, the “signs of blessing” are taken away from him. Yet, Job still praises God. Even after his health is taken away, he says, “Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?” [Job 2:9] The Bible records that “In all this Job did not sin with his lips.” He did not charge God with wrong, but he submitted himself to God’s will, whether it was with or without physical blessings. Job recognised that God gives and takes away, but we do not always see why. Job also knew his God was good, and that his God had purpose to his actions – God’s ways and thoughts being higher than our own. So, Job trusted God and hoped in Him despite his adversity. After this point, we do not see mention of how Job did not sin, but we do see increasing confusion and desperation as God seems not to hear Job’s cries. Then, God finally answers and Job receives great revelation.
When the situation at hand does not make sense, we can say to God: “Lord, your thoughts are higher, your ways are higher than mine. I choose to trust you and to proclaim your goodness, even when I do not fully understand your purposes in the moment.”
2. The Blessing or Curse of Life
Job’s friends come to comfort him in his affliction and for many days no-one says a word to him because they see that his suffering is very great. After this, Job speaks again and he curses the day of his birth. Job is in so much despair that he wishes he was not born.
““Why did I not die at birth?
Why did I not perish when I came from the womb?
Why did knees receive me?
Or why the breasts, that I should nurse?
For now I would have lain still and been quiet,
I would have been at rest…”
Job says even the wicked are at rest in the grave. He describes it as a place of freedom for prisoners and servants, a place where the voice of the oppressor cannot be heard. Job’s complaint is not only that he had been born to experience this suffering. He has a question – why live, when we must suffer to the point of death?
“Why is light given to him who is in misery, And life to the bitter of soul,
Who long for death, but it does not come,
And search for it more than hidden treasures;
Who rejoice exceedingly,
And are glad when they can find the grave?
Why is light given to a man whose way is hidden,
And whom God has hedged in?”
Job describes that the thing he “greatly feared” and “dreaded” has happened to him. What is it? Well, we know that Job often made sacrifices for his children, and that he was diligent in his service toward God. He was quick to offer gifts of repentance, yet even in his righteousness, he was afflicted. Perhaps Job feared that he had not done enough to please God, or that he had too much confidence in his righteousness? Perhaps he feared that a time of testing would come. In any case, this greatly dreaded thing came upon Job and burdened him so much that he started seeing a solution in the grave. Yet, Job recognised the light of God in life. He wondered why God would bless with life when life was filled with such suffering. He calls out to God – why give me your light when my way is hidden? Why shine on me to hedge me in? He asks God to crush him because he does not understand why he should be made to endure this suffering.
“Oh, that I might have my request,
That God would grant me the thing I long for!
That it would please God to crush me,
That he would loose His hand and cut me off!
Then I would still have comfort;
Though in anguish I would exult,
He will not spare;
For I have not concealed the words of the Holy One.”
The answer is not made known until much later in the book of Job.
Job’s question reminds me of someone who did suffer to the point of death, and suffered so we could live – “… Because He poured out His soul unto death, and He was numbered with the transgressors, and He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.” [Isaiah 53:12] Jesus died to make intercession for us, so that his life could be the light of man and man could be restored to God. When we despair of life, we can remember what Jesus did so we could live life to the fullest, not only after this world, but in this world as well. https://lostnowfoundk.wordpress.com/2013/09/15/to-live-or-die/
When we long for death because we despair of life, we can say to God: “I feel anguish unto death, but I know that you, God, have given me life. I choose to live and hope in your life. Give me strength to endure, overcome and be joyful, even in suffering. Let me see You, that I would remember My hope.”
3. Questions of “Why”
Job 9 shows Job’s understanding that there is no mediator between Him and God. There is no point going to anyone else, but he must speak directly to God. Yet, in coming before God, Job sees how God is more holy than man, and sees all justice performed. Job says, “Who can say to Him, ‘What are you doing?’ … How then can I answer Him, and choose my words to reason with Him?” In his anguish, Job pleads with God. He acknowledges God His maker, God who sees Him, and God who knows His affliction. Yet, Job does not understand why he is made to suffer and he pleads with God, asking many questions of why. Job is conflicted because what he is experiencing does not seem to correlate with the God he knows. Yet, Job still knows God’s character, he knows God knows him, and he comes to God with these questions, wanting to seek out God’s intent and His plan. His questions are seem throughout Job 10.
- (v.2-3) “Does it seem good to You that You should oppress,
That you should despise the work of Your hands,
And smile on the counsel of the wicked.”
- (v. 5-7) “Are your days like the days of a mortal man?
Are your years like the days of a might man,
That you should seek for my iniquity
And search out my sin,
Although you know that I am not wicked,
And there is no one who can deliver from your hand.”
- (v.8-9) “Your hands have made and fashioned me,
An intricate unity;
Yet You would destroy me.
Remember I pray, that You have made me like clay.
And will you turn me into dust again?”
- (v.17-18) “You renew Your witnesses against me,
And increase Your indignation toward me;
Changes and war are ever with me.
Why then have You brought me out of the womb?
Oh, that I had perished and no eye had seen me!”
Without an answer, Job expresses his anguish and anger at God’s interest in his life. He says, “Are my days few? Cease! Leave me alone, that I may take a little comfort.” [Job 10:20] It is ok to question God, and ok to express anger toward Him in our suffering. Job questioned and expressed his anger, but he did so out of knowing who God was.
When we do not understand what God is doing, when we find an apparent contradiction to His character, when prayers go unanswered and suffering seems to have no cause, we can ask God: “Why?” We can express our anger, our confusion and our dilemma. He may not give the answer we expect, but God hears, and He listens.
4. “I have a Redeemer.”
In Job 17:1, Job declares that he is broken – “My spirit is broken, my days are extinguished, the grave is ready for me…” In Job 19, Job answers the criticism of his friends, and shows that despite his suffering, he still believes in God’s redeeming power. He says:
“For I know that my Redeemer lives,
And He shall stand at last on the earth;
And after my skin is destroyed, this I know,
That in my flesh I shall see God,
Whom I shall see for myself,
And my eyes shall behold, and not another.”
When we are falsely accused, we can say to God: “You are enough for me. I know I will see You, even if my body here is destroyed. I care about pleasing you, more than pleasing man.”
5. “God tests and refines me, even if I do not see it.”
“Look, I go forward, but He is not there,
And backward, but I cannot perceive Him;
When He works on the left hand, I cannot behold Him;
And when He turns to the right hand, I cannot see Him.
But He knows the way that I take;
When He has tested me, I shall come forth as gold.”
What profound words Job has to say here. He confesses that although he cannot seem to find God, or perceive what he is doing, he knohe ws that God is for him. Job trusts God to refine him and he declares that he will overcome and come forth as gold.
When we endure times of testing, even if we cannot perceive exactly what God is doing, we can say: “God, I know You are for me, and You never leave me. You help me to overcome, and You refine me. Let me come forth as gold, to give You glory.”
6. “I have seen God!”
In chapters 29-31, Job makes a final defense. In these passages, he remembers the goodness of God that now seems past. He describes his terror in experiencing the trials he is suffering, and he thinks through a multitude of sins he could have committed. Yet, Job maintains that he cannot pinpoint any sin which he has committed to anger God. Elihu does not give him an answer for the cause of his suffering, but he points out that Job has been defending his own righteousness. God then answers Job. As many questions as Job may have asked, God asks His own. Job cannot answer God’s questions. Instead, He is struck with a newfound appreciation of God’s omnipotence and this revelation transforms him. Job answers God with this revelation.
“I know that You can do everything,
And that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You.
You asked, ‘Who is this who hides counsel without knowledge?’
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
Listen, please, and let me speak;
You said, ‘I will question you, and you shall answer Me.’
I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear,
But know my eye sees You.
Therefore I abhor myself.
And repent in dust and ashes.”
When God answers us, when He gives us revelation of who He is, we can declare it back to Him and worship Him.
Here is a little summary about how we might communicate with God in suffering, taken from Job’s honest dialogue with God.
- 1) When the situation at hand does not make sense, we can say to God: “Lord, your thoughts are higher, your ways are higher than mine. I choose to trust you and to proclaim your goodness, even when I do not fully understand your purposes in the moment.”
- 2) When we long for death because we despair of life, we can say to God: “I feel anguish unto death, but I know that you, God, have given me life. I choose to live and hope in your life. Give me strength to endure, overcome and be joyful, even in suffering. Let me see You, that I would remember My hope.”
- 3) When we do not understand what God is doing, when we find an apparent contradiction to His character, when prayers go unanswered and suffering seems to have no cause, we can ask God: “Why?” We can express our anger, our confusion and our dilemma. He may not give the answer we expect, but God hears, and He listens.
- 4) When we are falsely accused, we can say to God: “You are enough for me. I know I will see You, even if my body here is destroyed. I care about pleasing you, more than pleasing man.”
- 5) When we endure times of testing, even if we cannot perceive exactly what God is doing, we can say: “God, I know You are for me, and You never leave me. You help me to overcome, and You refine me. Let me come forth as gold, to give You glory.”
- 6) When God answers us, when He gives us revelation of who He is, we can declare it back to Him and worship Him.