It’s finally happened: I’ve made it to Job. I knew it was inevitable. I even knew what day it would be that I would start reading it. But now that I’m there… Oh gosh. Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther were “easy” reads on my trek through the Bible this year. But this one’s different. Job is huge (with a capital HUGE).
Confrontation and correction
It’s a book that confronts our shallow theology of suffering; the sort that expects a clear or easy answer to every hardship, that wants to see every Monday as the result of a specific sin we’ve committed. It’s a book that challenges our arrogance toward our Creator; the silly lie we tell ourselves that “when we get to heaven, God’s got a lot of explaining to do.” (Ummm, yeah. No. No, he doesn’t.) It’s a book that reminds us that there’s a lot more going on in this world than what we can see, taste, touch, hear, smell, or measure. It’s a book that puts Satan in a cage—it reminds us that Satan is not God’s equal, not by a long shot.
Comfort and questions
I know this book well. It’s a book that offered me tremendous comfort in the days and weeks following Emily’s miscarriage in 2009. It was the book I looked to, not simply because of the oft-quoted Job 1:21: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will leave this life. The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. Praise the name of Yahweh” (HCSB). The rawness of Job’s laments as he cursed the day of his birth, as he defended his integrity against his friends.
As he continued to ask one question: “Why?”
Empathy and answers
Every time I read it, I’m reminded that we need to ask this question—but we also need to accept that we may not get an answer. “Why” is fundamental. We all ask it. About everything, not suffering alone. My kids are all under the age of ten and they ask why all the time. Most of the time I can give them an answer that’s satisfactory. But sometimes, there just isn’t a good answer to give. Sometimes the answer is “I don’t know.”
What adds to the drama of Job is that we do know something of the story behind his suffering. We witness the heavenly court scene. We read of Satan challenging Job’s integrity and gaining permission to afflict him. But Job never does. He never got to learn about what was going on, at least not according to what’s recorded in the book. Instead, he has his friends accusing him of sinning against God. Of being withholding and lacking generosity and all these other things.
And these are his friends?
I read their comments and I cringe. And I cringe not because I’m being super self-righteous (I hope), but because I recognize my own tendency to haphazardly look to give an answer to the “why”, or to silver-lining the situation, and basically do all the things that someone who is struggling or hurting doesn’t need.
What Job reminds me of, time and again, is that although there is a time for answers, the time isn’t always right now. A struggling or suffering friend doesn’t need that right away, necessarily. But what they do need is you and me. They need us to sit in the ashes beside them. To weep with them. To mourn alongside them. To pray and be silent and just be present.