My name is Job. You can always tell when someone isn’t as well-versed on the Old Testament- they pronounce my name “job”! But it’s Job. When you hear my name, the words “the patience of” often precede it. I was a wealthy man living in a place called Uz- you know it better as modern-day Jordan. I’ll be honest- my life was good. I had a big family. I had thousands of head of livestock. I had money. I had land. I had it all. AND- I was a good guy- “blameless” and “upright”, always so careful to avoid evil. And then, one day, everything changed.
Satan showed up at God’s front door. There’s a surprise. And he brought with him a plan. The plan revolved around…me. Satan openly questioned my faithfulness. But God assured him I was “a righteous dude”. Satan argued that the ONLY reason I was “good” at all was because God had given me so much. He said that, if everything was taken away from me, I’d curse God’s name so fast His head would spin. The gauntlet had been thrown down. And God allowed Satan to test me. And BOY did he test me!
Over the course of one day- ONE day- I got four separate messages. And those four messages, combined, informed me that I had lost almost basically EVERYTHING- children, servants, livestock, money and land to a combination of invaders and natural catastrophes. I was devastated. I tore my clothes. I shaved my head. I fell into a deep state of mourning. And yet, I continued to praise God.
That was not the response Satan wanted. So he went back to God and asked for another shot at me. God again allowed him to test me. This time, I developed horrible, painful sores all over my body. People couldn’t even stand to look at me. My own wife encouraged me to curse God, give up just die already. But again…I refused. I struggled terribly with my circumstances…but I remained steadfast in my faith.
So there I was- down and out, covered in open sores, struggling to find any sense of meaning or purpose. And in the midst of my desperation, along come my three best friends- Eliphaz (el-i-fas), Bildad, and Zophar (zo-par). And things started really well. They didn’t offer up pithy little sayings they had read on a Hallmark card. They didn’t try to tell me that God had a plan for me or that everything would be okay or that God needed another angel. In fact, they didn’t try to tell me…anything. Instead, they just sat with me. In silence. For seven days. They sat and mourned with me in silence for seven days. Sometimes, just being there, silent, is the best thing you can offer.
Finally, on the seventh day, I started talking. I had had it. I was mad. I cursed my life, wishing I had never been born. I said that feeling the light of life only intensified my misery. And that seemed to open the flood gates. My friends beat on me like a rented mule. First, Eliphaz (el-i-fas) said that, even though I had comforted plenty of other people, I clearly never really understood their pain. He said that my suffering was due to some sin I had committed. Bildad and Zophar joined in, agreeing that I had obviously offended God by sinning. They said I needed to be more blameless. Bildad even went as far as to say that my children- my children- brought their deaths upon themselves. Zophar said that whatever I’d done wrong probably deserved even greater punishment than I was receiving. I guess they thought they were helping, but they were simply making me mad. In fact, I called them “worthless physicians who whitewash their advice with lies”. Pretty harsh!
All of this led me to examine my relationship with God. I found myself questioning why God judges us based on our actions when He could just as easily change our actions or forgive our behavior. I also began to wonder how we can possibly make God happy- He is, by design, unseen and beyond our ability to understand. We can’t sweet-talk Him. He can’t be deceived. And the truth is that we don’t even understand ourselves well enough to plead our case to God. I begged for someone who could be the go-between from me to God…or that God would just send me to the place of the dead and get it over with.
My “friends” were upset that I would dare to NOT accept their infinite wisdom. They felt I lacked the appropriate respect- fear- of God. But I stood firm, assuring them that, if I HAD done evil, it was MY problem and not theirs. I also held fast to the conviction that there was a “witness”- a Redeemer- in heaven who would defend my innocence. I went on to complain about how unfair it was that God seems to let wicked people prosper while us innocent people suffered. I wanted to confront God, complain face to face, but I couldn’t physically find Him.
Suddenly, a new contender showed up- Elihu (EL-i-hue). He jumped into the debate and claimed that I was spending too much energy vindicating myself instead of God. He tried to tell me that physical suffering provides us with the opportunity to…realize God’s love and forgiveness?! We experience God’s love through physical pain? He then agreed with the other guys that I must have done something bad to experience so much suffering. He even said that I talked too much!
Finally, thankfully- God interrupted, calling out from the middle of a storm. And He cut right to the chase. “Who is this that obscures My plans with words that have no knowledge?” He then told me to hang onto my hat- He was going to question me and He expected an answer. And here’s what He asked me-
“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Who marked off its dimensions? Who laid its cornerstone while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy? Have you ever given orders to the morning or shown the dawn its place? Have the gates of death been shown to you? Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth? Do you know the laws of the heavens? Do you send the lightning bolts on their way? Who has the wisdom to count the clouds? Does the eagle soar at your command and build its nest on high?”
When God has finished, I could barely speak. But I managed to say this, “I know that You can do all things; no purpose of Yours can be thwarted. Surely, I spoke of things I didn’t understand, things too wonderful for me to know. My ears had heard of You, but now my eyes have seen You and so I repent in dust and ashes.”
In the end, God restored my fortunes, giving me twice as much as I had before. Everyone I knew came and ate with me. They comforted and consoled me. God blessed my life even more than He had before.
Easy to hear that last part and simply think, “OK- happy ending!” But we all know that my story explores some of the most profound questions we have. And right at the top of that list is this- why? Why did this happen? Why do bad things happen to good people? I mean, we all have bad times. But some of us seem to get more than our share!
So let’s cut to the chase- address the 400-pound gorilla in the room. Do I believe that God CAUSED my pain and suffering? CAUSED it? No, I absolutely do NOT. I don’t have a gear for God, Who loves me more than I could fathom, wanting to intentionally cause me pain and suffering. OK, so if he didn’t CAUSE it…did He ALLOW it? Yes. If I believe that God is all-powerful and can do anything He wants, then I have to believe that He could stop anything from happening. And so if anything happens, He allowed it to happen. Note the difference between “cause” and “allow”.
There is a Greek word- dokime. It means “to test the genuineness of something”. It referred to measuring the purity of gold. Tests have a purpose. They’re the process by which the genuineness of our faith is displayed. The question is- does God test us just to make sure we’re worthy? Does our loving Creator have a mean streak that allows Him to deal us the worst hand possible…just to see how we’ll react? I can’t speak for you, but for me, the answer to that question is, “No.” The tests come from life. Life is unpredictable. Life is capricious. Life is fleeting, transitory. Some people get the weight of the world dumped on them while others seem to skate through relatively unscathed. God doesn’t cause our trials and tribulations. The fallen nature of our world does. What God does is finds ways to use those tribulations for the greater good. How many times have you heard a tragic story about a kid who dies WAY too young from some insidious disease? As you read the article, you get madder and madder at the injustice of it all. But then, you get to the part about how many lives that kid touched. About how many people he or she impacted. About the foundations and ministries that have grown out of their short life and tragic death. There are kids who didn’t see their 6th birthday who impacted more people in their 5 short years than I will if I live to be 100.
We like everything neatly pigeon-holed and labelled. We want the world to simply make sense. And so, we look for an explanation for everything. But the truth is that the “why” is often elusive- like trying to grab ahold of a wisp of smoke. Bad things don’t only happen to bad people. Bad things…just…happen. There are lots of answers we will simply never know- this side of Heaven.
Why does God allow all sorts of “bad things” to happen? The truth? I don’t know. I don’t know. And yet…I trust. I may never know the specific reason for my suffering, but I trust in a sovereign, holy, righteous God because His ways are perfect. Through this trial, I came to know God in a way I could not have imagined before. And so, we are left with two choices- fight tooth and nail for answers we simply can’t find…or just trust. Which one will you choose?
There is another Greek word- upogrammos. It means “a writing copy.” It refers to kids practicing their handwriting in a workbook. They reproduce every stroke of every letter, learned to reproduce the teacher’s writing. God is our teacher, our pattern. We want to try and reproduce His approach to life’s difficulties as much as possible.
It’s pretty easy to trust God when you’re putting in the short grass. When everything makes sense, it’s easy to see God as large and in charge. But what about when the wheels fall off the bus? What about when you can’t seem to distinguish up from down? It is exactly THEN when a strong sense of trust and faith is most needed.
To quote those great theologians Ra, I lost everything today. And yet, in the very depths of despair, I was able to utter what proved to be one of the most profound declarations of faith ever recorded, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him”.
You can’t shorten your time in the wilderness, but you can absolutely lengthen it. Our responsibility is to trust God, to submit to His will whether we understand it or not. When we do that, we’ll find God more clearly in the midst of our trials. We’ll see more clearly God’s true magnificence and be able to say, “My ears had heard of You…but now my eyes have seen You”.