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Around the globe
People talk of
Patience of Job,
But he was not
October 5, 2003
I now invite you to turn in your Bibles to the book of Job, chapter 2, and follow along as I read verses 1-10. Hear what the Spirit says to us.
1 One day the heavenly beings came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them to present himself before the LORD.
2 The LORD said to Satan, "Where have you come from?" Satan answered the LORD, "From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it."
3 The LORD said to Satan, "Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil. He still persists in his integrity, although you incited me against him, to destroy him for no reason."
4 Then Satan answered the LORD, "Skin for skin! All that people have they will give to save their lives.
5 But stretch out your hand now and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face."
6 The LORD said to Satan, "Very well, he is in your power; only spare his life."
7 So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD, and inflicted loathsome sores on Job from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head.
8 Job took a potsherd with which to scrape himself, and sat among the ashes.
9 Then his wife said to him, "Do you still persist in your integrity? Curse God, and die."
10 But he said to her, "You speak as any foolish woman would speak. Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?" In all this, Job did not sin with his lips.
Amen. The word of God. Thanks be to God.
Have you ever heard the cliché “giving someone the cold shoulder”? Today it means snubbing him or her in public, but it once meant more than that. During the Middle Ages, if your guests had overstayed their welcome, you served them a big shoulder of cold beef rather than a nice hot roast. With any luck, they would get the message, and leave. The English language has other curious idioms. How about “stewing in your own juices”? Today it means to suffer the consequences of your own actions, but in the 13th century, the phrase was a euphemism for being burned at the stake. Perhaps this is something that you do not want to think about too much, but if you were burned at the stake then you would literally simmer in your own bodily fluids. [See “Delicious phrases: Curious origins of our tasty language,” from Mental Floss, reprinted in Utne, March-April 2003, 87-88.]
All this is prelude to the cliché before us today, which is, “the patience of Job.”
Around the globe
People talk of
Patience of Job,
But he was not
Job is described in 1:1 as “a man in the land of Uz,” who “was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.” Despite his moral and spiritual perfection—or, perhaps, because of it—Job loses his property, his children, and his health, and is challenged to retain his integrity and remain faithful to God, but he is not challenged to be patient.
Many adjectives can be used to describe Job—blameless, upright, steadfast, but he certainly was not patient. In 10:1, he cries out, “I loathe my life; I will give free utterance to my complaint; I will speak in the bitterness of my soul.” In 23:16-17, he moans, “God has made my heart faint; the Almighty has terrified me; If only I could vanish in darkness, and thick darkness would cover my face!”
The book of Job offers us some important lessons, but patience is not one of them. The book of Job does not offer us clichés; it offers us insights for living in a world that is sometimes not a pleasant place to live.
The Nature of Suffering
The first lesson from Job is on the nature of suffering. Not all human suffering is deserved. This is a human reaction that we need to guard against. When we see someone suffering, when their life is a disaster, we tend to ask: What did they do wrong? What did they do to deserve this? It is possible that they did nothing at all. Suffering is not necessarily a punishment for a life of fornication, impurity, passion, and greed.
Job is describes in 1:8 as “a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil,” yet he loses his property to desert raiders, and his sons and daughters die in a natural disaster (1:13-19). As if this is not painful enough, he comes down with loathsome sores that cover him from head to foot (2:7). Job is an absolute mess, leaving onlookers to wonder, “What did he do to deserve this?” The answer is, “Nothing.” Job is innocent. This intense suffering descends on Job through no fault of his own. In the New Testament, Jesus knew this, and observed that God “sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous”—which is a symbolic way of saying that everyone suffers, both the good and the bad; therefore, we should never be quick to conclude that anyone deserves the suffering they experience.
Gerald Sittser was a history professor with a wonderful family, but one day, his wife, his 4-year-old daughter and his mother were all killed in a car accident caused by a drunk driver. Sittser’s life had been going well, but then, in one horrible moment, he lost the three most precious people in his life. His suffering was compounded eight months later, when the driver of the other car was acquitted of vehicular manslaughter. The defense attorney cast enough suspicion on the testimony of several witnesses that he was able to get his client off the hook.
Sittser was enraged. But then he began to be bothered by his assumption that he had a right to complete fairness in life. “Granted, I did not deserve to lose three members of my family,” he writes in his book A Grace Disguised (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996). “But then again, I am not sure I deserved to have them in the first place.” His wife was a woman who loved him through some very hard times. His mother lived well and served people to her life’s end. His daughter sparkled with enthusiasm and helped to fill his home with noise and excitement. “Perhaps I did not deserve their deaths,” he concludes; “but I did not deserve their presence in my life either.”
We should never be quick to conclude that people deserve the suffering they experience, but at the same time, we should never jump to the conclusion that people deserve their blessings, either. Job makes much the same point when he asks the question, “Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?” (2:10).
Keep the Faith
The second message of Job is that faithfulness to God is crucial no matter what. In bad times or in good times, the important thing is to keep the faith. Gerald Sittser did not turn his back on God after his family was killed by a drunk driver, nor did Job abandon the Lord in his time of overwhelming loss. It is essential that we not give God the cold shoulder when we encounter a period of undeserved suffering.
Can we scream and yell at God? Sure. Job did. “I will not restrain my mouth,” shouts Job. “I will complain in the bitterness of my soul” (7:11). Nothing is wrong with offering up a passionate and honest complaint, as long as we direct our complaining to God. Job grabs hold of the Lord like a dog with a bone, and he will not let go until God responds to him. What saves Job is that he remains faithful to God, always demanding that God hear him, always demanding that God take him seriously and respond to his concerns.
In the end, as Carl Jung puts it, Job saw the shadow of God. He hears a word from God and is satisfied. “I know that you can do all things,” Job admits, “and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted” (42:2). He finds a sense of peace in his relationship with God, not in a list of neat and tidy responses to all his unanswered questions.
Today we have the same questions and complaints as impatient Job. Why is this happening to me? Why am I suffering? Why do bad things happen to good people? Those questions are never answered because they are the wrong questions. In the end, what is important is not answered questions but a relationship with God. Like Job, our challenge is to accept both the bad and the good, and to remain in close contact with God through every twist and turn of life, never turning from God, because the only thing that matters is our relationship with God
Henri Nouwen was a Christian leader who died unexpectedly in 1996 at age 64. In Christianity Today (September 9, 2002), Philip Yancey writes about a conversation Henri’s brother, Paul Nouwen. “I realized that, compared to Henri, I have nothing,” Paul said. He added that as he sat at Henri’s funeral, the difference between himself and Henri became clear. Paul said, “Henri had God. That made all the difference.” With a humble spirit, Paul Nouwen then proceeded to tell of the changes he was making in his life to restore a relationship with the God whom his brother knew so well. Henri Nouwen had lived as a missionary in North and South America. After his death, he was a missionary to his own brother.
Here is the point to all of this. Here is what we need to take home with us today. Paul Nouwen said, “Henri had God. That made all the difference.” Job would have said the same thing. In all his suffering, in all his trials, he still had God. He still had his faith. When we suffer, when things are not going well for us, we still have God, and ultimately as long as we have God nothing else matters. Amen.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
Copyright 2003 York Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
Last modified 01/28/04