Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The book of Job

I used to think that the book of Job is in the Bible because it presents such a rare and extreme case of human suffering. "Look at this worst case scenario. If you can see God at work here, then surely in your piddly little problems . . . ."

Now I think the book of Job is in the Bible because the story is so common. There are many Jobs today. Many are thinking, "I can't believe how my life is turning out. What on earth has happened? There's a lot wrong with me, but I see nothing I've done to explain the magnitude of this loss and devastation and heartache. For crying out loud, where is God in this?"

Enter Job's three friends. They were cautious and sensitive at first. But, with their tidy notions threatened by his untidy realities, the moralism started pouring out of them: "Come on, Job, get real with us. There must be some dirty little secret in your life that explains all this. Just come clean and admit it, and pretty soon all this misery will go away." Their finger-pointing oversimplifications intensified Job's sufferings, and this too is a common experience. People are overwhelmed with sorrow and confusion, and also isolated, ostracized by those for whom the situation is all quite clear.

I don't think that the book of Job is about suffering as a theoretical problem: Why do the righteous suffer? I think it's about suffering as a practical problem: When (not if) the righteous suffer, what does God expect of them? And what he expects is trust. When the righteous cannot connect the realities of their experience with the truths of God, then God calls them to trust him that there is more to it all than they can see. And, as with Job, there is. A battle was being fought over him in the heavenlies, and there are many such battles today.

Trust in God, it appears, not explanations from God, is how we penetrate most deeply into our existence. This is an insight relevant to many people today. Not easy to accept. Impossible to accept without the cross. We can bless God for the cross.