Sunday, November 7, 2010
Life-Lessons from Job
Consider the work of God;
who can make straight what he has made crooked?
On the day of prosperity be joyful,
and on the day of adversity consider;
God has made the one as well as the other,
The story of Job demonstrates that life’s trials remind us that YHWH is in ultimate control—and that humans were created to worship and commune with a wondrous God. Through the life of Job we can learn that God works as a filter, nothing can happen to us without His permission. Romans 15:4 [emphasis added] explains, “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.” The footnotes of the NRSV explain that the “Patience of Job” is better explained as “’endurance,’ persistence,’ or steadfastness’” (p. 726). Thereby, the story of Job is a morality tale whose theme is to encourage humans to praise God during the sunshine and during the storm. The life of Job does (in part) answer question of why bad things happen to good people. Often times life’s difficulties seem complex and overwhelming—but the essential elements are the same as Job’s circumstances.
The story begins with a challenge—a duel between Good and Evil. In Job 1:10-11 the devil says, “You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand now, and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.’” The bet that God and the devil have made centers on Job’s reaction and choices. Similarly, what determines our fate is our own freewill. Alvin Plantinga’s philosophy of good and evil resonates as truth with me,
“A world containing creatures who are significantly free (and freely perform more good than evil actions)
is more valuable, all else being equal, than a world containing no free creatures at all. Now God can create
free creatures, but He can't cause or determine them to do only what is right. For if He does so, then they
aren't significantly free after all; they do not do what is right freely. To create creatures capable of moral
good, therefore, He must create creatures capable of moral evil; and He can't give these creatures the
freedom to perform evil and at the same time prevent them from doing so. As it turned out, sadly enough,
some of the free creatures God created went wrong in the exercise of their freedom; this is the source of
moral evil. The fact that free creatures sometimes go wrong, however, counts neither against God's
omnipotence nor against His goodness; for He could have forestalled the occurrence of moral evil only by removing the possibility of moral good.”
Similar to Job, we are often unaware of this spiritual warfare at work in our lives. The antagonist’s purpose is to destroy mankind, “The Lord said to Satan, ‘Where have you come from?’ Satan answered the Lord, ‘From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it’” (Job 1:7). The adversary’s role is further explained in 1 Peter 5:8-9, “Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters throughout the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering.” The enemy of our soul’s job is to redirect our attention on our suffering; and as a result, we will stop worshiping God (the divine purpose for humans). We become bitter, question God, and no longer follow his instructions. The wager between YHWH and Satan will be determined by how Job responds to great suffering…will he curse God or will he continue to remain pious?
Usually, the bible demonstrates two primary reasons for our trials: 1) they are a natural consequence of sin and/or 2) YHWH is using difficulties to re-FORM us. God is using the struggle as a call for remediation. Hebrews 12:9 explains, “Moreover, we had human parents to discipline us, and we respected them. Should we not be even more willing to be subject to the Father of spirits and live?” At this point in the tale Job has lost his family, livestock, material possessions, and he is covered in festering boils. His suffering and anguish is described vividly. At first, his friends support him and try to comfort his grief.
Shortly thereafter, they begin pointing accusatory fingers in his direction. The elders base their beliefs on the traditional Jewish philosophy that a good and omnipotent YHWH blesses the virtuous and punishes the wicked. As a composite, look at Eliphaz’s speech in Job 15:17-19, “‘what sages have told, and their ancestors have not hidden …The wicked writhe in pain all their days, through all the years that are laid up for the ruthless.” The elders’ argument is that no man is without sin. Wikipedia condenses, “Job's friends do not waver from their belief that Job must have sinned to incite God's punishment. As the speeches progress, Job's friends increasingly berate him for refusing to confess his sins, although they themselves are at a loss as to which sin he has committed. They also assume, in their view of theology, that God always rewards good and punishes evil, with no apparent exceptions allowed. There seems to be no room in their understanding of God for divine discretion and mystery in allowing and arranging suffering for purposes other than retribution” (Wikipedia). Furthermore, Satan is actually the one tormenting Job. When his initial evils don’t cause Job to waver in his faith, he returns to God to authorize increasing physically injury.
At this point in the story, the suffering begins to wither the resolve of all the moral characters. Job’s wife, who had also suffered great loss, betrays Job and the Lord. In Job 2:9 she falls prey to Satan’s devises, “Then his wife said to him, ‘Do you still persist in your integrity? Curse God, and die.’” Quickly Job has fallen from a town leader to a pariah. His friends and wife are bewildered by his suffering. Job refuses to admit any guilt, and instead, calls out to God for answers. . Job chapter 17 illustrates a pitiful, desperate Job crying out to a God who doesn’t respond, “Surely there are mockers around me…‘Lay down a pledge for me with yourself; who is there that will give surety for me? … where then is my hope? Who will see my hope? Will it go down to the bars of Sheol? Shall we descend together into the dust?’” At this point, it seems that Job has lost all faith and does indeed entreat death.
In an accused-plaintiff format, Job restates his blamelessness and proclaims that he is the victim of YHWH’s wrong-doing. By accusing God, Job is guilty of blasphemy. Furthermore, Job pleads for a redeemer to act as a mediator between himself and God. As is typical of YHWH, that person’s physical characteristics and personality are underestimated.
Speaking with the voice of wisdom, Elihu’s, a humble youth, speech comes before God’s and serves as a precursor to help Job recognize God’s perspective. Wikipedia analyzes, “By contrast, Elihu stresses that real repentance entails renouncing moral authority, which is God's alone. Elihu therefore underscores the inherent arrogance in Job's desire to 'make his case' before God, which presupposes that Job possesses a superior moral standard that can be prevailed upon God.” Of all the characters, he comes closest to explaining God’s rationale for Job’s seemingly cruel punishment. The reprimand wasn’t punitive, but rather, a call for atonement. In Job 36:17-26 Elihu reprimands both the elders for their accusations and Job for questioning God’s ways,
“‘But you are obsessed with the case of the wicked; judgment and justice seize you. Beware that wrath
does not entice you into scoffing… Do not long for the night, when peoples are cut off in their place.
Beware! Do not turn to iniquity; because of that you have been tried by affliction. See, God is exalted in his
power; who is a teacher like him? Who has prescribed for him his way, or who can say, “You have done
wrong”? ‘Remember to extol his work, of which mortals have sung. All people have looked on it; everyone watches it from far away. Surely God is great, and we do not know him….”
Elihu argues that God is mysterious and no man can understand His ways. Mankind’s role isn’t to question YHWH, but freewill to worship him.
Only God knows the bigger purpose for the events of our lives. 2 Chronicles 7:13-14 explains God’s purpose behind this chastisement, “When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain…if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” Elihu reprimands Job for not understanding that God chastises mankind—similar to a teacher or parent-- because He loves them. Contrast Elihu’s speech with that of the elders, “then he prays to God, and is accepted by him, he comes into his presence with joy, and God repays him for his righteousness. That person sings to others and says, “I sinned, and perverted what was right, and it was not paid back to me. He has redeemed my soul from going down to the Pit, and my life shall see the light”’ (Job 33:26-28). Job was stripped of all his material possessions so that he could acknowledge the power of God, be humbled, and serve as an example for the rest of humanity. Similar to the story of Joseph, what the devil had intended for evil, God used for good is powerfully illustrated.
As humans it is difficult for us to see our trials from God’s perspective. As a teacher, I broke down big concepts into daily lesson plans, provided clear goals and guidelines, gave demonstrations with visual aids, and assigned projects. But how did I assess student knowledge? I tested them! 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 explains what our Christian attitude should be, “So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.” Metals are fired to burn off impurities, clay is fired to make vessels, and sand is molten into glass—we are no different. Furthermore, “In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed.” 1 Peter 1:6-7. Indeed, Job does acknowledge this principal at work, “But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I shall come out like gold” ( Job 23:10). After years of poverty and the death of his wife, Smith Wigglesworth wrote, “Great faith is the product of great fights. Great testimonies are the outcome of great tests. Great triumphs can only come out of great trials.” In the human body, bones are thickest where muscular stress and tension are applied. Tests can let our patience and faith grow—but only if we let God have control.
The whole book of Ecclesiastes seems to ponder the meaning of life—in Ecclesiastes 4:4-8 the writer observes, “And I saw that all labor and all achievement spring from man's envy of his neighbor. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind…There was a man all alone; he had neither son nor brother. There was no end to his toil, yet his eyes were not content with his wealth. ‘For whom am I toiling,’ he asked, ‘and why am I depriving myself of enjoyment?’ This too is meaningless—a miserable business!” The writer ponders focus all one’s energy on prosperity; when it is only temporary and in the end, unfulfilling. Similar to Job, the theme of trusting in the divine will of YHWH run throughout the text. The NRSV footnotes explain, “life can only be lived before a sovereign God who alone determines all that happens on earth” (p.945). The writer of Ecclesiastes seems to be encouraging a life of moderation, to appreciate both hard work and the simple things in life. In the Good News Bible verse six translates, “It is better to have only a little with peace of mind, than be busy all the time with both hands.” The wisdom found in Ecclesiastes corresponds with the apostle Paul who emphasizes the importance of Christ-reliance and describes the peace he’s found as a result, “I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:12-13. Therefore, the secret to success is find balance in our lives and trust in God to supply our needs. “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will direct your paths” (Proverbs 3, 5-6). As demonstrated by the story of Job, the rationale for reverence isn’t because YHWY is like Santa Claus, lavishly doling out presents to good little boys and girls; but praise be to God—the mysterious and majestic One who gives and takes away. Ecclesiastes 12:13 concisely states the writer’s philosophy, “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God, and keep his commandments; for that is the whole duty of everyone.” So, be righteous for righteousness sake!
As we learn from Job, we can never be virtuous beyond reproach. Ecclesiastes 7:20 reinforces this theme, “Surely there is no one on earth so righteous as to do good without ever sinning.” In the New Testament this truth is explained, “for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45). If a pious man such as Job wasn’t immune from troubles during his time on earth, why should we arrogantly think we should be spared? Personally, “Why me?” is a dangerous question because my thoughts and actions reflect a victim mindset. As I’ve matured, I realize the more appropriate questions is, “Why not me?” If there is a car crash, call the medics and seek immediate treatment…it isn’t the time to ponder why the accident happened. Standing in the street, bawling that you are an innocent victim isn’t advantageous either. “Why?” should happen later in the healing process. The goal of reflection shouldn’t be to blame, but rather, to prevent another accident. We need to check ourselves and ask, “Bitter or better, which do I choose? “Pastor Rick Warren reminds us, “… God is glorified when we bear “much fruit” (John 15:8), and that requires pruning. We must remember that the loppers are in the hands of our loving God. He knows what he is doing, and he wants what is best for us. If you are a Christian, you are going to be pruned. Count on it. You may be going through pruning right now, and it may not all be deadwood. God cuts off branches that we feel are productive so that more fruit may be produced”.
As a result of my own devastating events, I was humbled like Job and learned to submit to God’s sovereignty. My attitude has been chastened and I realize there but the grace of God go I. I am now compassionate and understand why someone would rebelliously turn to drugs and alcohol, prostitution, or sin in general. Sometimes we feel that not even God could love us, or that we couldn’t possibly ever live a good life; so we might as well succeed at being hell-bent. There is a powerful attraction to obstinacy, having the power to not listen to anyone—including God. Humans are desperately seeking to fill a void that only God can fill and the self-destructive lifestyle temporarily may provide a “fix,” but this compounds physical, mental, spiritual, financial health issues. In my own Job-like experience, I’d forgotten the Biblical principal of 2 Corinthians 4:16-18. When I reflect on my own life history, I truly believe this is what kept my mom going; somehow she never lost sight of this truth. I’d forgotten the principle she’d held fast to even on her death bed…when people would ask, “What can we do for you?” She’d unassumingly answer, “Pray for my children.” She knew that the only thing you can take to heaven is your loved ones! My mother wasn’t a fair weather fan of God—she praised Him in the highlights of her life and she acknowledged His grace on her deathbed.
As always, the divine rational for our trials is to shape us into righteous men and women. After complaining and repeatedly questioning God, Job also achieves this wisdom,
“Then Job answered the Lord:
‘I know that you can do all things,
and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
“Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?”
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
but now my eye sees you;
therefore I despise myself,
and repent in dust and ashes.’ "’
As a result of his confession, God blesses Job even more than what was taken away and he lived another 140 years. Job’s life demonstrates the promise in Isaiah 58:12, “Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.” One can easily infer that Job’s torment was prolonged by his rebellion and complaining; the sooner he accepted God’s omnipotent power, the sooner the trial would have ended and the devil lost the wager. Wikipedia summarizes, “The point of these speeches, and ultimately the entire book of Job, is to proclaim the absolute freedom of God over His creation. … Finally, humbled by God's chastising, Job turns speechless, giving up and repenting his previous requests of justice. In the epilogue, God condemns Job's friends for their ignorance and lack of understanding while commending Job for his righteous words, commands them to prepare burnt offerings and reassures them that Job will pray for their forgiveness. Job is restored to health, gaining double the riches he possessed before … and lives on another 140 years after the ordeal, living to see his children to the fourth generation and dying peacefully of old age”. As the parable concludes, we realize that it does in fact reinforce the Deuteronomic principle, “See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess” (Deuteronomy 30:15-16). The story of Job firmly explains to me that God is more concerned about our spirit, than our physical condition~ His concern is who we are rather than what we have.
Ed. Michael D. Coogan et al. The New Oxford Annotated Bible. New Revised Standard
Version, with the Apocrypha. 3rd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.
Plantinga, Alvin (1974). The Nature of Necessity. Oxford: Clarendon Press. p.166-167.
Warren, Rick. God’s Power to Change Your Life. New York: Zondervan , 2006.
Wikipedia. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_of_Job