No Blanket Explanations Here
First, a qualifier: the book of Job can’t be used as a blanket explanation for all sufferings at all times upon all people. You might want to look for the rationale behind tsunamis and famines in some other book–Revelation, perhaps, or the apocalyptic portions of Matthew. Remember that the focus of Job is upon a godly individual who passed through some incredible sufferings only to emerge on the other side a different man.
The Mystery Deepens
Job was blameless and upright, an oft-repeated observation recorded in scripture (Job 1:1, 8). This simple fact should remind us that the sufferings he endured were not for the sake of evil concealed in his heart. We’re way beyond dealing with some type of closet gambling addiction here. Job was righteous. Of course, this only heightens the mystery surrounding why God allowed him to pass through so much. We, like he, are dogged with questions of why such righteousness doesn’t rate greater protection.
Clues from the Apostle Paul
The Bible supplies us an important clue later on, when the Apostle Paul identifies the presence of more than one kind of righteousness. According to him, there was the authentic righteousness of God and then, like a mannequin standing nearby, the human variety, cultivated according to culture and religious accomplishment (which Paul detailed in his own pre-Christian experience in Philippians 3:4-8).
The Problem of “Cocoon”
When we read Job’s self-assessment in chapter 29, it sounds remarkably similar to Paul’s human righteousness laundry-listed in Philippians. Job claimed works of social justice, compassion, and various things that we (and God) would find hard to condemn. In fact, in case you forgot, God calls it all “blameless and upright.” Yet something is missing. In fact, it is the same thing that often goes missing in the life of typical Christians who have managed to “master” Christian behavior. Their testimonies are righteous, no doubt, but strangely insular. Christianity for some dear children of God is little more than a cultural cocoon of sorts, a lifestyle of service, works, and deeds without an experiential firsthand connection with God Himself. I’ve compared this to the dilemma in a marriage where the frustrated wife asks her clueless husband, “Do you love me?” “Sure I do, he shoots back. “I mow the grass every week. I bring chocolates every Valentine’s Day. What else do you want me to do? Give me a break, there’s only 7 days in a week! “
He doesn’t get it and neither do we. So we adopt extremes like deciding not to do anything anymore. ”Fine,” we say, “I’ll just sit at the feet of Jesus.” It’s a great idea for the moment and definitely appealing to the poetic soul, but one that eventually runs afoul of scripture. Like us, God has a love language of deeds, not just quiet contemplation. He delights in our works on behalf of His name. He doesn’t want to undo them, He just wants something more than them. This is an extremely difficult concept to get across to people who were born into Christian homes and raised on communion bread. If God says, “I want something more,” they immediately draw a blank. What more could there be? Missions? The food shelter? Junior High camp counselor? It is almost impossible to describe in mere words. The narrative of Job therefore goes to work demonstrating our utter inability to understand where we stand (or rather, where we’re stuck) and the dramatic push forward that we sometimes need.
Verses (English Standard Version)
Job 1:1 There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job, and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.
Job 1:8 And the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?”
Phl 3:4 though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. 7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ
9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith–