Saturday, December 27, 2008

Asking the right question

The fundamental question to ask when reading the book of Job is the most obvious one; the question

that most of us ask when going through trouble and the one that Job, himself, asked. “Why? Why am I suffering? What have I done wrong?”

The key to understanding the suffering of Job lies in God’s evaluation of this man. From the start, Job is described as being a blameless and upright man (1:1). This is an important detail to remember when you read this book. Whatever happens to Job in this story, it is not because of sin in his life or a lack of faith. The language used to describe Job is that of a man who is following God in obedience and trust.

Additionally, Job's life is described in idyllic terms; this is a man with everything going for him. Whatever happens to him is also not because of bad choices that he has made or because he was on an uncertain financial footing.

In 1:6, the scene shifts from earth to the courts of heaven. There we find Satan coming before God to tell Him all of the sinful things that God's people are doing on the earth (1:6-7). When the apostle John describes Satan in Revelation 12:10 as the accuser of our brothers, it is Job 1:6-11 and Zechariah 3:1 that he draws the description from. Satan, it appears, is given access to the presence of God where he stands and makes accusations against God’s people.

Hearing Satan’s allegations, God points to Job as an example of a man who defies such indictments. Unwilling to concede, however, Satan seeks to cast a cloud of suspicion on Job’s character. He declares that Job loves and serves God for strictly selfish reasons. "Take away all that makes his life comfortable and safe," Satan sneers, "and Job will deny You."

Knowing Job’s heart, God permits Satan to attempt to prove that his accusations are true and it is in this context that we are to understand Job’s suffering. The answer to the question as to why Job suffers is, quite simply, because he is a righteous man. He loses all that he has; his wealth, his livelihood, his children, his home because of his loyalty to God, even though he is completely unaware of the fact. He becomes diseased. He loses the respect of his wife. He is forced to live outside of the city in the garbage dump, an outcast from society. He is utterly destitute. Yet, Job maintains his trust in and dependency on God (1:22-22; 2:10) despite his ignorance as to the real reason for his afflictions.

We sometimes forget that Job did not have our perspective. God allows us to peer through the cracks of the curtain into the courts of heaven and to overhear the conversations between God and Satan. Job did not have this privilege. We must recognize that we, too, may find ourselves in Job’s position of not being privy to the reasons for our afflictions. With suffering there are often shadows, unanswered questions, and things that we will never understand this side of eternity. The focus of this book is found in chapter 28:1-18 in which Job acknowledges that only God knows why things are the way they are. There are things going on which we may never know about. There is often mystery with suffering. But, to reflect our Saviour’s words, will there also be faith (Luke 18:8)? In our afflictions, will we exhibit a trust in God who may not answer our "Whys"?

As many of us would in similar (and even lesser) situations, Job earnestly wanted to know the reason for why he was afflicted so severely. He asks for an explanation but when God responded in chapters 38-41, He did so, not with answers to the reasons why Job suffered, but with a revelation of Himself. By revealing who He is, God reminded Job that the primary quest for the believer in the face of unjust suffering is not an explanation for the question "Why?" but an answer to the question "Who?" While “Why?” is a question that will be asked, “Who?” is the question that needs to be answered. Job was reminded of God's power, His wisdom, and His control over creation. In effect, God’s answer to Job was, "This is the kind of God I am. I know what is going on and you do not. Your life is still under my control and care. Will you trust me?" And this answer was supposed to be good enough for Job. Is it good enough for you?


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