This past Sunday, our children learned about Job and how God doesn’t always take away the sad times. We all have tough days and even tough years, but Job’s trust in God and God’s response shows us that God is bigger than our sadness and pain and we can trust God no matter what.
If Tevya from Fiddler on the Roof had gotten his wish granted, he would’ve looked much like Job, who is, in fact, a rich man. Job, however, is not an Israelite. He was “a man from the east.” In other words, that clues us into the fact that this story is going to explore God’s relationships outside of the bounds of the particular Covenant with Israel.
So Job’s rich. The first chapter spells it out in numbers of children and animals and servants. But then a surprising character shows up – the Satan. In this story, he acts less like a tempter, and more like a rogue, overzealous prosecutor in the heavenly court – which he has access to. If that surprises you, it’s about to get weirder. Satan gives a report to the King, God, from his various travels. God suggests taking a gander at Job, “Isn’t he faithful?” asks God.
“Yeah, but take away his stuff and he’ll be as whiny and entitled as anybody else,” Satan replies.
“We’ll see. You can try. I don’t think it’ll work, though. Don’t touch him, though,” says God with a subtle warning.
“Of course,” says Satan, eagerly trotting out to get to work.
[Consider that this scene reminds me strongly of Jesus’ warning to Peter. “Satan has asked to sift you like wheat.” Jesus encourages Peter, maybe even hoping Peter will stay strong like Job. Job and Peter both face tests, but Job is rebuked, but praised and rewarded for his response (questions and all) while Peter is seen negatively, but is still reinstated later.]
In a scene very reminiscent of Robin of Locksley’s return from the Crusade in Robin Hood: Men in Tights, Job receives a barrage of bad news delivered by messengers who begin as another is still speaking. In one fell swoop, Job’s animals, servants, and even children are taken from him. Job is crushed. He tears his robe and shaves his head in mourning. And… he falls to the ground and worships.
“Born naked and dying naked, the Lord gives and takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord,” says Job through tears.
Again, Satan is reporting from his travels in the heavenly court.
“What about Job?” asks God.
“Yeah,” replies Satan, rolling his eyes, “what about him? Sure, he still praised you on the last one, but take away his health and he’ll curse you to your face.”
“Just don’t kill him,” God warns.
As if all of that wasn’t enough, now Job has boils from the bottom of his foot to the top of his head. He pours ashes on his head, sits in the dirt, and scrapes himself with broken pottery. It’s a pitiful sight. Job’s friends, who had come to see him, catch sight of him and immediately start weeping. They sit in silence with him for seven days. (This is where the Jewish tradition of “sitting Shiva” comes from, sitting in silent mourning for seven days for a loved one.) Instead of peace, though, they immediately begin blasting him for some sin he must have done. Job defends himself and calls on God to clear him of suspicion, finally asking for an audience with God .
And God shows up… in a big way. Instead of Job asking the questions, God flips the script, asking Job if he can control the weather, or create the universe, or make powerful monsters. Job is, rightly, humbled by this line of questioning. Job also never learns why he suffered. God’s response to Job’s “Why?” is simply, “Trust that I’ve got this.” The other trick is, we never learn why, either. Sure, we know the inciting cause, but God’s thought process behind this whole ordeal is never explained.
Job gets a happy-ish ending. He receives animals, servants, and a new crop of kids. But the memories of the suffering are still with him. He is changed, different, having been answered by God.
This book flips so much of our understanding on its head. It flips the idea that if we’re just good enough everything will go our way – it didn’t for Job, did it? It flips the idea that we can understand, even in hindsight why something happened – I mean, Job never learns, and neither do we. Sometimes bad things happen, and we will not understand them. But, knowing that God is powerful and loving can give us the hope we need to hang on. God doesn’t always make stuff easier, he just promises to be with us through it all. Job challenges us to live in light of the pain and suffering of the world knowing that God has a plan and is working even now to set things right. We should look for the beauty, look where God’s work is being done.
When have you faced sadness or pain? How did God help you through it? How did you process your pain while leading your family? What lessons do your kids learn from the way you handle challenges, suffering, or loss?