I’m finished with Job — and my heart is troubled. This book has is so much more than I had understood in the past. This is something I had not expected: his self righteous cries are all too familiar to me.
We love to talk about the bad theology of his friends and truly, they’re lacking in some areas. But while his refusal to accept their reasoning is correct, he is still prideful in his assertion that he is completely innocent. He is prideful in his reminiscence of the good old days when people rose up to meet him and he was well respected. He is looking to his own righteousness and approval of men, rather than looking to his Redeemer.
He is screaming at God, “I don’t deserve any of this. I am innocent! Look at how I’ve fed the poor, how honest I’ve been, how upright I’ve been. How dare you!”
You can’t tell me you’ve never had the thought when suffering came.
The book of Job is not a prescriptive story of how to handle suffering. Chapter one is often preached that way, but to remain there loses so much. To remain in chapter one is preaching a message of self righteousness. (Sorry to all of you southern gospel song writers.)
Even to simply add his foolish friends to the mix still loses the entire picture.
This story is not about a righteous man defeating all odds and pushing through hard times. This is the story of an all Sovereign God who is in control, who brings us to our knees in fear and trembling to further purify and sanctify us. Job is descriptive – a man who is Godly, who is upright, but still has self righteousness and pride that needs to be pruned away.
I agree with John Piper here, “The pain he causes is like the surgeon’s knife, not like the executioner’s whip.” For the saved, the punishment we deserve was endured on the cross of Christ. But that doesn’t mean God will not use pain and suffering as a means to remove the dross from our lives.
I can’t say I fully understand this. And in my finite mind, I don’t come to a completely restful conclusion with this. There is a bit of tension, because I don’t completely understand why God does what He does. And like Job, I have certainly responded in pride with how I don’t deserve this.
I may begin with the words of his friends, searching myself for some evil in my past. And then I might flip the script to how I simply don’t deserve this.
Job is brought to repentance in Chapter 42. Following the speech of Elihu and God’s correction, he kneels in repentance to a Holy God whose wisdom and knowledge is far higher than our own. He submits in spite of the tension of not having all of the answers.
“Then Job answered the Lord and said: “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. ‘Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you make it known to me.’ I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.””
Job 42:1-6 ESV
God is God. And Job is all of us.
As I wrestled through these thoughts this morning, Psalm 73 came to mind. I read it with a bit more clarity, though it has always been one of my favorites. After finally reading through Job in its’ entirety, I suppose I’ll never read this Psalm the same way.
“Truly God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart. But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped. For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. For they have no pangs until death; their bodies are fat and sleek. They are not in trouble as others are; they are not stricken like the rest of mankind. Therefore pride is their necklace; violence covers them as a garment. Their eyes swell out through fatness; their hearts overflow with follies. They scoff and speak with malice; loftily they threaten oppression. They set their mouths against the heavens, and their tongue struts through the earth. Therefore his people turn back to them, and find no fault in them. And they say, “How can God know? Is there knowledge in the Most High?” Behold, these are the wicked; always at ease, they increase in riches. All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence. For all the day long I have been stricken and rebuked every morning. If I had said, “I will speak thus,” I would have betrayed the generation of your children. But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end. Truly you set them in slippery places; you make them fall to ruin. How they are destroyed in a moment, swept away utterly by terrors! Like a dream when one awakes, O Lord, when you rouse yourself, you despise them as phantoms. When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in heart, I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward you. Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. For behold, those who are far from you shall perish; you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you. But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all your works.”
Psalm 73:1-28 ESV