“Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said:
‘Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone,
when the morning stars sang together
and all the sons of God shouted for joy?’” Job 38: 1, 4-7
“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.’” Job 42:1-3
The account of Job is one of the most unique narratives of the Hebrew Scriptures; even those who are unfamiliar with the Bible are sure to have heard reference to Job and his trials. At its core is the issue of suffering and why those who are righteous suffer and experience hardship. Rabbis and theologians have wrestled with this book for centuries to try to answer this question because, at face value, Job appears to run contrary to many of the lessons put forth in the other books that comprise the Hebrew Wisdom Literature, especially that of Proverbs. The beauty of the account of Job is not found in understanding why things happen; instead, it is found in realizing–as Job did–the finite nature of our existence and God’s eternal sovereignty over everything that has happened and will happen.
Job’s narrative begins with a description of Job: he was blameless, upright, feared God, and turned away from evil. Additionally, he was wealthy and had a large family. Traditional wisdom would convey that these blessings of wealth were the result of his faith and commitment to God, and this type of thinking is brought to the forefront very quickly. Satan appeared one day before God and made the claim that Job’s faith in God was merely the result of God’s blessings upon Job. To test this theory, God allowed Satan to take away all the blessings which Job had received, and they would see if Job’s faith withered along with losing all of the blessings. In one fell swoop, Job lost all of his children, all of his wealth, and his health. The test was on.
The vast majority of the Book of Job is a series of dialogues between Job’s friends who repeatedly tell him that he had somehow offended God and lost His favor. Even Job’s wife grows frustrated with his commitment to righteousness in the face of this suffering and plight and tells him to “curse God and die!” (Job 2:9). In spite of this continuous barrage from those who were supposed to be supporting him, Job patiently endured and retained his faith in God.
Job, however, is a man; in a moment of pain, anger, and frustration he cries out to God. This cry does not represent a loss of faith on Job’s part; instead, it demonstrates the futility of the human condition: we do not understand why things happen to us the way that they do. Job cries out to God and asks the age-old question, “Why is this happening to me?” He questions God’s methods; when all Job has ever shown to God was faithfulness and devotion, why would God do this in response? To Job, it just didn’t seem fair.
Shortly after Job’s cry out to the heavens, a whirlwind appears, and God speaks to Job from the whirlwind. God’s response to Job is conveyed in some of the most beautiful Hebrew poetry in all of the Bible. The answer that God gave to Job appears, at first glance, to be dismissive and a bit of tough love–almost as if God was telling Job to “man-up” and get over the situation. This, however, is not the message that God is communicating to Job.
God’s response to Job is comprised of several questions, each one designed to change the perspective of Job’s thinking, and also to remind Job that He had every little detail of the universe under control. God asks Job where he was when He laid the foundations of the Earth and set the boundaries of the sea; if the lightning asks Job where to strike; if Job has ever walked in the deepest depths of the sea; if Job has storehouses of snow and hail piled up; if Job can change the course of the stars; or if Job provides food for the ravens and for the lions?
Job knows who can do all of these things, and he realizes the folly of his questioning God. Job realizes that his perspective on the universe is not the same as God’s, that he cannot see the “big picture.” Job cannot see how his suffering fits into the bigger scheme of things, into God’s master plan, but God–the one who has made this plan–knows how it all fits together. Job understood that he was talking about that which he did not understand, and that God has everything under control and taken care of; that no plan of His can be thwarted. Job also realized that God–the Master and Creator of the Universe–did not owe him an answer or response of any sort, yet out of His love and compassion, God gave Job one. If God cared enough to answer Job’s futile cry, then surely He would sustain Job through the ordeal he was in.
This is an easy lesson to learn in a vacuum, so to speak, when all we are doing is exegeting text and seeking an understanding of what it means; it is a much different lesson to apply in reality when we are dealing with the loss of a loved one, or a devastating financial setback, or some other severe trial. In those times, we also cry out to God and question His methods and His fairness. The account of Job shows us that He hears us when we do this; however, we must realize our position in the scheme of things. In those times, we must remember that this world does not revolve around us and that nowhere were we ever promised that hardship would never befall us. We must not forget that we are part of a bigger picture, a master plan that God–the Ancient of Days–worked out before the dawn of time and that our suffering fits somehow and someway into that plan. We must remember the example of Joseph and how he endured being sold into slavery and years of false imprisonment so that he could save his family and his people in the time of famine. It is not our duty to understand why things happen to us, it is our duty to honor God and worship Him in all that we do and through all that we endure–as Job said “Though he slay me, I will hope in him,” (Job 13:15).
We might not ever understand why we suffer, and we may never see the good which may come from it, but we can take comfort in knowing that the God of the Universe already knows how this trial ends. He has planned it out and prepared you for it. Your trials are not in vain, they are part of a greater plan which will bring honor and glory to Him–even in your suffering and affliction you can bring honor to Him. Most importantly, God will sustain you and be with you throughout the ordeal and suffering you find yourself in. Remain faithful to Him, as He will most surely remain faithful to you.
Disclaimer: I don’t often get personal in these posts, but this will be an exception. I wrote this piece on Friday (July 26) so that it would be ready to go to post on Tuesday (today) morning. In the span between Friday and Tuesday, I have had my own crash course on perspective, and given the opportunity to learn firsthand if I can “practice what I preach.” What I have learned is this:
- God continues to be sovereign over all things
- He is in control of my situation and circumstances
- Because He is sovereign and in control, I will praise Him
- I will continue to praise Him, regardless of what happens to me, or how things in this world turn out.
Artwork: “Job Praying,” Marc Chagall, 1960