We tend to rush through the book of Job. Like many of our activities today, our journey with the Bible also suffers from that focus on instant gratification. We want a quick takeaway which we can immediately apply to our lives or share on Facebook or Twitter. And so we are quick to extract a conclusion or lesson, whether it is the note of condemnation like Job’s friends or that pious song of hope that we find in 19:25:
“For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and at the last he will stand upon the earth.”Job 19:25
But that is not how Job asks us to approach him. In the dense poetry of this ancient classic, he calls us to stop, sit, and lament. Like he sought in his friends, Job expects us to recline in the dust with him and mourn. No comments. No questions. Just grieve with him. He wants to wail and he asks us to be his audience. For there is much to learn in the house of mourning.
Here is a man for whom all life came crashing down in a single day–oxen, cattle, camels, flock, servants, his entire children–all gone. This was the sum of Job’s wealth. Ancient cultures don’t have shares and stocks, nor did they have fixed deposit accounts or physical cash. This was Job’s fortune, his total net worth which had earned him the title ‘greatest of all the East’ (Job 1:3). So this was a calamity which one dare not gloss over. It deserves pausing to weep with him.
And as we pause, we can feel the heartbreak, the anger, the sorrow. We can even get to see how Someone, many centuries later, would feel a similar weight of sorrow as he contemplated a gruesome death. Perhaps we can glimpse the lonely cries of Jesus, in the words of Job, as he neared the very purpose of his incarnation (Matthew 26:36-46).
As we linger with Job, and consider the depth and reality of his grief, we can then better appreciate the faith which lay beneath all the pain. We can see the hope which penetrates above the despair he felt. Amidst the confusion and disorientation, we can marvel at the internal order within Job that led him to look not away from God in rebellion, but towards him in trust, even if it was laced with anger. Job could discern God’s hands but not his heart. Still he made his appeals to no one else but to the same God whom he believed was attacking him.
Within this state, his cries of hope and trust then become even more remarkable. They reveal that whereas the world had known Job as great because of the enormous wealth he possessed, there was a greater spiritual treasure which his affliction had exposed. The economic historians of the day knew nothing of this. They could measure his wealth but not his faith, his assets but not the trust which undergird them. There was a core to Job which God knew, Satan attacked, but the world was blind to. And it took that crushing to beam it to all creation.
And this was God’s agenda all along: to display to the world the glory of God’s grace in the very heart of Job.
It is the same for anyone today who, like Job, bears affliction and trial and clings to the God of Job. These are not to destroy or tear us apart, they come to magnify the grace of God through us. Therefore, James could proclaim that the testing of our faith through trials makes us steadfast, and then makes us perfect and complete (James 1:2-4). Afflictions will stir up worry and fear, but we must avoid anxiety by bringing those concerns and requests before God, so he can give us his peace (Philippians 4:6,7). Those who suffer, says Peter, should also entrust their souls to their faithful Creator, just like Job (1 Peter 4:19).
So as we journey with Job, we do learn some lessons. However, we cannot learn the right lessons until we have learned to read him right. And reading him right is not by reading but by sitting with him to hear his cries and his sobs. No wonder, when Jesus was facing his own grief years later, his request was not for encouragement or advice or counsel, but that the disciples simply watch with him (Matthew 26:38) .
We are still called to this today.