About the Book of Job, Rabbi Abraham Heschel observed: “God is not nice. God is not an uncle. God is an earthquake.” So begins Chapter 14 of Tim Keller’s book, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering.
In this final section Keller suggests how we can actually get through suffering–weeping, trusting and now, with Job’s help.
THE UNIQUENESS OF JOB
Why do so many people suffer affliction when “bad” people live in comfort? The Book of Job examines the problem through this good man’s agony.
The traditional answer to “Why suffering?” is: the sufferer must have done something wrong. The secular answer: No good reason. God doesn’t exist or, if he does, he’s cruel. Job’s response: both answers are wrong. Keller says, “Job’s difficulties came upon him not despite his goodness but because of it” (p. 271).
MY SERVANT JOB
In his book, Job is introduced as “blameless and upright” (Job 1:1). Suddenly he loses everything–wealth, family, health. Why? Readers are shown what Job isn’t. Satan approaches God, who calls Job his most faithful servant. Satan replies, “God worships you only for the benefits. Take them away and he’ll curse you.” “Do it,” God answers.
BECOMING FREE LOVERS OF GOD
Why does God allow Satan to test Job? Keller answers that, though Job truly loved God, his love had to be refined “in a way that would do enormous good down through the ages” (p. 273). That raises the question, “What would it take for us to love God for himself, not for the benefits received?” Answer: suffering, hardship, affliction.
GOD AND EVIL
We mustn’t miss the philosophy here. Job doesn’t give us a worldview where good and evil are equal competing forces. Rather, God has complete control over evil personified in Satan. God allows evil, to be sure. Be he doesn’t delight in it. After Job loses his wealth and family, he loses his health. That suffering moves him to blame God (3:23). Though he doesn’t “curse God and die”, he feels like God has treated him unjustly.
THE SPEECHES OF JOB AND HIS FRIENDS
Three long speeches comprise the book’s middle. Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar wound Job with their “comfort”. Eliphaz: Think back now. Name a single case where someone righteous met with disaster. I have seen people plow fields of evil and plant wickedness like seed; now they harvest wickedness and evil. Like a storm, God destroys them in his anger (Job 4:7-9).
Eliphaz’s words carry much truth. Moral order does rule the universe. Painful consequences do follow bad behavior. We shouldn’t assume we’re always in the right. But, as Old Testament commentator Francis I. Anderson writes, “True words can be thin medicine for a man in the depths” (p. 277).
Eliphaz observes, “Hardship does not spring from the soil, nor does trouble sprout from the ground” (Job 5:6). True. But, as Keller observes, Eliphaz “shows an ignorance of the teaching of Genesis 3:16 (“And [God] said to the woman, ‘I will increase your trouble in pregnancy and your pain in giving birth. In spite of this, you will still have desire for your husband, yet you will be subject to him'”) which implies “the world is broken by sin, and bad things do happen to people regardless of how well they live” (p. 277).
Job is not being punished or corrected. Francis Anderson writes that the purpose of Job’s suffering is “enlarged life with God” (p. 279).
THE LORD APPEARS AND JOB LIVES
When God appears he thunders:
“Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge?
Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me.
Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundations?
Tell me, if you understand.
Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
Who stretched a measuring line across it?
On what were its footings set; or who laid its cornerstone–
while the morning stars sang together and the angels shouted for joy?”
Despite his thunder, God has come with grace. God is reaching out to a relationship with Job. God comes “in a storm”, an overwhelming force, but at the same time in grace as a personal God. How can God be both? “Only in Jesus Christ do we see how the untamable, infinite God can become a baby and a loving Savior . . . The gospel, then, explains how God can be both the God of love and of fury that Job meets on the dark and stormy day” (Keller, p. 282).
THE LORD DOES NOT ANSWER–AND YET DOES
“Answering” Job, God doesn’t really answer. He doesn’t explain Satan’s role and his own purpose in the “contest”. Instead he discourses about the wonderful natural world. Again, Francis Anderson comments: “God thrusts Job into an experience of dereliction to make it possible for Job to enter into a life of naked faith, to learn to love God for himself alone. God does not seem to give this privilege to many people, for they pay a terrible price of suffering for their discoveries” (p. 283).
Keller comments: “We do not find our hearts fully satisfied with God unless other things are also going well, and therefore we are without sufficient roots, blown and beaten by the winds of changing circumstances. But to grow into a true ‘free lover’ of God, who has the depth of joy unknown to the mercenary, conditional religious observer–we must ordinarily go through a stripping. We must feel that to obey God will bring us no benefits at all. It is at that point that seeking, praying to, and obeying God begin to change us.” (p. 283).
So, never being told the “why” of his sufferings, never being shown “the big picture”, Job comes to love God simply because he is God. Satan want to discredit Job; “God allows evil just enough space so it will defeat itself” (p. 284).
THE LORD IS GOD–AND YOU ARE NOT
God gives his wonders-of-the-natural-world discourses at the end of Job to remind humans we have only an infinitesimal knowledge of God. We are not God. “Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him (Job 40:2)? Job can’t run the universe better than God. Only God is God.
Anderson says: “There is a rebuke in [Job} for any person who, by complaining about any particular events in his life, implies that he could propose to God better ways of running the universe . . . ” (p. 286).
JOB IS IN THE RIGHT–AND YOU ARE IN WRONG
Job’s friends expected God to condemn him as a sinner. Instead, God vindicated him. Why?
God is gracious and forgiving. Through all his complaints and yelling, Job never stopped praying, never turned away from God. Instead, he allowed his suffering to draw him near God. Because he persistently sought God, Job triumphed.
Thus, writes Keller, the lesson for us. Even if we don’t feel him, God is there. God is near “to the brokenhearted” (Psalm 34:18). “I will never leave you; I will never forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). Keller urges, “Read, pray, study, fellowship, witness, serve, obey” (p. 288). Psalm 42 is one of the most helpful texts. Read especially Psalm 42. “Then end on this great note: defy yourself, and defy other people, and defy the devil, and defy the whole world, and say to yourself with the [psalmist}, ‘I shall yet praise him . . . for he is my God'” (Keller, p. 290).
MY SERVANT JOB–AGAIN
“I know, Lord, that you are all-powerful; that you can do everything you want. You ask how I dare question your wisdom when I am so very ignorant. I talked about things I did not understand, about marvels too great for me to know. You told me to listen while you spoke and to try to answer your questions. In the past I knew only what others had told me, but now I have seen you with my own eyes. So I am ashamed of all I have said and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:2-6).
All Job’s concepts of God have now come to grip his heart. Job repents. The word in Hebrew can also mean “retract”, which seems to better fit the context. Job “takes back” his self-justification, his demands, and bows to love and serve God alone.
THE OTHER INNOCENT SUFFERER
God never condemns Job. God’s silence is an assurance of his love. How can we have that assurance? We don’t need a voice out of the storm, Keller asserts. We need to remember how Jesus Christ bowed his head into the storm of God’s justice. Jesus is the greater Job who lost everything,–even God–for us.
” . . . when you suffer without relief, when you feel absolutely alone you can know that, because he bore your sin, he will be with you. You can know you are walking the same path Jesus walked, so you are not alone–and that path is only taking you to him” (Keller, p. 293).
I’m not sure I’d call God an earthquake; but I would say he’s untameable. Despite my desires and prayers I can’t keep him boxed in the box of my making. He’s got his own agenda into which I must fit, not him into mine.
For one thing, as I learn from Job, God wants me to love him, not for his benefits, but for himself. That’s rather selfish of him. (My first thought.) But then I think, No, it’s not selfish at all. Don’t we all want to be loved for ourselves, not what we can give?
What of the son who loves his father mainly for the car he buys him? Or the daughter who loves her father mainly for the wardrobe of clothes he provides. Intuitively we find that love at best lacking, at worst not true love at all. Such “love” hurts, not only the father, but the child. Both are left without the deep joy of real love.
So with us and God. He wants us to freely love him–not for what he gives but who he is. He deserves real love, because he’s God. And we need such love, because we can’t enjoy what we were created for without it.
I just loathe the suffering process it takes to get me there.