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The book of Job takes us on an exhausting emotional journey.
We’re perplexed by the divine gambit in the opening scenes where God allows unspeakable suffering to overwhelm a righteous man. We’re inspired by his humble response, only to be unnerved by his sudden despair. We feel his internal struggle in the long and increasingly contentious dispute with his friends, as he stubbornly insists on his own innocence. We sympathize with his friends’ increasing frustration at Job’s persistent complaining. When God finally speaks, we’re humbled by his divine majesty.
In the end, we arrive in a place of calm as Job’s conflict achieves some resolution. Reflecting on this tumultuous journey, I’d like to address four questions the book raises.
1. What Are We to Make of Job?
In the lone New Testament reference to Job, James holds him up as an example of faithful perseverance (James 5:11). But some aren’t so sure of that assessment. Job appears at times disrespectful, impertinent, even brash in the way he deals with God. But the Lord’s affirmation of Job in the end justifies James’s view.
Though Job actively protests his treatment, he never curses God. Never denies his goodness. Never treats God as his enemy, though God seems to be treating him that way. In fact, it’s Job’s conviction about God’s goodness and justice that creates his crisis of faith in the first place. And it’s that conviction that he holds to the end, as he presses his case before God.
Despite his complaints, Job becomes a model of faithful perseverance, and in the process, he shows us that a godly life can include lament, questions, and even protest.
Despite his complaints, Job becomes a model of faithful perseverance and, in the process, shows us that a godly life can include lament, questions, and even protest. Suffering tests the reality of our faith, for in a universe under the sovereign rule of a good God, the problem of suffering is ultimately a personal one.
When we suffer, we wonder if our God really cares. Job sees God as the cause of his problem; as a result, he sees God as the one who must provide the solution. As the German poet Goethe writes, “And so at last the sailor lays firm hold, / Upon the rock on which he had been dashed.” His protest may be fierce, but he continues to address those complaints to God. It becomes clear through the dialogue with his friends that only God himself can comfort Job.
Job perseveres in faith until he gets that divine response. We must do the same.
2. What Are We to Make of God?
We see that the central character of the book isn’t Job at all; it’s God. We too are faced with the central question of the book: “Does Job fear God for nothing?” In other words, is there a God who’s worthy of our worship, love, and trust—regardless of our circumstances? Will we fear him, even when he’s not acting the way he’s “supposed” to act, and we can’t understand what he’s allowing to happen? Can we trust God when what we’re experiencing seems a disturbing travesty of justice?
In the divine speeches of Job 38–41, instead of giving answers, God asks his own questions. He wants to broaden Job’s horizons, so that Job might see that his perspective is far too narrow to understand what God is doing in his life. Job and his friends were right in believing God is just, but they were wrong in thinking he had to demonstrate that justice in immediate ways they could understand.
God’s speeches are meant to put Job—and readers—in their proper place. He’s the Creator of heaven and earth; we’re not. He rules over all; we don’t. He’s wise beyond our ability to comprehend; he knows what we never could. His ways transcend our understanding; we have to accept that and trust him even when it’s hard. Any god we could fully understand is unworthy of our worship.
3. What Are We to Make of the Book’s Ending?
When God doubly restores all Job has lost, doesn’t this “happily ever after” ending ruin it all? Doesn’t it contradict one of the central messages of the book—that there’s no necessary connection between godliness and material blessing, between righteousness and rewards? Is R. N. Whybray right to complain, “God turns out to be Father Christmas after all”?
Doesn’t this ‘happily ever after’ ending ruin it all?
First, it’s significant that Job’s vindication takes place before his blessing (Job 42:7–9). While Job is still poor and disgraced in the community, God demands his three friends humble themselves, and he asks Job to pray for them. The tables have turned indeed! This vindication is confirmed when we read that “the LORD accepted Job’s prayer” (Job 42:9).
The story could rightly end there, but beginning in Job 42:10 we see that God not only vindicates Job, he also blesses him richly. God didn’t have to bless Job. Still, it’s entirely appropriate that he does, because it displays the kind of God he is. The double blessing is simply an expression of God’s abundant grace that flows out of his goodness—a goodness he longs to pour out on those who come to him in faith. This is the assessment of James: “You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy” (James 5:11).
4. Where Is Christ in Job?
Job wants to see God, but he’s also terrified at this prospect. So he longs for a mediator (Job 9:32–35; 16:19–21), even a redeemer (19:25–27). In Christ, we have that redeemer, that mediator who stands on both God’s side and also ours and arbitrates between us. In Christ, we now have one who is both an expression of God’s love and also an appeaser of God’s wrath. God himself has provided someone who “removes God’s rod from me, so that his terror would frighten me no more” (9:34).
Job, the innocent sufferer, also points us to the ultimate innocent sufferer, Jesus Christ.
Job, the innocent sufferer, also points us to the ultimate innocent sufferer, Jesus Christ. Jesus suffers anguish in the garden of Gethsemane and later pronounces his own cry of dereliction: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34). But, as in Job, when all is said and done, there’s a happy ending. The suffering of Good Friday gives way to the vindication of Easter morning. He is risen; he is risen indeed! And he will come again to set all things right.
May Job point us to Christ, and so encourage us to endure in faith to the end.