Job has lost his ten children, all his property, and even his own wife had advised him to just “curse God, and die!” (Job 2:9). He responded with a theologically correct statement (“shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?” Job 2:10) that makes us both wonder at his faith, and become suspicious about false piety. Almost despite ourselves, we’re tempted to be skeptical:
- Can a man in Job’s position really just ascribe everything to God’s providence? Is this a realistic response? Would you respond this way?
I don’t think this is false piety, or a pathetic show of “simple faith” in the face of a ruined life. As we’ll see, Job quickly loses the ability to say the “right things” and degenerates into a man who accuses Yahweh of uncaring fatalism:
It is all one; therefore I say,
he destroys both the blameless and the wicked.
When disaster brings sudden death,
he mocks at the calamity of the innocent.
The earth is given into the hand of the wicked;
he covers the faces of its judges—
if it is not he, who then is it? (Job 9:22-24)
Even worse, he later seems almost eager to stand before God to plead his case, even as he resigns himself to death:
Behold, he will slay me; I have no hope;
yet I will defend my ways to his face (Job 13:15)
He even rehearses the questions he plans to demand that God answer:
Behold, I have prepared my case;
I know that I shall be vindicated (Job 13:18)
How many are my iniquities and my sins?
Make me know my transgression and my sin.
Why dost thou hide thy face,
and count me as thy enemy?
Wilt thou frighten a driven leaf
and pursue dry chaff? (Job 13:23-25)
We’ll look at all this in the chapters to come. But, for now, I think we can dismiss all notions that Job is putting on a false front. He truly believes what he said:
… the LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD, (Job 1:21).
He knows God is there, God is sovereign, and God controls the course of human history – including the details of our own small lives. He knows he belongs to God through faith; “This will be my salvation, that a godless man shall not come before him,” (Job 13:16). And, he actually believes God has the right to give and take away from His children, and that He must have a good and holy reason for doing it.
Job’s first statement
But, for Job, all that is more theoretical right now. It’s not so much disbelieved, but rather pushed far into the background. Basically, Job wants to die.
Let the day perish wherein I was born,
and the night which said,
‘A man-child is conceived.’
Let that day be darkness!
May God above not seek it,
nor light shine upon it (Job 3:3-4)
He wishes he hadn’t been born, or even conceived. But Job’s motivation is rather different than poor old George Bailey’s, from the classic film It’s a Wonderful Life. In the film, George finds himself in a sticky financial situation after his uncle misplaced $8,000. But, this is really just the final straw in George’s increasingly bitter and disillusioned view of his life.
George wishes he’d never been born because he’s feeling sorry for himself. Job wishes the same thing, but for a very different reason – he’s tired of the pain.
Why did I not die at birth,
come forth from the womb and expire?
Why did the knees receive me?
Or why the breasts, that I should suck?
For then I should have lain down and been quiet;
I should have slept; then I should have been at rest,
with kings and counselors of the earth
who rebuilt ruins for themselves,
or with princes who had gold,
who filled their houses with silver (Job 3:11-15)
If Yahweh had ended his life before birth, then Job could have been at rest, and skipped the difficulties of “real life.” There is no injustice, no pain, no toil – the grave is a place of rest, where all people wait for their final judgment (cf. Job 14:7-17):
There the wicked cease from troubling,
and there the weary are at rest.
There the prisoners are at ease together;
they hear not the voice of the taskmaster.
The small and the great are there,
and the slave is free from his master (Job 3:17-19).
- Have you ever felt the same way? Have you ever felt so beaten down by life that you longed for death?
One thing the Book of Job does is give us an “everyman” whose own struggles echo our own. We understand Job’s pain, because some of our lives have been turned upside down, too. We feel the force of Job’s questions, because we’ve asked them, also. They’re our questions, because they’re real questions.
Even more interestingly, the author doesn’t bother to answer these questions now. Like Job, we’re left to ponder the answer. We know the Lord allowed this to happen. We also know His character, and that means we know He had a good and holy reason for doing this. Why did the Apostle Peter tell Christians to submit themselves to all human authorities (1 Pet 2:13-17)? Why did he tell Christian slaves that God had called to salvation to do right and endure hardship while suffering unjustly (1 Pet 2:18-25)? Why did he counsel Christian wives to not leave their pagan husbands, but to stay in the hopes they’d become Christians, too – even in the face of hostility (1 Pet 3:1-6)?
The truth is that God’s people are not called to a life of leisure and comfort. God calls us to Himself, gives us salvation, and puts us in specific place, in particular circumstances, to be witnesses for Him throughout our lives, in whatever way He decides we should be.
The Belgic Confession says this about God’s providence (Article 13):
We believe that this good God, after he created all things, did not abandon them to chance or fortune but leads and governs them according to his holy will, in such a way that nothing happens in this world without his orderly arrangement.
Yet God is not the author of, nor can he be charged with, the sin that occurs. For his power and goodness are so great and incomprehensible that he arranges and does his work very well and justly even when the devils and wicked men act unjustly.
We do not wish to inquire with undue curiosity into what he does that surpasses human understanding and is beyond our ability to comprehend. But in all humility and reverence we adore the just judgments of God, which are hidden from us, being content to be Christ’s disciples, so as to learn only what he shows us in his Word, without going beyond those limits.
This doctrine gives us unspeakable comfort since it teaches us that nothing can happen to us by chance but only by the arrangement of our gracious heavenly Father. He watches over us with fatherly care, keeping all creatures under his control, so that not one of the hairs on our heads (for they are all numbered) nor even a little bird can fall to the ground without the will of our Father.
In this thought we rest, knowing that he holds in check the devils and all our enemies, who cannot hurt us without his permission and will.
And yet, Job isn’t in the mood for deep theological reflection just now. He gave the “correct” answer to his wife, earlier (Job 2:10) – and he believed it, too. But, there are times when we’re tempted to put the theological treatises away and ask questions we often assume we “shouldn’t” ask. Job isn’t accusing God of anything yet, but he’s on his way. And, to be honest, do you blame him?
In a backhanded way, he accuses God of being unfair (Job 3:23). Yahweh has “hedged” us all in and set us on a particular path, so why does He continue to “give light” (i.e. life) to His people after they endure all the pain, sorrow and misery He Himself determined they’d suffer?
Indeed, the very thing Job has feared the most (destruction from the Lord) has come to pass (Job 3:25-26). But, like his three friends, Job has always tied personal calamity to God’s displeasure. If you do what God wants, life is good. If you fall short, life will be bad. This is incorrect. There seems to be no room in Job’s world for the concept that God may have a holy purpose for our own sufferings; a purpose beyond our limited perspective to understand. This idea is distasteful to many people (sadly, even to some Christians), because we don’t want to admit our perspective is very, very small.
We’re like slobbering babies, flailing around in our cribs, drooling on ourselves, helpless to understand the wider world. Yet, so many of us are indignant at the very idea that Yahweh, the Creator, Sustainer and Governor of all creation, may have a holy purpose for our own discomfort which is beyond our ability to understand.
A 6-month old doesn’t understand why he has to go down for a nap, and Job doesn’t understand why this has happened to him. The issue is perspective. Presumably, the parent has a good reason for putting her baby to down for a nap. Likewise, we know the Lord has a good reason for putting one of His children through trials and tribulations.
Job’s friends aren’t buying any of this; their perspective is very simple:
- Job is suffering
- God disciplines His children when they sin,
- So, Job must be a sinner
- Therefore, Job must repent
They’re are both wrong and right. We’ll chat about this next time.