In a few days I turn 65. As I think back over the last six decades, I’ve been blessed with a good life, but it hasn’t been without challenges. We’ve been homeless. We were hungry. We went bankrupt. Businesses failed. People I love experienced cancer, addictions, overdoses, violent crimes—and some of the people I love died. I’ve been slandered, excluded, marginalized, and my reputation has been trashed. I know what it is to spend hours yelling at God because, at times, my life made no sense.
Over the years, the book that has brought me more comfort and perspective than any other has probably been the book of Job from the Bible. It’s an ancient book, a beautiful book, and a much misunderstood book. I’ve seen Bible teachers and Bible critics alike completely miss the point the book was trying to make.
Since I’ve found it to be so rich and so meaningful, I thought I’d pull you aside for a few minutes and attempt to explain it.
The book of Job answers the question: What kind of love do good people have for God? Is it a hired love, like that of a prostitute for a client? Are God’s friends “fair weather” friends who abandon Him at the first sign of trouble? Or is our love for God real? Is it genuine?
Is our righteousness just a show to get a prize? Or is it who we really are?
Is God bribing people to love Him? Or do people love God because something has happened inside to transform them into genuinely good people?
The only way to find out is to take away the prize and see what happens. When God’s “blessings” are removed, we show our true colors, don’t we?
That’s what happened to Job. His wealth was taken away. His children were killed in a tornado. The respect he had in his community vanished, and he became the butt of jokes. And his health was ruined. All he had left was his wife who urged him to “curse God and die.”
Then Job’s friends came to “comfort” him. But their “comfort” took the form of kicking him while he was down with their armchair theology. God rewards the righteous and punishes the wicked, they reasoned. You’re not being rewarded. You’re being punished. Put 2 and 2 together. Come on, Job. ‘Fess up. What did you do? What sin did you commit to land you in this mess? If you would just admit that you’re a rotten sinner, God would rescue you from your mess.
Job’s friends remind me of so many Christians I’ve talked to over the years.
Throughout this exchange, heaven, eternal life, the afterlife—none of this appeared on the radar except for a brief mention by Job that he expected some kind of resurrection someday. Other than that, the focus was squarely on what happens in this life.
We don’t know how long his friends badgered him, but it may have been weeks. Long days, sleepless nights, unrelenting pain. Through it all, Job refused to confess to crimes he didn’t commit. He refused to admit he had sinned because he hadn’t sinned. And he refused to allow his pain to become an excuse for doing evil.
It wasn’t because he was wrong that this happened to him. It was because he was right. He was good. One of the best men who ever lived.
Going through this, Job tried to make sense of what was happening to him. What happened to the friendship I had with God? Where did God go? Why is God allowing this to happen to me? Can’t God see how unjust and unfair this is?
In the end, God shows up—speaking to Job, ironically, from another tornado—the same kind of storm that took the lives of Job’s children.
I’ve heard Bible teachers and Bible critics alike say that God yelled at Job. But I don’t think that’s true, and I don’t think that’s fair.
Instead, God was saying, in effect, “Okay, if you want to understand Me, here’s what it takes to understand Me. If you want to play in the same league I play in, here’s what it takes. Do you have what it takes?”
And Job answered, “No, I don’t.”
In the process God took Job’s eyes off his painful sores and put them on the stars. He gave Job a gift, a peek into God’s perspective. In the process, He showed Job (and us) that even when our lives make no sense to us, there is a God in heaven who knows what He’s doing, and we can trust Him to do what is good.
After speaking to Job, God confronted Job’s friends. “Job in his pain understood Me better than you did in your comfort. If anyone here deserves to be punished, it’s you. But my servant Job will pray for you, and I won’t deal with you according to your folly.”
After Job prayed for his friends, he was restored. He was healed. He took seed money from caring relatives and rebuilt his fortune. And God gave him a new family—seven sons and three daughters. We don’t know anything about his sons, but we know the names of his daughters, and we are told that they were the most beautiful in the land.
A beautiful ending to a powerful book.
Later in the Bible we read about a faith that overcomes the world. What is that faith? I believe it’s the deep, deep knowledge that God is good, even when everything and everyone in our lives says that He is not.