What Not to say to Job

So we've been reading Job (in the Bible) together as a family.  It's a challenging book - full of questions and musings... And the discussions have been interesting.

It's so easy to see suffering, question it, and we SO BADLY want an answer.  We want to know why, what for, purpose, goals and such.  We want to engineer life so we can avoid suffering.  If we knew the theological neat and tidy little package as to all the why's of life, we could just dot every little i we're missing and go on our merry way knowing that God will surely cater to our sloppy theology and give us what we want so that we can praise ourselves knowing we did better than the next guy whose suffering we can't comprehend.

Okay, maybe we're not ALL like that, just some of us.

And the book of Job, and the description of his suffering is so our there... far from our reach, far from our understanding.  It blows us away with how bad his life was and how few answers there were for his pain.

In our discussions there was mention of 'there is always a purpose in our suffering,' and 'God always wants to teach us something'.  And I wanted to vomit.  Not figuratively.

And I just imagined having a grieving Job sitting in my living room, in pain beyond imagining, having lost 10 children to tragic death and commiserating with him and then leaning over to gently whisper, 'You can do this, Job!  God has a purpose in this!!  Surely He is teaching you something through this and drawing you closer to Him in it!'  Wouldn't he be encouraged?!

In case I'm ever suffering and you're tempted to encourage me with such things, be forewarned, I might deck you.  With the nearest weapon I can find.

Because that would not encourage me.

Pain is pain.  It is real and no amount of 'purpose and learning' can alleviate it.  Pain drives us to God, yes.  I don't deny that that is a wonderful thing.

But please don't present a theology that is neatly packaged and has God all figured out and explains His ways with sure knowledge and insight.  Because the book of Job doesn't really support that.  It is like a play being played out for the reader - and we know the part at the beginning where the angels come and parade before God and God says, 'I got my man Job who lives so well and loves me and does what's right.'  And Satan says, 'Well, I don't think he's so great - You're just so nice to him, that's all.  You'd see a different Job if You let me mess with him a while.'  Bets are on.

And God wins, Job suffers and Satan loses.

So we watch the play with rapt attention.  We balk at the lousy companions who try to figure it all out.  We want to yell at them through the ink on the pages, "Quit it!  Shut up!  You guys are SO wrong!  You don't have a clue what's going on up in heaven!"  But they can't hear us, and we'd just like to yell it louder.

And the theme isn't so much about Job and all he has to learn through his suffering.

It's really not about Job - at all.  And that's the point that has us all befuddled.  We live at the centers of our own universe.  We'd like to think God exists in perfectly predictable order - I do good, He protects my kids.  I do bad, tragedy strikes.

How nice and simple life would be if it could all be dressed up in neat and tidy little packages.

But life isn't that way.  And the center of it all is God, not us.

We miss the point when we make ourselves the center of all that happens.

And if we put ourselves at the center and make the point of everything that we need to strive to learn the good lessons God has for us - our striving to learn will become a work that is futile and empty.  We will be proud of ourselves when we learn the good lessons.  We will criticize others who fail to learn them as well as we have.  And we will pat ourselves on the back and rob God of the rightful sovereign place of glory that is truly His.

When we make it about us, we miss the point.

So please, don't tell Job that he just needs to learn what God has for him.

Don't tell him he must have sinned and God is punishing him.

Don't tell him he just needs to be patient in the suffering because God has some grand purpose in it.

Just be silent.  Weep with those who weep.  Carry the burden with him.  Don't pretend to have it all figured out for him.  Keep a two-by-four handy to bat away the nay-sayers or those who would come with theologically-poor reasoning.  Because Job could have used a friend who could wield a hefty two-by-four, I imagine.  Someone to ward off the self-righteous, judgemental, know-it-alls.

I would have been that person for Job - I hope.  If I'd have been there I would have kept the nasty friends at bay and simply prayed for him - because prayer may have been all I could do.  That and some pain-relieving salve for his wounds.

Thanks readers, for letting me get this off my chest.  I can go to bed now.


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