I am convinced that the unknown author of the Biblical book of Job simply got the name wrong; surely it’s the Book of Joe. The similarities are to striking to be coincidental, the lessons taught touching nerves that cause us to wince. Perhaps you can relate. Maybe you believe it should be the Book of Steve or the Book of Cathy because you know too well the pain of living from one calamity to another, waiting on answers that never come, believing for miracles that never come to fruition.
The recording of Job is one of the great mysteries of the faith and one that most of us if honest really struggle with. It’s tantamount to asking your dad “why” only to hear him respond, “because I said so”. We in our selfish nature want to attach to this story our understanding of justice and fairness. Our finite comprehension of God wants to ask the same questions Job’s friends did. We who read carefully want to inquire of God why it is the He pointed out Job to satan and why He removed His hand of protection from a man that the Bible describes as the most righteous man in all the earth at the time. Surely if Job was not spared what chance do we stand who would hardly be labeled as righteous? Why must rain fall on both the just and the unjust? Aren’t we supposed to be blessed as believers-to be highly favored and to prosper in all we do? Isn’t the Word of God unchanging and His promises unbreakable? Or is the hedge of protection around us only so high? Why must believers suffer great losses here on earth if we are attempting to walk upright before God? Age-old and still unanswered questions that have always been and will always be.
The story of Job is one that most of us have heard or read so many times that we feel we could tell it ourselves. It is always preached the same as if the sermon is simply a boilerplate template from Sermons Du Jour that any seminary grad student has access to. But there are aspects to this story when digging deeper that you never hear taught from the pulpit. One is simply an oversight, that of Job’s wife. Those who mention her do so with contempt as the devil’s advocate without considering her plight. For instance, the ten children Job lost, she bore, and a mother’s grief is unbearable. She shared in Job’s wealth so she too suffered in his losses. And when she had lost all her children and her financial stability she alone was left to take care of a husband who was sick and helpless. Yes she spoke out in anger at a low point in her life, and so have I-many times. But she remained and endured and is seldom credited for her faithfulness to her husband “in sickness and health, good times and bad”. Much more could be written in her defense.
But while reading the story again, as I often find myself doing during those times when I can relate, I saw something I missed the first hundred times I read the story, something obvious but not noticed before. When Job’s life is preached we usually hear the same outline, Job good, satan bad, Job loses everything, Job repents, God restores Job double for his losses. The implication is that faithfulness in God always pays off in the end and that everything lost will be restored many times over. It makes for a feel good Osteen-esque sermon, even though we still can’t get past the human response to question God’s purpose in picking on such a godly man. But this is what I missed and what I want to share in case you missed it as well. Job did not emerge from this fierce Heavenly tug of war without serious permanent scars and painful reminders of his season of loss and torment. First there is the consideration of his physical affliction. Scripture says that upon satan’s appeal God allowed him to attack Job’s body. It is recorded that Job was suffering from painful boils from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head. It also says that Job tried to escape the agony by scraping these boils. I would never interject what the Bible leaves out, but we do have knowledge of boils through modern medicine and from this we can deduce that these boils, just as they do now, left permanent scars, especially given the fact that Job scraped these, a definite no-no in any modern medical journal because doing so increases scarring. In reading of God’s restoration of Job in chapter 42, no mention is made of Job’s physical healing. We can assume in time his health was restored but the Bible is silent so we can only apply what we know of these boils now-painful with permanent scarring. If so, every time Job looked in a mirror he would have been reminded of his epic battle with satan. And if like me many of the same feelings and questions would have surfaced and Job would have to remind himself each and every time of God’s faithfulness.
While Job’s physical state is left somewhat to speculation, there is something else I noticed that is right there as plain as day-something else that would have served as a painful memorial to Job’s battle. Scripture records that everything Job lost was restored two fold, and that he was even blessed with ten more children, the daughters being described as beautiful beyond belief. But Job is recorded as living another one hundred and forty years after his season of testing. Here is what I missed.
Everyday for one hundred and forty years Job had to walk past the graves of his first ten children.
We are given a glimpse as to how dearly Job loved his kids. We know they were adults so Job was a part of their lives for many years and they were a big part of his. We know Job considered their welfare so much that he offered up sacrifices for their sins so God would have mercy upon them in case they stepped out of line with Him. As we read how the story unfolds each messenger comes and relays to Job how his oxen and donkeys were stolen and his servants killed, how his sheep were wiped out by a fire from heaven, how his camels were stolen and those servants also killed, all with no response from Job. It is only after the last messenger tells Job that his children all perished when their house caved in on them that we read Job became distraught, tore his robe, shaved his head and fell to the ground in grief. It is apparent that Job’s greatest and most unbearable loss was the death of his sons and daughters.
Decorating the graves of our loved ones is a tradition. Even knowing our loved one is with the Lord we are compelled to visit the place where we laid the shell to rest and to remember the life and reflect on the earthly absence in somber remembrance. Most likely Job’s children were all buried on his property with stone markers that would be evident from a long distance and I would imagine Job would have been compelled to visit, decorate and remember, just as we do today. Yes Job was restored and his faithful wife was blessed to give birth to ten more children (blessed? that would make 20 natural births). But those who have lost children or spouses are painfully aware that no number of children or any blessing of a new mate will ever erase the memory of those you loved and lost. Through photos, memories and grave stones they exist forever.
Job’s earthly restoration was miraculous and generous, but not complete. He was left with scars, battle wounds and constant reminders of his testing and lived with them for another one hundred and forty years. To be honest I have never liked the story of Job, primarily because I have a hard time getting past my selfish arrogance in questioning God’s fairness and purpose with my finite comprehension. I don’t like or relish the thought of being the battleground God uses to prove a point to satan. I want to grow in the knowledge of Christ but without the pain that accompanies the testing and refining process. I don’t want my friends looking upon me with pity. I want to be the one who raises other’s spirits, the life of the party, the happy-go-lucky person with the Teflon persona that nothing sticks to. My desire is to be that person who is blessed on earth by a wealthy God who spoils me with goodness that the preacher describes in his false teaching of prosperity by works. But that is not my life and it’s probably not yours either.
Scripture is clear that we will each be rewarded in a heavenly kingdom. We are told to lay up for ourselves treasure in Heaven. We are told that our good deeds are credited to a heavenly account. All indications are that we must live life and endure trials, hardships and losses here on earth without any guarantee of a Job like restoration. We will go through periods, seasons and for some lifetimes of silence from a God we have to trust in the darkest of times and the fiercest of storms. We sometimes have to navigate life when we can’t see our hand in front of our face and can only take one step forward at a time when the winds are blowing directly against us. We have to pray when there are no words, study when there is little desire and believe when all indicators suggest not to. If there was a magic potion or spell to make this process we all face easier, I’d own the world. God knows our doubts, sees our struggles with faith, hears our non-verbal prayers and feels our distress. I wish I couldn’t write these words from personal trials and seasons of my own doubt, but I can and I do. When tears no longer come, when the pain is so intense it causes numbness, when all hope and light seems to have vanquished from your world, God remains.
Just one more observation from this story, one which supports the notion of a heavenly reward and eternal afterlife. Job received back double for all his losses, except his children. He lost ten but was only blessed with ten, not twenty. Did God oops? No. Job realized that portion of his restoration when he was reunited with them in paradise. God didn’t forget or short change Job, and He won’t forget us even when we are tempted to give in to our own disbelief. We have no other recourse. It has to be so.