A Great Mystery . . . Made a little more clear

Over recent weeks, I have been studying and teaching the Old Testament book of Job.  It is the life-story of a single, solitary man in history . . . a man who God actually bragged upon and declared as being. “upright and just in all of his ways.”  The truth of the matter is that it is a bizarre story and casts God in a light that I have always struggled with . . . but over the years I have had to remind myself that it is a revelation by Him . . . about Himself . . . and of his interaction with multiple parts of his creation.

As the story opens, we are told about a group that had come one morning “to present themselves before the Lord” and the group is identified as “the sons of God.”  I assume it is speaking of angelic beings, as they seem to have free access to God.  We are told that tagging along with these sons of God is none other than Satan himself . . . the arch-enemy of God.  It just seems clear to me that he had no business there, that he certainly was not invited, and had simply crashed the event.  However, as amazing as it seems, God speaks directly to him and inquires about where he had been.  It is obvious that God knew full well where the rascal had been, and just included it in the story to benefit the reader.

Satan replies, “from going to and fro upon the earth and walking upon it” and that information is unsettling to me as I think it is obvious that he was seeking his next victim.

Quick into the story, it is made clear that Job is a man who loved, served, and tried to honor God and his relationship with God.  It is also obvious that Job was the wealthiest and most influential man of the region in which he dwelled.

As the story develops, God asks Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job?”  Satan answers the question with a question of his own, “Have you placed a protective barrier around him to keep me away from him?” . . . He was asserting that Job only served God because it profited him to do so.  He declared, “Take the fence down, let me get near him, and I will make him curse you.”  Instantly, it was game-on and God responded to the challenge with His statement, “Do with Job as you will, but spare his life.”

That very day, Job’s life . . . from his perspective . . . began to fall apart and suddenly life became confusing and painful for him.  Just the day before, Job’s life was wonderful and was clearly a life lived in the favor and blessing of God . . . but on that day it had suddenly become  a life tattered with trouble . . . pierced by pain . . . peppered with pressure . . . and rocked with unexpected heartache.

One by one, a series of servants came in to report to Job . . . all in a single day . . . some great loss that had just been experienced in a different area than the previous report, and it ultimately became clear to Job that his fortune was gone . . . and then, the most devastating report of all . . . a final servant came in and reported, “all of your children were at the oldest brother’s house and a terrible storm destroyed the house and all ten of your children died instantly.”  Suddenly, Job is broke and childless . . . and he only has a bitter wife for companionship.

In one single day, Job came to the realization that just living life . . . can drain the life right out of you.

I must confess that I have privately struggled with this story for many years . . . and it has always made me uncomfortable.  The reason it made me uncomfortable is it does not present God in a light with which I was comfortable.  I know that throughout history, God has revealed Himself to humanity in a variety of ways . . . in and through His creation . . . through dreams . . . through unusual natural phenomena . . . through the Old Testament  prophets . . . through the Holy Scriptures . . . and His best revelation of all times–through the person of his son, Jesus Christ.

It is through Jesus that I picture God in the theatre of my mind . . . it is Jesus standing up on that day of the Great Feast . . . stretching out his hands and arms . . . and issuing the sweet invitation to a hurting world, “Come unto me all of you who are weary and are heavily loaded with troubles and the pains of life, and I will give you rest.”

My struggle has always been with trying to reconcile that picture of God with the notion of Him siccing the devil on a good, honest, and sincere man . . . whom, by all accounts loved, honored, and revered God . . . and from whom God seemingly withdraw his favor and protection.

Some time back, I stumbled onto a thought that has helped me, and significantly so, in trying to reconcile those two things which have long been a struggle for me.  I cannot support the notion with Scripture, but it provides some comfort for me, and here it is: Just suppose that God, knowing that Satan had already picked out his next victim . . . and all predators had found a weak and sick victim . . . one unable to withstand much of an attack and could easily be destroyed.  And that God, in His grace, mercy, and love, chose to protect the weak one and forced the devil to turn his attention to someone who was strong and healthy.  Now, I love that image of God . . . And see that is exactly what He did with the Cross.  However, I marvel that God could hold a man in such high regard and express such confidence in a man with feet of clay.  It causes me to ask myself what changes in my life do I need to make to enable God to see me like in such a light?  I must confess that thought is also a bit frightening.

Honestly, I suspect the whole notion of Job is troubling for most Believers, because we love and enjoy good times . . . and delight in those happy days.  But the truth is we just don’t learn much through them.  It is in the hard times that we learn some important  things . . . things about ourselves . . . and things about our God.

As his story plays out, Job has to deal with an increasingly bitter wife, and the story zooms in on three men, who claim to be his friends.  In spite of his pain . . . and in the midst of his sorrow and confusion . . . he had to endure a series of attacks, debates, and lectures in which he is falsely accused and charged with, “You brought it down upon yourself.”  Job argued that his friends were wrong and insisted that he was the same man as always, but insisted the problem was that God had changed . . . that God no longer heard his prayers and had quit treating him like a friend, and had begun to treat him like an enemy.

Throughout the ordeal, Job cried out to God . . . requesting an audience . . . a forum in which he could present his case and show God why it was wrong for him to be treated in this manner. Finally, with his wealth gone, his children dead, and his health, respect, influence, and reputation destroyed, Job sits on an ash heap and is silent . . . no longer able . . . nor compelled to try to understand or explain his dilemma . . . he is simply at wits end. It was at this point in the story that a young man named Elihue emerges from the crowd which had formed  to observe the great man in his shame and sorrow (isn’t it tragic how some love to see others struggle and suffer?) This young man, filled with the shallow wisdom of the young and un-experienced, rose to his feet and angered by Job’s refusal to acknowledge his sin(s) which Elihue was certain were responsible for his circumstances . . . began to dump on Job.

This reminds me of my own foolishness as a young man:

. . . back to that time when I believed I knew the rights and wrongs about parenting (isn’t it amazing how having a couple of teenagers in the home can reveal how little you actually do know about rearing kids?)

. . . back to that time when I believed that I always knew, “this is how it is” . . . and it would take years for me to come to understand the truth of, “this is how it is ….. but not always” . . .

. . . back to that boastful time when I believed and proclaimed, “If I can do it, then so can you” . . . it would take me a number of years to realize the foolishness of that belief and to understand that we all are different . . . and have different abilities and talents and God uses that.

As the young man stands and speaks, a storm begins to form out over the horizon . . . and he doesn’t have a clue of what is about to occur.

Amazingly . . . in the 38th chapter, God appears to Job, and he does so in the form of a powerful whirlwind . . . which had spun off of the storm that had formed over the horizon during Elihue’s speech.  It reminds me that sometimes . . . it is in the very storms of life that God does, indeed, break through  to His people . . . and gives us peace . . . and helps  us to have hope.

In spite of the seriousness and pain of Job’s circumstances . . . it is almost comical to see how Job responds when confronted with the majesty of the Creator of the universe.  God tells Job, to gird up his loins . . . a word-picture of a man in the ancient East as he would tie up his robe above the knees prior to experiencing some strenuous activity.

Up to this point in the story, Job has challenged God . . . accusing Him of injustice . . . now, there is a sudden role-reversal . . . as God assumes His rightful place as the Judge and He questions Job.

God asks Job, “Where were you when I designed, surveyed, and developed the universe?” and points out that He did not need to consult with the not-yet-formed-humans prior to doing so.

The Lord uses some satire to reveal the folly of Job wanting to question the sovereign decisions of God, and with a series of a few swift questions, God surveyed the mysteries of His grand creation . . . and it is immediately clear that each of the questions were far beyond Job’s understanding . . . and Job meekly acknowledges that he had overstepped his place . . . and that he had spoken of matters of which he knew nothing.  It is good for mankind to be reminded that God operates in realms far beyond our abilities and comprehension.

All in all, the man Job was benefited by the harsh experience and that is evident in his assessment of it all when he said to God, “I know you” . . . and concluded that prior to this experience all he knew of God was second-hand information . . . but now he knew God . . . and in this we see that a personal experience with God is superior to just knowing about God.

Like Job, we may not understand everything that happens . . . and that really is okay . . . but we are to acknowledge God as the sovereign Lord of all . . . and simply submit to Him in faith.

As the story comes to a close . . . a few things have become a little bit more clear.  Here are a few:

  1. Job’s wealth is not only returned . . . It is doubled!
  2. Job fathers 10 more children . . . and since life does not end at death . . . the number of Job’s children was doubled.  It is interesting to note that Job’s nagging wife had to endure 10 more pregnancies.
  3. Job’s health was restored and he lived an additional 140 years and was blessed to see four generations of his family.
  4. The three critics were required to offer a sacrifice for their error of falsely accusing Job . . . and Job was called on to intercede on their behalf.  It Seems to Me . . . that the message here is that we do well to let God handle judgment and for us to spend our time praying for those who have harmed us.
  5. That no explanation was offered to Job about the “why of it all.”
  6.  No explanation is offered to us why suffering comes into our lives . . . but we are reminded  that in the struggles of life, we can rightly expect The Lord to show up.
  7. That He will not redirect us around turbulence . . . He will not lift us above danger . . . nor will He lower us beneath the struggle . . . but rather, He will take us through it, stay with us in it, and develop us through the experience . . . and bring us out of it better and stronger.
  8. That contrary to how it appeared to Job and all those around him . . . Job was, in fact, still living in the favor of God . . . even on his darkest day . . . in that God had ordered a protection on his life . . . and God still had plans for Job.

I am glad that I put forth the effort required for this study.  I learned some stuff, and managed to come to terms with a few questions.

It Seems to Me . . . that it is always a good thing when one can get a little better grasp on life . . . and understanding of life with the Lord.