God does not hide from us the fact of misery which is a part of this life. He does not ask us to lie to Him and to say that our lives are perfectly easy. Throughout this book, as we consider the complaint of Job, we must remember that at the conclusion of this difficult ordeal, the Lord corrects those who were Job’s critics with these words: “You have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.” Because this is, at least on some level, the Lord’s assessment of Job, we should be looking for what is right in Job’s words before we rush to discover what might be wrong.
Man’s service on earth is hard. His days here are like those of an indentured servant. He counts them, waiting for the time when he will be free. Job was despised, rejected, distressed, and afflicted. Every moment was like a month of emptiness at best, or like a night of misery and sickness when someone looks for the dawn to come. Yet help did not come with the day, and the troubles of his waking hours were not solved when the sun went down. There was no escape for him on earth.
Job found it very difficult to have any sense of hope in the world where we live under the Lord’s heavens. It was hard even to imagine that there would be hope for him beyond the earth, though he would stretch forth his soul toward an eternal resurrection hope in a later speech. For now he simply acknowledges the problem of the human condition, not as a mere observer of the sufferings of others, but as a righteous servant of the Lord, participating in the most horrific afflictions.
At least for the moment it does not seem to him that his eye will ever again see good. This perspective is easy to correct from the sidelines, but Job is not on the sidelines; he is very much in the thick of the brutality of a life fully lived. Though the span of mortal life is truly a breath, there is a way to live it fully, and that way takes a man through suffering and loss.
Rejoicing in suffering is not today’s story for this great hero of the Scriptures. Our word for Job is not encouragement, but the silence of one who mourns with the man who mourns. He has a correct assessment of the futility of his existence. He speaks to the One who holds the key to all life, the great God of providence who does all things well, all that pleases Him. Job has a question for this God in His depression and anguish: “What are You doing to me? What kind of man am I that You feel like You need to treat me this way? Am I some dangerous sea monster who must be stopped? Is that it?” There is no answer to this kind of forthright inquiry. It is important that we not supply one.
Job has more to ask the Lord. Let him speak for now. Later he may despise his words, but that is between him and God. For now it is apparently the plan of the Almighty that we should hear his cry to God. He says, “Isn’t it enough that I have suffered these losses in my real life? Is it necessary that you scare me with dreams and terrify me with visions in the night?” Again, no answer.
Job has not changed his mind about life. He longs to be done with it. He does not ask for length of days today. He simply asks that the Lord leave him alone. No heroic measures to extend life are desired by this man. Only that God would look away from him so that his life could be over. Job feels the battle and he knows who it is who raises these weapons against him. He does not make a reviling accusation against any fallen angel who cannot be seen. He speaks to God.
“Yes, man sins,” he says, “but how have I hurt you so badly that you have made me your mark? Why do you seem to be fighting against me? Why am I not simply pardoned? I am ready to die.”
Centuries later, the perfectly righteous Servant of the Lord would come. He would live without sin, yet with an awareness of sin, since He was willing to be a sin offering for us so that we might be pardoned forever. He became God’s mark, a target for His wrath. He did this so that we would be released from bondage to our iniquity and to the divine judgment that we deserve. He is our answer, and He has become our freedom and our hope.
Because of His suffering in our place it has become possible for us, not only to have the expectation of a resurrection life in heaven and beyond, but even to rejoice in our sufferings. This does not preclude our honest assessment of the miseries of this life, and it does not prohibit our complaint to our benevolent Father in heaven concerning the intensity of His decrees touching our own bodies and souls. Yet because of the cross of Jesus Christ, and because of His resurrection, we do not ultimately grieve as those who are without hope, though it may take us some time in the midst of struggle to remember what we know and believe.
Until then the Lord hears the cries of His afflicted servants, and the One who sits at the right hand of the Father is able to sympathize with us in our suffering and to help us in our time of questioning. As we search for what we might say to the one who suffers, it might be best for us simply to agree with him in his despair. Have we been permitted to watch this confusing drama of difficulty as outside observers? Let us maintain quiet hearts of sympathy with a silent expectation that the Lord will surely rescue His suffering servants, so many of whom are more righteous than we are.
Prayer from A Book of Prayers
Our Father, our lives on this earth are portioned out for us by You. There is much that is unpleasant in even a normal stay of seventy years. In a day of unusual trouble and grief, normalcy seems far away from us. The trial is so deep for the man who is in anguish of soul. Father God, what are You doing? Where are You? We do not know. How can we stand this, O God? Even to see friends go through this kind of difficulty is so hard. What if we are the ones in the center of the storm? Lord, help us. The life of Your servant seems strangely empty. Remind us again of the cross. Grant us ears to hear the message of Your love.