“[Job] was blameless, upright, fearing God and turning away from evil”(Job 1.1) . . . “the LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD” (1.21) . . . “Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?” (2.10)
Through all this Job did not sin nor did he blame God (1.22).
“I am not at ease, nor am I quiet, and I am not at rest, but turmoil comes” (3.26).
Affliction conspires against our heart and we reach for the Job card tucked in our sleeve. Anxiety leaks through the Sunday morning veneer and we reach for the potsherd. If not Job-like what then is our suffering? Sabeans from the left, Chaldeans from the right, fire from above and wind from below.
And why not? After all, James declared Job the gold standard of endurance:
We count those blessed who endured. You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord’s dealings, that the Lord is full of compassion and is merciful (Jas 5.11).
A glowing commendation indeed.
Such praise, however, did not insulate Job from being bothered by and doubtful of God’s dealings with him (cf. 1.22; 2.10). The Job who didn’t blame God (1.22) or sin with his lips (2.10) was the same Job not at ease or quiet about it all (3.26).
Job entered a forty-chapter heavyweight bout with his friends and even with God. And by 42.6, Job “repents in dust and ashes.” Somewhere between 2.10 and 42.6 Job learned he wasn’t a victim needing vindication. He was a sinner needing mercy.
James did not ultimately venerate Job but Job’s God. Job endured to see God as full of compassion and merciful. We do not persevere to see how strong we are, but to see how merciful and desirable God is.
That is the real commendation.
Christian endurance is not merely the ability to get through troubling seasons and on with life. NonChristians get through them and go on with their lives often with more stability. Not all endurance is de facto Christian or holy endurance. The endurance for which James commended Job wasn’t merely his “hanging in there.”
What then is Christian endurance? Christian endurance results in even greater conviction that God is still better than we imagined. Job thought so: “But it is still my consolation, and I rejoice in unsparing pain, that I have not denied the words of the Holy One” (6.10). Heaven and hell are separated by that word “still.” It’s what we still do after intense affliction that distinguishes the Christian from the nonChristian (cf. Lk 6.46-49).
As much tribute we offer Job, God is actually the predictable one. God is the one who acts according to plan—with grace, mercy, patience, kindness and blessing. God and Satan had their agendas. Both sought to break him down but for opposing reasons. Satan sought to strip Job from his faith. God stripped Job down to his faith. Even the “greatest of all the men of the east” (1.1) needed to taste again the dust from which he came.
The blameless, God-fearing Job of 1.1 was an uneasy, restless Job by 3.26. This was by God’s design to unearth a new wealth of blamelessness, righteousness and fear in Job. He would let Job run out his leash but not off it. The extent of Job’s calamities is not as impressive as the extent to which God goes to wrench faith and confession from His people.
Call it what (or who) you will but God will carefully and masterfully break us down. And mercifully. He will weaken us until we will receive his undiluted love. He will take us from talking about God to talking to him. And from there receiving from him. It took forty chapters to do so with Job. It’s taking 45-plus years for me and counting.
Job is about sympathy. But not our everyday run-of-the-mill Hallmark sympathy. It’s about real sympathy. God’s sympathy. The sympathy he eventually puts on display in Jesus (Heb 2.17; 4.15). Our merciful and compassionate God entered our world to do battle. Battle with a blood-thirsty Satan. In the end, he sacrifices for his sorry friends and forgives them. He became our dust and ashes (Job 30.19) enduring his Father’s rebuke for our sake.
Jesus cried out asking why his Father had forsaken him (Mk 15.34; cf. Ps 22.1). In his next (and final) breath he cried out, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Lk 23.46; cf. Ps 31.5). Jesus committed his spirit into the hands of the one who just forsook him. The Father was just that precious to him. Jesus knew what it meant to say “Though he slay me, yet I will hope in him” (Job 13.15).
Christian don’t hang in there for God. God hung there for us.
We aren’t so much like Job as much as Jesus becomes like us who “prayed for his friends” (42.8; cf. Lk 22.31f.; Rom 8.34; Heb 7.25). God accepted him so that he would not do with us according to our folly (42.8). In a preview of resurrection God “restored the fortunes of Job when he prayed for his friends” (42.10). Out of his potsherd-shaped scars (2.8) Job became the conduit of blessing to a new family (42.12-16). Blessed be the name of the Lord.
The fires of faith are kindled in the ashes of adversity, ashes piled up at the cross. May we repent in them and finally rest as “an old man and full of days” (42.17).