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Reflections on Job: Strange answers

Job is one of my favorite Old Testament books because of how it addresses deep life issues. It addresses why we as Christians face trauma, suffering, injustice, and evil in this world -- why God allows to happen to us, or allows others to face severe persecution for their faith. Yet it is paradoxical in how it addresses these issues, seemingly without providing us a direct answer that we would expect to the question of why. Yet simple answers to such questions are not to be found in scripture.

We read of Job struggling deeply with spiritual despair and loneliness in the face of suffering, plus criticism from his dubious friends. He never learned the why's of his particular circumstances from God, nor apparently of the spiritual warfare in which he was enmeshed between Satan and God. The book provides no straight, simple answers to these questions. The answer that comes from God seems in fact strange. Essentially, God speaks and reminds Job and his false friends of who he is, as almighty creator and all-knowing sovereign. We 21st century readers finish the book and are left wondering what the point was. But God doesn't spoon-feed us simple answers; he wants us to ponder and mediate. The main point, though, is who God is. In the midst of suffering, God wants to remind believers who He is -- good, loving, all-mighty, and fully in control -- in spite of all the evil in the world around us and in our lives.

Why does evil exist? For that there are no easy answers, and this is rife with philosophical and theological complexities. But in the midst of suffering, there is little use for philosophizing, as we wrestle with painful emotions, like feeling abandoned by God. Such is natural, as we are in the middle of spiritual warfare; one of Satan's favorite strategies as a deceiver is to make us doubt God's nature, goodness, and love for us. Job fell into hopelessness because he did not understand the spiritual battle around him. For us, there may be no way of ever knowing the ultimate purpose of the particular battle in which we find ourselves. Yet God wishes to use us in whatever battle we find ourselves in -- as witnesses of Christ to the world, and as disciples, learning more about God through the adversity. God uses hard times to change us to be more like Him, and also to be witnesses of God's grace to the world.

Endurance in the struggle comes from the wisdom which comes from understanding who God is in a deeper way, including the depth of His love, and how He is in control. Through this also comes spiritual comfort and joy from God that transcends the tragedy of our circumstances. Endurance also means trusting in His power to bring about spiritual victory in our situation -- whatever 'spiritual victory' might mean. And spiritual victory is defined in God's terms, not ours, since we are not privy to the details of the spiritual battle or what God is doing in the spiritual realm.

In Job's case, the primary purpose behind God allowing Job's manner and degree of suffering is not revealed. But we see more tangible purposes fulfilled in the results seen in people's lives. Job was healed (and not just physically), spiritually changed, deeper, wiser, more humble, and as a result, was able to experience God's blessing at a greater level. His false friends were humbled. And probably most importantly, God was glorified in everything.

As feeble humans, it is difficult to perceive God's love and comfort in bad times, which is why we must be reminded by stories like Job's. It is easier to understand in retrospect, after we've had time to think and see some of the ways God was there to heal, comfort, and teach us through adversity. But we are also to prepare ourselves with this wisdom and understanding so that we can be ready for when hard times come -- and they will come. Adversity is part of the Christian life, but paradoxically and in ways we can't understand, this is so because God loves us so much. During bad times, He especially wants us to understand His power and how deeply He loves us.

[Originally published in OEM newsletter, 2002]


What I love about Job is the Otherness of God, or his Transcendence. I find that in no other book of the bible is it made so clear that God is not like us.

We are so adept at anthropomorphising God that in the back of our minds we limit him with our own limitations. And so we deny his absolute Goodness, his Eternalness etc, and eventually deny his Faithfulness. If God is not powerful or faithful or good etc, there is no point in prayer and our spiritual lives are in tailspin.

Job gives a radical new perspective on God for me every time I read it. I shy away from the weird things in there about why God would strike a bargain with Satan in the first place etc, but push through the moaning and the false accusations to have my mind blown away by his Otherness. Only in the context of his Otherness does my spiritual life make any sense.

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