Grace, Mercy and Peace to you from God our Father and Christ Jesus our Lord,
I suspect everyone knows that the book of Job is about suffering, especially unjust suffering. Job asks why he, a righteous man, should suffer while the evil prosper and grow strong. His situation causes him to wonder about God. Job asks an important question. “If I am suffering, does this mean that God is not all powerful? Or does it mean that he may be all powerful but that he is not good and just?”
People ask the same questions about God today and we always will. Folks all over the world are put upon and injured unjustly. Many must have a strong sense of their innocence. Life treats lots of people unfairly and we wonder why. Someone may try to lead a decent, upright life but calamity comes along in the form of illness or financial reverses or malicious gossip and that person may think that God has forsaken him or her. Bad times may cause us to wonder about God’s care for us. The lesson of the Book of Job is that God is God and that he is concerned about the welfare of every single human being, no matter what appearances may suggest. God cares about all of us, and he is available to all. No problem is too great or too small to bring to him with the confidence that he will work it out for our good. Because of Christ, we have access to God 24 hours a day. He offers us a permanent, long-standing, never-ending relationship, not simply with his laws and his justice but with himself. The Lord himself appears to Job at the end of the story. No greater privilege can come to us. God restores Job’s good fortune, and this is important, too. But first the Lord makes himself known.
The story of Job illuminates our own relationship with God. As we walk along with Job in our imaginations, we find that our understanding of God and what he does for us through Jesus increases. Job stands for all of us as we encounter the loving and gracious and all-powerful God.
Scripture says that Job was not one of the Hebrew people; he wasn’t raised in the Old Testament covenant. Still, he was an important man, the greatest of all men who lived east of Israel. He was rich. He owned 7000 sheep and 3000 camels. He had ten children and a large number of servants. He wasn’t like one of the characters in a TV serial, though, because he was blameless and upright. He feared God and shunned evil. He was a good man who happened to have a lot of property ad a high social standing. Such people exist, even in today’s world, even though we don’t hear about them in the news.
A series of misfortunes befell Job in the midst of his prosperity. He lost his wealth and his family. He developed a terrible disease of the skin. He falls into disgrace and his neighbors love to point out that he must have done something wrong or else these calamities wouldn’t have struck him because God protects the righteous and punishes only the wicked. It seems that these comments from his friends are the hardest of all for Job to bear. At one point, he says, “How long will you torment me and crush me with words? Ten times you have reproached me; shamelessly you attack me….Though I say, I’ve been wronged, I get no response; though I call for help, there is no justice.”
Job goes so far as to say, like Christ on the cross, that even though he is innocent and upright, God has forsaken him.
His predicament was intense, but there’s something we need to keep in mind about Job. His claims to innocence and righteousness are genuine. He was a truly godly man. He fell into sin from time to time like all of us, but he avoided serious transgression and he lives with God. He cries our angrily; he is full of bitterness and grief; his misfortune leads him to say things he later regrets. He doesn’t desert God, however. He clings to the Lord even though he no longer perceives God’s abiding care. He says that even though God may slay him, he will still trust him. “I know that my Redeemer lives,” he says, “and in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him wit my own eyes. I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!”
Job is truly a person of faith. Though well-meaning, his accusers are wrong. Job lives before God with an open heart. He doesn’t try to hide his sorrow and his disappointment. He doesn’t try to run from God. He wants the Lord to see everything about him. He doesn’t know why God has afflicted him, yet he continues to trust him.
Now, there’s something Job didn’t know but that he knows now and that you and I know through the revelation of Scripture. A third force enters the picture along with Job and God. This force is Satan and once we understand Satan’s role, we begin to find answers for the questions we asked earlier about God’s goodness and power. We begin to trust that God is what he claims to be even though his world is shot through with evil.
You see, Satan wishes to destroy harmony between mankind and God. He can’t attack God, so he attacks the human race. He is full of accusations; he tempts everyone; he sows enmity of all kinds. He brings sickness and sin and death into the world. In accordance with his evil nature, then, and you can read this for yourself in the first chapter of Job, Satan waltzes up to God one day and says, “Listen, that man Job who appears to be so righteous and in whom you delight is righteous only because he is rich and comfortable. But he will turn away from you if you take all his good things away from him.” Satan argues that Job’s righteousness is really evil, since he is good only because goodness is profitable. He challenges God to allow him to conduct an experiment. Satan bets that Job won’t be righteous once his prosperity is removed. Even though God takes the other side, he can’t deny Satan his challenge, because it goes right to the heart of God’s actions in the world. So he lets Satan have his way with Job within certain limits, intending that both he and Job will be vindicated while Satan the accuser is silenced.
Though Job wasn’t aware of it at the time, his suffering was part of a gigantic struggle between God and Satan. The Lord turns out to be right about his righteous servant Job and Job receives a bountiful reward for his faithfulness.
The story of Job points to a few things about God. First, our Lord trusts his people. He trusts that we will uphold his honor in the crucible of suffering and temptation. The Lord has a high opinion of us, higher than we ourselves have. Job’s case also reminds us that God is deeply concerned about us even when it looks as if the opposite is true. Job shows that though it is incomprehensible to us, our suffering is part of God’s plan. The faith we exhibit in times of strife glorifies God before his enemies. He will reward us in due time.
Job’s story teaches us something about our own world. News reports of economic troubles and dire food shortages in parts of the world, not to mention wars and terrorism and civil strife may get us to wonder what has happened to God’s goodness. We see in Job that such calamities are Satan’s work in a sinful world. He constantly tries to disrupt the relationship between mankind and God. He achieves his purpose when disaster causes people to question God’s goodness or his power.
Our Lord is not helpless against Satan, for in the long run even Satan is under his control. He doesn’t battle Satan with force, though, but through the life and death of his Son Jesus. Job lived in hope of the Redeemer. Nothing could provoke him to surrender this hope – not severe pain and loss of the well-meaning insults of his friends. God defeated Satan through Christ when his Son resisted the devil’s temptations in the wilderness and again on the Cross when he suffered the penalty that Satan demands of all people in payment of sin. God the Father accepted his Son’s sacrifice, and so Satan has no further claim on us – unless we renounce our faith.
Christ’s victory over the devil is our victory. We pray that calamity doesn’t strike us, but if it does we are well-prepared to cling to Jesus, just as Job did, trusting that the Lord will deliver us from every difficulty and preserve us from eternal harm.
God’s goodness and power, then, don’t work by logic, as in a court of law, but by divine action. Job’s story illustrates one of the ever-lasting truths of Scripture – that God works good out of evil.
Is there a situation in your life that causes you to feel a kinship with Job in his troubles? If so, then trust that God is not punishing you. he has a purpose for your affliction, which he will reveal in due time. He will turn evil into good for you. So cling to Christ, for like Job you have a victorious Redeemer who lives. Jesus invites you to share every grief and joy with him, for he will build you up and one day he will appear to you in person and call you to your heavenly home.
Because of Jesus, his people live in assurance about big questions like goodness and justice and God’s power. Jesus sums up these qualities and all others in his person. He has condescended graciously to declare himself our friend and brother, and we respond with gratitude that he plants in our hearts the same faith he gave to his servant Job. In Jesus’ Name, we rejoice. AMEN.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge of Christ Jesus. AMEN.