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Reading the Book of Job

the book of job

In the story of the ancient Trojan War between the Greeks and the people of Troy, there came a turning point ten years into the battle when the people of Troy found a large wooden horse outside their gate. Thinking it an offering by the nowhere-to-be-found Greeks, they brought it in. Little did they know that the belly of the horse was full of soldiers who would take the city. This led to the well-known phrase, “Beware Greeks bearing gifts.” Historically, the phrase speaks to an appealing gift that holds an unwelcome surprise. The Book of Job has the opposite effect, I think. We may dread it when we see it on the reading plan because of its size and complexity. When we open the trap door, however, we find a few pleasant surprises. In Job we find an ancient story that helps us process the more difficult experiences in our faith in God. It is a book with a few worthwhile gifts.

The story begins with a man named Job, righteous in the eyes of all, who comes up in a conversation between God and the adversary or Satan. As God mentions the righteousness of Job, Satan raises an interesting question.

Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” “Does Job fear God for nothing? Satan replied. “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. But stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.” Job 1:8-11

“Skin for skin!” Satan replied. “A man will give all he has for his own life. But stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face.” Job 2:4-5

First, the gift is in a question: Do the righteous fear God for nothing? That is, is Job faithful to God because he is protected and free of conflict? Is Job righteous because it pays? Satan’s point is that it is one thing to believe in God when all is going well, but will anyone, even the most righteous, hold on when it appears that God is no longer making your life prosperous?

In other words, IS GOD A MEANS TO AN END?

This is an important question for us. On the one hand, the Bible is not shy in pointing to rewards of obedience and great benefits of faith. On the other hand, following God merely for the sake of the benefits leaves God as a means to an end. As far as Jesus is concerned, the greatest commandment is not to avoid hell but to love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength. We must want God and trust God for God’s sake, not because we like the process, the progress, or the ending. It’s hard to think about God without thinking about consequences like heaven and hell, reward and loss. But if at the heart of God is his unconditional love for us, ours must be an unconditional love for Him. We’re not in this for the benefits. We’re in this because Christ is Lord and calls the world to follow. We’re in this because God is True. We’re in this because God is the great Truth that puts all other truths in their place

As the story unfolds, Job loses the protective hand of God and in short order, all the people and possessions he values. He also loses his own health. What arises through this is the loss of respect from his townspeople and friends, who can only presume that Job is being punished. The better part of the book is Job’s defense. Let’s read from Job 19:

“Though I cry, ‘I’ve been wronged!’ I get no response; though I call for help, there is no justice. He has blocked my way so I cannot pass; he has shrouded my paths in darkness. He has stripped me of my honor and removed the crown from my head. He tears me down on every side till I am gone; he uproots my hope like a tree. His anger burns against me; He counts me among his enemies. His troops advance in force; they build a siege ramp against me and encamp around my tent.” Job 19:7-12

The second gift is the gift of honesty: suffering and faith.

Job is so important as a book and an experience because it makes obvious what we often try to keep secret: people of faith suffer. Faithful people wake up to days that do not have simple answers. Faithful people find themselves in situations and bodies and pressures that leave them short on the oxygen of faith. Like Job, we may find days when God feels like an enemy keeping our most prized possessions just out of reach: health, income, friendships, and even faith. As one writer says it so simply, “God does not look as good in the face of suffering as He does in success.”

Faith in God is a difficult world at times. To believe that God is close, present, powerful, and doing something is wonderful when the change is welcome. But it is not so easy when the God who we are used to see doing something on our behalf suddenly appears to be doing something painful or not appearing to be doing anything at all. Paul will write in Romans 5:3 what feels a little contrary: We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. This thought is true, of course. For all that we don’t want to experience in suffering, there is a perseverance, a character, and a hope that we only gain when we feel like we are losing. Not to make light of suffering, but there is more gain in a day of questions than ten days when you’re not questioning anything.

Finally we find God weighing in. His has been a long absence. Or so it seems. What we actually find in the end is the third gift, God’s silence. The interesting point here is that God does not answer Job’s many questions.

This is the opening response of God’s in the 40th chapter:

The Lord said to Job: “Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct Him? Let him who accuses God answer Him!”

Then Job answered the Lord: “I am unworthy—how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth. I spoke once, but I have no answer—twice, but I will say no more.”

Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm: “Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. Would you discredit my justice? Would you condemn me to justify yourself? Do you have an arm like God’s, and can your voice thunder like his? Then adorn yourself with glory and splendor, and clothe yourself in honor and majesty. Unleash the fury of your wrath, look at every proud man and bring him low, look at every proud man and humble him, crush the wicked where they stand. Bury them all in the dust together; shroud their faces in the grave. Then I myself will admit to you that your own right hand can save you.” Job 40:1-14

The great turnabout here is when the questioner becomes the questioned. God now questions Job, and what becomes obvious is how little Job knows about God and God’s ways. What’s obvious is that Job has only been considering the prism of God through Job. The simple idea is this: if you do not understand the simplest of God’s work, how is it that you so quickly question His motive? In drawing a hard line for his own innocence, Job suggested that God does not understand what we lose when we lose.

There comes a time for followers of Jesus to accept that our God loves and our God knows and our God is keeping a greater promise to us than we are willing to keep to Him. He is keeping a promise of salvation to us—to transforming us by molding us into the image of Christ, and that promise leads to difficult days of character building. There are Gardens of Gethsemane and there are crosses to bear, but we are not lost in the Gardens nor forgotten in the crosses. God is near. God is with us. And we will find that for all the answers we may demand, God has questions we have not even considered.




    Bulletin Insert

    Reading the Book of Job

    “Beware Greeks bearing gifts…”

    In Job we find a story and a book that helps us process difficult ideas that are inevitable in our faith in God. We might even call them gifts.

    First, the gift in a _______________ .

    Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless, a man who fears God and shuns evil.”

    “Does Job fear God for nothing? Satan replied. “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. But stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.” Job 1:8-11

    “Skin for skin!” Satan replied. “A man will give all he has for his own life. But stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face.” Job 2:4-5

    The question: Do the righteous fear God for nothing?

    Second, the gift of honesty: _____________ and faith.

    As the story unfolds, Job loses the protective hand of God and in short order, all the people and possessions he values. He also loses his own health. What arises through this is the loss of respect from his townspeople and friends, who can only presume that Job is being punished.

    “Though I cry, ‘I’ve been wronged!’ I get no response; though I call for help, there is no justice. He has blocked my way so I cannot pass; he has shrouded my paths in darkness. He has stripped me of my honor and removed the crown from my head. He tears me down on every side till I am gone; he uproots my hope like a tree. His anger burns against me; he counts me among his enemies. His troops advance in force; they build a siege ramp against me and encamp around my tent.” Job 19:7-12

    “God does not look as good in the face of suffering

    as He does in success.”

    Third, we get a strange gift: God’s ____________.

    The mystery: God does not answer the Why? of Job’s suffering.

    The Lord said to Job: “Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct Him? Let him who accuses God answer Him!”

    Then Job answered the Lord: “I am unworthy—how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth. I spoke once, but I have no answer—twice, but I will say no more.”

    Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm: “Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. Would you discredit my justice? Would you condemn me to justify yourself? Do you have an arm like God’s, and can your voice thunder like his? Then adorn yourself with glory and splendor, and clothe yourself in honor and majesty. Unleash the fury of your wrath, look at every proud man and bring him low, look at every proud man and humble him, crush the wicked where they stand. Bury them all in the dust together; shroud their faces in the grave. Then I myself will admit to you that your own right hand can save you.” Job 40:1-14

    The great turnabout here is when the questioner becomes the questioned.

    What if the answer we seek

    isn’t really an answer?




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