When someone mentions the man Job, you may think, patient in suffering. That’s certainly the description James 5:8-11 gives. But it may encourage and relieve you to know: Job’s patience in suffering did not look as you might expect.
Bombarded with huge, inexplicable losses, Job persevered in that he did not repudiate the Lord. He didn’t give up on his relationship with the Almighty. Ah, but he did question God. He did express deep anger with God. Indeed, Job cried,
It is God who has wronged me, capturing me in his net. (Job 19:6 NLT)
God … who has denied me justice, the Almighty, who has made my life bitter. (Job 27:2)
If ever you’ve experienced hardships that seem anything but fair, you may have believed the same thing Job did. What’s more, you may have felt guilty for believing it. You may have even confessed it as wrong. However, if any part of you still feels God has wronged you, you may think your only options are:
- Go with that belief, and walk away from God.
- Deny that belief. Bury it as deeply as possible – and forever carry confusion, a sense of betrayal and a feeling of guilt for thinking it.
So what in the world did Job do?
In the first chapters of the book of Job, all kinds of calamity struck Job. In the big middle of his deep loss, three of his friends arrived. At first, the three sat silently before Job. When he spoke up to describe the depth of his pain, they began telling him what they knew of God.
If they intended to bring comfort, they failed. Indeed, Job said bluntly,
Sorry comforters are you all. (Job 16:2 NAS)
Can you identify? You’re suffering great loss. Well-meaning people show up and start saying things about God that may be true but just make you feel worse – about the situation and about yourself.
It’s important to know: Everything the three said about God is true in principle. Yet Job wasn’t the only one who found his friends’ counsel “sorry.” God himself later said to the leader of the three:
I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken the truth about me. (Job 42:7)
How had Job’s friends spoken the truth, yet not spoken the truth? When they misapplied true principles, they misrepresented God.
The three saw the terrible things that had happened to Job. They knew for certain: God is just. Since it didn’t seem right for a just God to allow so much bad to happen to a righteous person, they decided: Job must have done something to bring all that adversity on himself. They told Job, “Just confess and turn from whatever terrible things you’ve done.”
We can and often do bring suffering on ourselves by persisting in wrong choices. Our sins do find us out. But Job’s sufferings had not happened because he had sinned. The Lord himself had said of Job:
There’s no one quite like him – honest and true to his word, totally devoted to God and hating evil. (Job 1:8 MSG)
Job wasn’t perfect – not even close – but he sought to follow God with his whole heart. When all three of his friends said otherwise, Job did not decide: “They must be right. This is all my fault.” Job knew he had no undealt-with iniquity between him and his God. He steadfastly declared as much.
His friends did not believe him. The more he protested his innocence, the more the three assailed him for not admitting his guilt. In the process, Job cried out:
How long will you torment me and crush me with words? Ten times now you have reproached me; shamelessly you attack me. (Job 19:2-3)
Like I said, not how you might have expected Job’s patience to look. The man was nothing, if not frank.
Beleaguered and angry, Job agreed with his accusers in this: Surely, a just God would not allow so much bad to happen to a righteous person. Devastated by grief and now pummeled by his friends, Job proposed the only other solution that seemed possible: God had wronged him. God had denied him justice!
Even as he accused God of injustice, Job testified:
I know that my Redeemer lives, and he will stand upon the earth at last. And after my body has decayed, yet in my body I will see God! (Job 19:25-26 NLT)
Sadly, Job’s friends did not notice or affirm his profound statement of persevering faith. The argument continued through chapter 31. When the four fell silent, deadlocked, a young man named Elihu spoke up to say (at length), “Whatever the answer is, it is not that God is unjust.”
Why did God allow that whole excruciating confrontation? We can’t begin to know all the reasons. But we do know: Job could not examine beliefs that remained hidden. He needed to hear himself say what he was thinking deep within. He needed to acknowledge what he had come to feel, but would never admit without strong provocation: “There is no other explanation here except that God has done the unthinkable. The Redeemer in whom I still believe has done me great wrong.”
Did the younger Elihu and the three older men leave before God spoke? It seems so. This we know: A tempest formed, and God spoke to Job from the midst of it (Job 38:1).
Imagine the scene. Stop for a moment, and put yourself there. Imagine how it looked, felt, sounded. Imagine what you might think and feel, after everything else that had happened, as a storm suddenly rages and God speaks aloud.
Enigmatically, God “answered” Job by asking him questions. For four chapters, the Lord queried Job – about daylight and darkness, the sea and the stars, stormy weather conditions and assorted animals. If the Lord’s tactics seem random, his tone was stern:
Who is this that makes my purpose unclear by saying things that are not true? (Job 38:2 NCV).
Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? (Job 38:4)
Do you send the lightning bolts on their way? (Job 38:35)
You are God’s critic, but do you have the answers? (Job 40:2 NLT)
Would you discredit my justice? Would you condemn me to justify yourself? (Job 40:8)
Reading the conversation between Job and God – in which God does most of the speaking and Job, most of the listening – we may see only a scolding. We may think such a conversation something to avoid. But no, the opposite is true.
Intimacy isn’t always warm and fuzzy. Sometimes it’s passionate and fierce. And honest, intimate conversation with the Lord of all the earth is always something to embrace.
Here, we see:
God heard Job. While Job and his friends talked, God remained silent. Yet he was present, and he heard every word. When Job accused him of wrongdoing, God did not leave in a huff. At the right time, he made his Presence known.
God spoke to Job, directly and at length. Job heard the Lord – he heard God himself – knew it was God and understood what God said.
God rebuked and corrected Job, but he didn’t “make Job pay” for calling him unjust. He didn’t threaten or punish Job for verbalizing what he felt. If Job had had other issues – unrepented sins that had contributed to his sufferings – the Lord would have brought those to Job’s attention, as well.
God did not explain himself. He did not tell Job why a just God could allow a wholehearted follower to suffer so deeply. Rather, God asked questions designed to show Job that his frame of reference was way too small. To Job and friends in their finite wisdom, it appeared an either-or proposition: Either Job had messed up bigtime, or God had acted unjustly. God said, in essence: “Neither of the above is correct. You cannot begin to fathom why all this has happened or what it’s accomplishing. So quit trying to place blame and let me lead from here.”
Job received what God said. Standing in the Presence, Job listened as God asked question after question as to who, in fact, created, nurtured and ruled all the earth. The encounter changed Job’s heart and mind. He did not knuckle under a God who said, “How dare you not believe me!” Rather, Spirit-to-spirit, Job saw himself and his Lord in a new light. In his inmost being, he realized: Deeply hurting, desperate for answers, he had misjudged his God.
Humbly, he confessed and repented:
Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. (Job 42:3)
When God began to speak from a windstorm, everything in Job might have wanted to turn and run away. Yet Job stayed, and the encounter set his life on a new trajectory. It initiated a new level of relationship that Job had thought would only happen well after his death. Remember Job’s powerful statement of faith?
I know that my Redeemer lives, and he will stand upon the earth at last. And after my body has decayed, yet in my body I will see God!
Encountering the Lord in the whirlwind, Job said in awe:
My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. (Job 42:5)
A suffering man, misjudged by his friends, Job did not agree with their false allegations. He didn’t con himself either, thinking all was well between him and God when, indeed, it was not. Rather, Job recognized God’s assessment of him and clung to that.
Job did not disown his Lord. However, he did blurt out what he had come to believe about God’s ways: “It is God who has wronged me.” It is “God … who has denied me justice, the Almighty, who has made my life bitter.”
When God spoke from a windstorm to challenge Job’s beliefs, Job did not exit out of anger or fear. He stayed. He listened. He faced his Lord.
Ah, then, in his body, Job saw God. He saw his Redeemer come.
. . . . . . .
Again and again, the “God who …” phrases in Scripture reveal God’s works. As we respond to our Lord deep within, receiving what he communicates Spirit-to-spirit, those phrases also reveal his ways.