Job: Trusting God When There Are No Easy Answers

12 June 2024


We can always bank on God, even in dark times.

A recent online discussion that I was involved in about what believers can do when it seems that God is absent or uncaring resulted in some great commentary. One person who has suffered much mentioned Job and the comfort she got from that Old Testament book.

Since I just had finished reading Job again a short while prior, I wrote this reply: “Sometimes serving others during our lowest point is the way to find God’s close presence: ‘And the Lord restored the fortunes of Job, when he had prayed for his friends’ (Job 42:10).”

Reaching out to others when it seems like your world is falling apart and God has gone on vacation is not something we tend to do – not readily and easily, at least. It is the last thing we want to do. We would rather have folks pour attention on us and our needs. Even enjoying a pity party for a while is how we often respond.

Service in Suffering

But as I said in an article not all that long ago, when Jesus was at His lowest point and just about to go to a horrible death, He did something that serves as an example for all of us. As we find in John 13:1-5:

Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

See that piece here.

Most of us, knowing that we are about to be carted off by our enemies to be tortured and killed, would not likely be thinking of how we could serve others. But that is how Jesus responded. And Job did similar things, serving as a type of Christ, as he prayed for others while undergoing such horrible suffering.

Most of you know the story: God allowed him to go through some really hardcore adversity and suffering, yet Job did not curse God nor give up. He certainly would have been going through his own “dark night of the soul“, and would have wondered what was going on. Indeed, there are several hundred questions found in this book.

He may not have had all the answers, but he had a deep faith in the God he served. He could trust in a God that he had little specific revelation of (there was no Old Testament back then for him to read, let alone a New Testament). He did not have the Holy Spirit living within, as do Christians today. Yet he held on so tightly to his Lord, even despite all the lousy counsel from his miserable comforters.

Of course, it must be said that what I just shared from Job 42:10a is descriptive, and not necessarily prescriptive. We have no guarantee that if we pray for others during our really tough times, God will be obliged to restore anything and everything he might have taken away.

We certainly are not promised that we will get everything back twofold as he did. As we read in the next and final verses of the book (10b-17):

And the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before. Then came to him all his brothers and sisters and all who had known him before, and ate bread with him in his house. And they showed him sympathy and comforted him for all the evil that the Lord had brought upon him. And each of them gave him a piece of money and a ring of gold.

And the Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning. And he had 14,000 sheep, 6,000 camels, 1,000 yoke of oxen, and 1,000 female donkeys. He had also seven sons and three daughters. And he called the name of the first daughter Jemimah, and the name of the second Keziah, and the name of the third Keren-happuch.

And in all the land there were no women so beautiful as Job’s daughters. And their father gave them an inheritance among their brothers. And after this Job lived 140 years, and saw his sons, and his sons’ sons, four generations. And Job died, an old man, and full of days.

Talk about a happy ending. Talk about a reversal of fortune. But again, this is no text to “name and claim”. Perhaps most of God’s people throughout human history who have lost so much (a loved one, a spouse, a job, a home, good health, a reputation, a ministry, or something else) have never received those things back in this life.

Yes, we have a few passages in the gospels that speak about receiving things back – even a hundredfold – but this is NOT the “seed-faith giving” message that the prosperity preachers promote. But for a fuller and detailed discussion of that sort of thinking, see this earlier piece of mine.

The truth is, sometimes God may indeed restore things in this life that he allowed to be taken away. But we have no ironclad guarantees of this. Usually, any real reward we have for sacrificial giving and the like will have to wait until the next life. And that should be enough for the true child of God.

Denied Justice

Let me return to Job 42:10 and share a bit of commentary on it. I was going to draw upon a number of commentaries, but one volume I pulled off my shelves seemed too good to minimise, so I will make use of it alone. I refer to the book, The Gospel According to Job by Mike Mason (Crossway, 1994).The Gospel According to Job

I was going to turn to the end of his book, but noted a bookmark I had left in it from years ago, covering Job 27:2. I am glad I did, since it is well worth quoting from first. That verse says: “As surely as God lives, who has denied me justice….” Mason writes:

This is faith. Faith is the ability to tolerate the intolerable paradox of God’s clear and undisputed title as Lord of the universe in spite of His apparent absence. Some might prefer to see faith as an awareness of God’s presence, the discerning of His hand at work in our lives. But what of all the times when we cannot see any hand at all?

Sometimes the Lord touches us directly. But often He works through secondary agents — through other people, through created things, through life experiences both good and bad — and in such cases we may not be aware of His involvement until long afterwards, if at all. This is when pure faith is called for, faith reduced to simplest terms.

“When you cannot practice the presence of God,” wrote C. S. Lewis, “then it is something to practice the absence of God.” Fallen humanity has invented many techniques for practicing (or pretending to practice) the presence of God. But the unregenerate mind cannot practice God’s absence. If it could, then it would plumb the mystery of the cross and be reborn.

Job is right: believers in God are people who have been denied justice. We are the sons and daughters of the Most High; we are priestly princes and princesses in the Kingdom of Heaven. So what are we doing down here on our hands and knees, struggling along in the muck and the mire of earth?

The author of Hebrews answers this way: “At present we do not see everything subject to [man]. But we see Jesus … now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death” (2:8-9). In other words, we may not feel like royalty now; our present circumstances may not make us look very master-ful; but we know that Jesus went through everything we are going through, including death — and look where He is now! Therefore we live by faith, not by sight. By faith we “see Jesus.” By faith we have even now been “raised up with Christ and seated with him in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 2:6).

Yes, Job has been denied justice; this is the whole point of the story. Yet God’s denial of justice is the very circumstance that allows for the exercise of faith, and this faith is what defeats the Devil. With a snap of His fingers the Lord could cast the Devil into the lake of fire right now and be done with him. But it is not enough for God to defeat the Devil; He wants us to defeat him too, to slay him with a word.

Our Father wants His children to share His knowledge about the running of the universe. He wants to be able to entrust absolutely everything to us and know that it is in safe hands. Imagine — the Lord Almighty wants to lift us up to His own level so that we can share His wisdom and power and glory!

Therefore, if He absents Himself from our world now, it is only so we can begin to fill His shoes. If He withholds justice now, it is in the interests of nurturing faith — the kind of faith that will be able not only to move mountains — who knows! — but to build whole new worlds.

With the possibility of such monumental tasks ahead, it will be good for us to have had some hands-on experience in overcoming the Devil and all his works. Our discipleship is a practicum. We learn who God is not merely through contemplation of Him, but by actually doing what He has done.

Finally, his thoughts on the text that we are considering here:

Naturally the Lord’s liberality does not always take the form of material riches. That has been one of the chief lessons of the last forty chapters. But technically speaking, there is really no direct connection between Job’s righteousness and the final restoration of his wealth.

After all, the story did not have to end this way. The fact that it does is simply and purely a demonstration of the Lord’s gracious magnanimity. If we tried to draw some necessary connection between righteousness and worldly prosperity, we have missed the whole point of the book. The Lord’s giving is just as gratuitously unpredictable as His taking away.

Then too, it is not as if Job’s newly acquired wealth had fallen out of the sky. That is not how the Lord chose to give it to him. Rather we are told that all of Job’s friends and family rallied around him, and “each one gave him a piece of silver and a gold ring” (42:11). This is how Job was able to purchase new livestock and get back on his feet, and even then it would have been a slow process. How wise it was of the Lord to accomplish Job’s healing and restoration not through some supernatural zap, but by surrounding him with people. How the love of these folks must have warmed and filled Job’s lonely, aching spirit!

So Job’s real wealth was in his friends. The increase of his worldly estate has no real significance in itself, but rather is a sign of the love and honor that both God and people lavished upon him. In the same way, the baby Jesus was given gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh, but His true wealth lay in the souls behind these gifts, the royal souls of human beings who had been given to Him by His Father. Only God can give to all his children the ultimate Christmas gift: other people, one to another, in love. Only God can give people away.

Another fact that tends to be overlooked by those who are unhappy with the happy ending of Job is that for Job himself this turn of events would not have been all peaches and cream. Surely his re-entry into the world business and society would have been terribly difficult for him – perhaps, in some ways, as painful as the trials he had just endured.

For when a man has been stripped of everything, and yet found that in his dire need he met the Lord face to face, why should he want riches and a “normal life” again? It is not as though anything in this present world could ever really reward him for his faith, nor compensate him for past troubles.

In fact, the great irony in the ending of this story is that even now there is no real justice for Job. Just think: this man is a son of the Almighty King; by rights he should be sitting on the golden throne in heaven! So what is he doing tending sheep and donkeys down on earth? To the eye of faith, all the gold in the world looks like so much rust. If we look for God to be just – to “make everything right” – in this life, we shall always find Him unjust.

No, the Lord does not give to us as the world gives. Rather he pays us in love, which is real wealth. He pays us by enlarging our hearts. During the night of tears and sorrow the believing heart cannot help but swell, so that like a growing plant it comes to hold more and more of the sap of eternal life, which is love. The true nature of this spiritual wealth is expressed with beautiful simplicity in the little hymn by Bishop Kingo:

Break forth my soul, with joy, and say
   How rich I have become this day!
My saviour dwells within my heart!
   Thanks for the joy thou dost impart.

Amen to all that.


Republished with thanks to CultureWatch. Image courtesy of Khoa Võ.

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