(Reflections on the book of Job, part 1 of 3)
Job was the man whose 10 children and vast wealth were all taken away by Satan in a single day (ch. 1). At the end of that ordeal, Job said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong (1:21-22). Then Satan attacked Job again, targeting his health (ch. 2). Sores covered his skin from head to toe. Still, he did not curse God (2:9-10).
Satan thought that Job would curse God because of his afflictions, but God knew that Job wouldn’t do that. God himself described Job as “a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil” (1:8).
What does it mean to be blameless and upright (that is, righteous) in the Old Testament? Psalm 32 describes the “righteous” and “upright in heart” as “one who trusts in the LORD” (Ps. 32:10-11). Even though this person commits sin, his “transgression is forgiven” (Ps. 32:1). This is someone like Job. Although he was wealthy, he did not put his trust in his wealth (Job 31:24-28). That was why he could let it go. His trust was in God. “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him” (Job 13:15).
Even in the Old Testament, righteousness was never attained simply by offering sacrifices or participating in other religious ceremonial traditions. In Genesis, Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness (Gen. 15:6). It was always faith and trust in the Lord that mattered — the attitude of one’s heart, not one’s actions. Sacrificial offerings that came from men with proud, unrepentant hearts were not pleasing to God (Ps. 51:16-17, Hosea 6:6).
(Where is your trust? Is it in your career? What if you were unfairly fired tomorrow? What if, because of some sort of power struggle, a rumour spread that made you unemployable in your field? Would you then curse God or still trust Him?)
It is an encouragement to us that even though Job deeply trusted God, he was not immune to despondency. He was human and imperfect like us, and he had just lost all 10 of his children. His suffering led him to wonder whether God was punishing him for something. He prayed: “Let me know why you contend against me” (Job 10:2). “Why do you hide your face and count me as your enemy?” (13:24). Job felt like he was experiencing something that only wicked men, enemies of God, deserved. And then Job observed the opposite scenario: “Why do the wicked live, reach old age, and grow mighty in power?” (21:7). Much of ch. 21 and ch. 24 involve this question of why the wicked prosper while the righteous suffer. But before Job got into all that, he said, “When I think about this, I am terrified; trembling seizes my body” (21:6). His suffering was making him afraid that the world was losing or had lost its sense of order and justice.
In the midst of his confusion and feeling afraid, Job kept praying. He asked God many questions. And sometimes people (in the present age) point to all those questions and say that Job was complaining too much or grumbling. We do know from elsewhere in the Bible that God does not like grumbling (Num. 14:27, Phil. 2:14). But we’re not forbidden from calling out to our Father when we’re confused and afraid. The eyes of the LORD are toward the righteous and his ears toward their cry (Ps. 34:15). Someone who’s asking God for comfort (see Matt. 11:28) or for help to understand a difficult situation (see James 1:5) is different from someone who’s cursing, distrusting, grumbling against God. The attitudes of those hearts are different. Continue reading “Honest questions to God in the midst of trials”