When I first read through Job, at twelve or thirteen years old, I couldn’t stand it. He’d just go on and on and on, and his friends would call him out on it, but then he’d just go on some more. I thought the youngest friend, Elihu, was the real hero of the tale. I thought Job was a sinner for thinking his problems were a big deal. When God showed up and snapped a bit, I was glad Job was finally getting his comeuppance. I felt like God could’ve at least taken away his ability to speak and given us all a break.
When Dr. Hill, my Old Testament professor, told the class that Job was an answer to the Health and Wealth theology, I perked up. What’s this? That’s not the story I was familiar with!
But I hadn’t actually sat down and reread the book until that dark night. And what I found as I read shocked me.
In church my whole life, I’ve been taught over and over that we are blessed to be loved by God. That to be loved by God is to be in a safe place. That’s what the worship songs tell me, the sunny Sunday School classes, even Youth Group. Especially Youth Group. Being loved by God = being blessed (with family, health, friends, whatever).
(Edit: Let me clarify that this had been said not outright. I think the health and wealth theory, in my circles at least, hides under the surface of what people are believing. But in worship songs, what do we praise God for? Often it’s for something God has done for us. When we talk about God’s blessing, it’s funny how often His blessing = something that benefits us. I very specifically remember one day at youth group when a woman was sharing her testimony, which was essentially, “I was always sad I didn’t have a dramatic testimony, but then God showed me that He’d protected me from all that awful stuff, and that’s my testimony! That’s how He loves me!” Not knowing that she was sitting in a room with girls who had been raped, who suffered from depression, who had not been protected from a “dramatic” testimony. I’m not saying God doesn’t bless us in real tangible ways like that. But the message suffering people hear when someone shares that sort of message is, “My lack of baggage is equal to the amount God loves me. My safe story directly relates to how much God loves me. And if you’ve suffered, if you’ve not come out bouncing for joy, then either you’re doing something wrong or God must not love you.”)
But Job doesn’t say that. A lot of what I read was exploring the impossibly hard question: Why does God allow terrible things happen to those who love and follow Him? And how are we supposed to respond when that happens?
In the Bible, it says Job was a righteous man. God Himself draws the attention of Satan to Job when He says, “Have you noticed my servant Job? He is the finest man in all the earth. He is blameless—a man of complete integrity. He fears God and stays away from evil.”
So cross out the option that God lets stuff happen to us to punish us for sin. According to God, Job was blameless. There’s also the whole question of why God actually invited Satan to do the horrible stuff—why he pointed it out—which I can’t attempt to answer at this point.
When Job loses everything—his animals, his servants, his home, and his children—he “fell on the ground and worshiped,” saying, “The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” And we’re told, “In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.”
But when Job’s health is taken, and he has had time, he begins to try to talk through what has happened. (An aside: It’s interesting to me that Job lost everything external to him before he lost his health, almost like those two grievances are separated on different levels, but equally powerful.)
Here’s the thing: Job was loved by God, but that love didn’t protect him or his children. (Not in a worldly sense, at least. But in what world is it ever okay to lose all your kids in the space of a blink?)
Yet Job keeps talking. Even though some of what he says is frankly scandalous and seems contradictory, he keeps talking. Then we come to this interesting bit in chapter 7.
“What are people, that you should make so much of us,
that you should think of us so often?
For you examine us every morning
and test us every moment.
Why won’t you leave me alone,
at least long enough for me to swallow!
If I have sinned, what have I done to you,
O watcher of all humanity?
Why make me your target?
Am I a burden to you?
Why not just forgive my sin
and take away my guilt?
For soon I will lie down in the dust and die.
When you look for me, I will be gone.”
The love of God is a gift… but in some ways it feels like a curse. It is a terrible and awesome love which will allow so much suffering. God’s love is not soft and plush. It is not protection. It is mighty. It is scary. Here is a man who was blessed and faithful. He would rather disappear from God than have a love which tortures him.
So I’ve been thinking about that a lot—about how we treat God’s love like it’s a safe thing but really it’s dangerous and risky and doesn’t make sense and so very painful sometimes.
To me a lot of what Job is saying is how magnificent and great and mighty God is, and how He cares for the righteous, but His care and love isn’t safe. His love doesn’t make sense. To be the beloved of God is awesome and terrible.
A few weeks ago I was at the Christian student union. They were doing worship, and I just have had a hard time worshiping recently. One of the kids in the band just started saying over and over, “He will never forsake you, He’s always with you.” I think she said it like five times. And it was sort of comforting but then I was thinking, “Isn’t that terrible?” (Terrible isn’t the word I mean, I don’t think. Fearsome and mighty and incomprehensible in a horrifying way.) Because if God’s little and He gets distracted, then He can doze off and, whoops, those people were killed, or that personal crisis happened, or whatever. Then I’d get to be all, “No, it’s okay God, I understand you dozed off and just try to have some coffee next time.”
But that’s not how it works. If God never leaves or forsakes us, that means He’s there when I am broken and He just keeps breaking me. I feel pounded to dust.
Here is a little monologue I pulled together from passages about this in Job:
“For the thing that I fear comes upon me, and what I dread befalls me. I am not at ease, nor am I quiet; I have no rest, but trouble comes… If I summoned him and he answered me, I would not believe that he was listening to my voice… He will not let me get my breath, but fills me with bitterness. If I say, ‘I will forget my complaint, I will put off my sad face, and be of good cheer,’ I become afraid of all my suffering… Your hands fashioned and made me, and now you have destroyed me altogether… For he will complete what he appoints for me, and many such things are in his mind. Therefore I am terrified at his presence…”
I feel foolish because I’m not Job–I haven’t lost even a quarter of what he did—and I am not all these other people who have seen suffering and push through. But I am also tired of being strong, and tired of the last nine months.
“For he wounds, but he binds up; he shatters, but his hands heal.”
“You have granted me life and steadfast love, and your care has preserved my spirit.” The soul goes on. That’s a blessing. But without his health and children, in the face of so much loss, does it become a kind of curse to keep living?
What do Job’s friends have to say about all this? Next time…