Low Moments: Job

Low Moments: Job

Low Moments: Job.

The Hebrew Bible is the most realistic book ever written. Christians might call it the Old Testament, but the stories contained within it are anything but old in the sense of outdated, hobbled by age or past their prime. These old stories remain relevant because of their inclination to show everything there was to see about its characters. The Jewish Scriptures are totally transparent, revealing the people at their high points, low points, and everything in between. Its writers had nothing to hide, evidently, and was all about real life in all its glory and all its failures. There were five biblical heroes who were revealed as all too human, all of them at low points during their life with God. These five all asked to die, they requested that the Lord take their lives. But God refused to take the lives of Moses, Elijah, Job, Jeremiah and Jonah. God had more for them to do, and anyway it was unthinkable. Of course God wouldn’t take their lives when they were at such low moments. Anyone who has ever reached their limit, who has had enough, can learn from these five real life episodes of faithful people at their lowest.

There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was blameless and upright, and one who feared God and shunned evil… ‘May the day perish on which I was born, and the night in which it was said, a male child is conceived… Why did I not die at birth? Why did I not perish when I came from the womb?… Oh, that I might have my request, that God would grant me the thing that I long for! That it would please God to crush me, that he would loose His hand and cut me off!”  (Job 1:1, 3:3 and 11, 6:8-9).

One would have a difficult time finding a more perplexing book in Scripture than Job. It is ancient, so old that many scholars believe it is the oldest written book in the Bible, written before Genesis, by an unknown author. The land of Uz might as well be the land of Oz since no one knows where that land actually was. Job was a Jew before Abraham, in the sense that he had a direct knowledge of God. The name of God is used 150 times in the book. And yet Job was also a Gentile, since he has no knowledge of the Torah, the Temple, or Israel. In all of Job’s questioning of God, God never actually provides an answer to Job’s suffering. Job asks Why, and God seems to answer Because. All of Job’s ordeal is orchestrated by Satan, and yet Job never has a hint that Satan is even in the picture at all. Job’s plight is to live into the mystery of suffering in the dark.

The book starts with a surprising and puzzling duel in the heavens between God and Satan. We don’t know why God even gives Satan the time of day, no less the power to torment Job the way he did. Job is a book about Satan trying to prove to God that Job is not as blameless as he appears. And God is trying to prove to Satan that Job is upright and will remain blameless even if he experiences the trials of and temptations of extreme suffering. So God says to Satan, go ahead and make Job suffer, but you’ll see for yourself Job will keep his trust in Me, despite the temptation to curse me. Mike Mason, in his outstanding book The Gospel of Job, says that the book of Job “is what temptation feels like on the inside.” We pray to God to “lead us not into temptation,” but God certainly seems willing to let Satan lead us there, much like Satan took the lead in the temptation of Jesus.

Job experienced rare and extreme suffering. First, Job had his wealth and property and livelihood destroyed. Then all ten of his children were killed in a natural disaster, a desert whirlwind that came out of nowhere. Then Job was struck with the type of skin disease that would drive most people out of their mind, a condition of itchy boils from head to toe. This disease caused him to be abandoned, an outcast in society, untouchable. Then his wife offers a cynical word of advice to Job… “Just curse God and die.” (2:9).  Her ridicule of his faith in God certainly caused discord in their marriage. And her words proved to be a major temptation through the book as he agonized in his pain and suffering and loss. Without a home, a family and a marriage, as well as cut off from society, Job had no choice but to sit at the local garbage dump by himself and scratch his boils with broken pieces of pottery.

If that wasn’t enough, Job was subjected to three friends who started out strong by just sitting with Job in the dump and being silent with Job in his suffering. But then they started speaking. They were well-intentioned, but added only judgment and confusion to the chaos and pain. These friends turned out to be shallow, mean-spirited, callous, and were only able to offer Job the cold comfort of religious cliches. They preached to Job that all this misfortune was his fault, that he must have done something really bad to anger God to this degree. All that suffering is due to a terrible sin, Job, and God is punishing you. His friends only added to the temptation to just give up. But Job continued to display remarkable holy stubbornness.

For Job maintained his innocence through all the pain and suffering. He believed that this ordeal was not of his making, that he had already confessed to God whatever needed to be confessed in the past. Job tells his friends, this suffering is not his fault. Through it all, Job continued to trust in God’s basic mercy and goodness. Job trusted that God was ultimately responsible for everything in this world, and that God must have a good reason for this plight of his. If only God would tell him what those reasons are! Job’s ultimate hope was in God, even if God was pulling all the strings in this misery. Job never yielded to the temptation to curse God and die, even during all those moments of dark despair, depression, and his moody mental states. Job’s faith is so strong that, despite his misery, he boldly declares, “Though He slay me, yet will I hope in Him.” (13:15).

During Job’s lowest moments in the midst of perhaps the lowest any man could go, he didn’t ask God to take his life. Job at his lowest only asked that God allow him to die and end his misery. This was when Job was at the absolute bottom, and yet he somehow never wavered in his ultimate faith in God’s goodness.

Job never tried to hide his thoughts and feelings from God. He was utterly transparent to the Lord. He laid it all out there for God to see. Job complained to God, he argued with God, he challenged God, he expressed his gravest doubts before God, his darkest thoughts. But he never relinquished his deep faith and trust in God. Job knew he was helpless and vulnerable before a powerful God, and that only God could save him from these calamities. He trusted that God was eminently fair and just, and so he kept his hopes alive. Job was in prayer constantly, he kept speaking to God. “I am not silenced by the darkness.” (23:19). The disturbing thing in the book of Job is, until the big theophany at the end, God kept Job in the dark during most of his suffering. Job cried out to God, but for the most part God didn’t answer. Ellen Davis offers this piece fo insight in her book Getting involved with God… “What goads and guides Job through his pain is simply the determination not to let God off the hook for a moment. Eventually Job’s determination to hold God accountable to himself becomes his hope of redemption.” As Job triumphantly says in 19:25“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.” 

As open and candid as Job is before God, isn’t it interesting and impressive to learn that “Job did not sin with his lips.” (2:10). And that in the end, God says that “Job has spoken accurately about Me.” (42:7-8).

Job sometimes offered what appeared to be random insights about his life and plight. In 32:1 he offers a simple strategy to avoid lust… “I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a young woman.” He basically made a promise with his eyes that he would refrain from looking lustfully at a woman. Would that all men make a similar covenant with their eyes.

In the end of the book, God didn’t give the answers Job had been looking for. God appeared, and His presence was the answer. God Himself is the answer to all the Why questions. God offered His splendor and majesty and creative power, and even His sense of humor, and Job could only respond with awe. ‘”I am unworthy. I put my hand over my mouth.” (40:3). Job silently confirmed his earlier thoughts that we are only on the “outer fringes of your works. How faint the whisper we hear of Him.” (26:7,14). Job is wise enough to know that he is merely standing on the border of His ways. When all was said and done after God and Job finally interacted, God accepted Job, and Job grew in his knowledge of the unfathomable God.

Job never yielded to the temptations of sinning with his lips, of cursing God and giving up, of relinquishing the deep trust in God that Job enjoyed. His three hapless friends were forgiven by God after Job prayed for them, and they were redeemed after their disastrous verbal persecution of Job. Mike Mason wonders if perhaps that was one of the reasons for Job’s suffering, that his friends would in the end find their salvation. And interestingly, it is only after Job’s intercessions for his friends that he is healed and made prosperous again. There are no simple answers to why we at times plead with God in the dark and there is no answer. That only adds to the immense mystery of suffering at the hands of a righteous God.