Life of Job: Hope, suffering and mystery

Life of Job: Hope, suffering and mystery


Earlier this year I was reading and reflecting on the story of Job in the mornings and I remember being quite surprised at how applicable it was to our situation. We have been through some tough times and the two year anniversary of James’ death at the weekend served as a timely reminder of the pressures and challenges we have been through. In the life of Job there is no indication that God ever explained to Job the reasons behind his sufferings. In the same way though we are starting to see that some ‘good’ has come from what we’ve experienced, for the most part we are still in the dark as to the question ‘why’.

As readers of Job, we are privy to what was happening behind the scenes in the spiritual realms. We know that Job was “blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil” (1:2). We know that he had 10 children, 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, 500 donkeys and a large number of servants. He we are told was the “greatest man among all the people of the East” (1:3). Yet one day we read that Satan was in the presence of the LORD and the angels. The Lord said to Satan “There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil” (1:7-8). It appears that the LORD shone the spotlight on Job and Satan responded in kind saying;

‘Does Job fear God for nothing?’ Satan replied. 10 ‘Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land.11 But now stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.’

We know that God granted Satan permission to afflict Job. The donkeys, the oxen and the camels were stolen and the servants put to the sword. The sheep and the servants tending them were burned in the fire. Jobs sons and daughters were also killed when the house they were in collapsed on them. Job’s response was to tear his robe, shave his head and fall down in worship saying Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” Job we are told did not sin. Then a second time we read that Satan is again in the presence of the LORD and again it is He who takes the initiative to ask Satan;

Then the Lord said to Satan, ‘Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil. And he still maintains his integrity, though you incited me against him to ruin him without any reason.’

Satan challenges the LORD once more saying ‘Skin for skin!’…‘A man will give all he has for his own life. But now stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face.’ Again God grants Satan permission to afflict Job as long but commands him that he must not take his life. Job is therefore afflicted with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head. We are told that Job ‘did not sin in what he said’ and even when his wife told him to curse God and die (2:9) Job replied saying “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”

Satan it seemed had a point. Of course God knew that Job loved Him but it seems that there was still a need for Job’s love to be proved, refined and tested. Job was indeed a great man but the experience of suffering would allow him to become greater still (1:3). God Himself instigated this discussion with Satan but it is noteworthy that after chapter 2 Satan is never again mentioned in the book. God it seems had a much higher purpose for Satan’s afflictions. The book of Job “does not conclude with a conversation between God and Satan in which God claims victory…but rather a conversation between God and Job in which Job acknowledges that through his trials he has come into a new and deeper relationship with God” (Jerry Bridges).

Job however was not privy to all that was going on in the heavenly realms and despite all of his questions he is never given the answers to his questions that he sought. Don Baker counts 16 occasions that Job asks God “why”. He is persistent (no bad thing) but also accusatory (not such a good thing) toward God. God never answers Job’s “why” question but instead He answers the question of “who”. Scripture attests that it is good to ask our questions of God, indeed the Psalms are full of such questions. Yet we would have to say that one of the lessons in the book of Job is learning to stop asking why. God is Sovereign and does not have to explain Himself to us; rather the emphasis here is upon us as His creatures to learn to trust His wisdom and love. Don Baker in his commentary on Job writes; “I have long since quit seeking the answer to that question [why?] in my own life…God owes me no explanation. He has the right to do what He wants, when He wants, and how He wants. Why? Because He’s God…Job didn’t need to know why these things happened as they did- he just needed to know Who was responsible and Who was in control. He just needed to know God.” 

You will know that most of the book of Job is given to a series of discourses and subsequent responses recorded between Job and his friends. In this section of Job there are many references to the notion of hope (both positive and negative). Below I list a few:

  •  “Oh, that I might have my request, that God would grant what I hope for, that God would be willing to crush me, to let loose his hand and cut off my life!” Job 6:8-9
  • “What strength do I have, that I should still hope? What prospects, that I should be patient?” Job 6:11
  • “My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle, and they come to an end without hope.” Job 7:6
  • “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him; I will surely defend my ways to his face.” Job 13:15
  • “At least there is hope for a tree: if it is cut down, it will sprout again, and its new shoots will not fail. Its roots may grow old in the ground and its stump die in the soil, yet at the scent of water it will bud and put forth shoots like a plant. But a man dies and is laid low; he breathes his last and is no more.” Job 14:7-10
  • “But as a mountain erodes and crumbles and as a rock is moved from its place,
    as water wears away stones and torrents wash away the soil, so you destroy a person’s hope. You overpower them once for all, and they are gone; you change their countenance and send them away.” Job 14:18-20
  • “He tears me down on every side till I am gone; he uproots my hope like a tree.” Job 19:10
  • “But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I shall come forth as gold.” Job 23:10
  • “Yet when I hoped for good, evil came; when I looked for light, then came darkness.” Job 30:26

As can be seen from these references hope is an important concept for Job. On the one hand he feels like his hope has been ‘uprooted like a tree’ and being ‘destroyed’. His hope is tied into the ideas of death (primarily an end to his misery) and vindication (for God to answer and explain Himself).  Yet on the other hand you get verses like 13:15 (which expresses his determination to hope in God amidst the pain) and 23:10 (which demonstrate faith that after this testing he would come forth as gold). Ultimately God shows Job that He is his only hope. He brings Job to see that there is no hope in life or death but only in Himself. Though Job expected an explanation and vindication, his friends expected commendation, what he actually receives is God Himself and a long poetic discourse about the wonders of the the natural world.

“It is one of the many excellences of the book that Job is brought to contentment without ever knowing all the facts of his case…The test would work only if Job did not know what it was for. God thrusts Job into an experience of dereliction to make it possible for Job to enter into a life of naked faith, to learn to love God for himself alone. God does not seem to give this privilege to many people, for they pay a terrible price of suffering for their discoveries. But part of the discovery is to see the suffering itself as one of God’s most precious gifts. To withhold the full story from Job, even after the test was over, keeps him walking by faith, not be sight. He does not say in the end, “Now I see it all.” He never sees it all. He sees God.” Francis Anderson

Yes we know that things end pretty well for Job as God gives him 14,000 sheep, 6,000 camels, 1,000 yoke of oxen, 1,000 donkeys and a further 10 children. The clear culmination of this incredible book is God’s answer to Job – God Himself. The challenge for us now is to learn to trust God amidst the questions and the mystery of suffering. Pastor John recently described suffering as “not so much a puzzle to solve but a mystery to probe.” We need to learn to trust even when we don’t know why and even when we don’t understand what God is doing (Isaiah 55:8-9). In Job’s final response to God we see the humility with which he acknowledges God’s ways in His life when He says in 42:3You asked, “Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?” Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.”

Don Carson writes When we suffer there will sometimes be mystery. Will there also be faith?” What about me? What about you? The storms will come in all of our lives but we will be able to stand firm in faith, come what may, holding on to the LORD in Hope? These past couple of years have been very difficult and we don’t have many answers but God is drawing us to Himself and teaching us in new ways what it means to Hope in Him.

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