I just finished reading the book of Job for the umpteenth time. It made me think hard, it even hurt. I read it in the Message translation and it didn’t loose a bit of meaning or poetry. Then, I discovered some YouTube videos by a couple of pastors in Portland OR who are trying to make the Bible a more interesting, accessible, readable book. They’re called,
The Bible Project
I’m in love with them
If you’ve been a Christian for awhile you’ve heard about Job. “The Trials of Job” is a common phrase among believers. Job is a story that seems contradictory, largely because God himself instigates Job’s woes! He singles Job out while Satan is walking through heaven looking to make mischief. God points out that Job is,
“honest, true to his word, totally devoted to God and hating evil”Job 1:8 (MSG)
Which brings me to my first takeaway, never doubt that God is aware of you. He always knows what you’re up to, nothing is hidden from him. In High School, when kids do really dumb things, my mother’s advice was…
“Don’t do anything you wouldn’t want Jesus to see”
This was how Stalker Jesus appeared in my psyche–lingering there till my 40’s. The fear of knowing that Jesus might see anything wrong or bad that I did, then shame me for it, was always present. Admittedly, it kept me from doing dumber things than I could have so…there’s that. When I saw that God knew what Job was up to all the time I was reminded (yet hate to admit) that,
My mother wasn’t entirely wrong
My second takeaway, though not new, was that Job needed better friends. Through the years I’ve had to unlearn so many ways of being a friend. I’ve been a Job’s friend to so many people through the decades, it embarrasses me to think about it. What is so confounding is that his friends say things that sound reasonable, for example…
“Does God mess up? Does God almighty ever get things backward? It’s plain that your children sinned against him-otherwise, why would God have punished them? … Get down on your knees before God almighty…He’ll set everything right again, reestablish your fortunes…You’ll end up better than ever.”Job 8:1-7 (partial) MSG
The thing that none of them knew, was that God and Satan had this behind the scenes showdown going on with Job as the centerpiece. They were sitting in the cheap seats at this event. Job was convinced he didn’t deserve any of these catastrophes. His friends were determined to convince him that God is just. That he’d never visit so much grief on Job if he didn’t have it coming. Ouch!
Which brings me to my most prominent takeaway. So many times in my life I’ve felt like I did all the right things according to the Christian Life Playbook, and so many times they’ve fallen apart. I continually come back to Job’s question,
I could spend hours, days, even years going over my decisions and actions, trying to find the snag in my process. The place where I got it wrong or missed a cue. Cuz surely these things in life wouldn’t happen if only I’d been more attentive, obedient, wise, holy, pure, smart, devoted____(enter word of choice).
I talk to parents who did everything right. Went to church, taught their children Scripture, created an innocent and pure home environment, guarded their friendships, sang with and to them, saw them baptized in childhood, watched them become youth leaders, sent them on missions trips and today, their kids are far from the faith.
I know people who met and married in church, devoted Christians, followed good counsel, kept themselves for their wedding night, had supportive and inclusive families…but are divorced.
People who tithe faithfully and give generously but can’t find or keep a job
Healthy, active people that find themselves with cancer
Parents who lose children in accidents that are not their fault
I know, I know, these examples are simplistic maybe even incomplete. But they evoke feelings and draw conclusions that say, “I must have done something to cause this crisis”. It is our natural, human response. Because, well …
We think we’re God
We assume we are in control over everything that comes our way in life. It’s all up to us. It’s our responsibility to make our lives turn out well. We have the final say. Our choices determine our life. We can change any narrative if only we choose to…
It’s utter nonsense. But it permeates our schools, counselors offices, even our churches today. We inhale it blindly. In reality, our security and our peace lay in realizing that we’re NOT in control,
And he can and will, do anything he pleases with our lives in order to transform us into the image of his son. His plans for us are eternal. This life is merely the staging ground, the starting point. We have an eternity to reap the blessings of his love, mercy, grace, forgiveness and generous bounty. And while I don’t recommend doing irresponsible things or making unwise choices,
life doesn’t always go as imagined or planned
Any time I’ve learned about a person’s undeserved suffering, my companion thought is that God must know, by allowing this suffering, he won’t lose them. They won’t shake their fist at him or walk away from him but will eventually come to the same realization that Job did,
“Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him…”Job 13:15 KJV (old school, cuz I memorized it)
Ultimately God answers Job though never his “why” question. And Job, humbled and repentant offers God his full and complete surrender,
“I’m convinced: You can do anything and everything. Nothing and no one can upset your plans. I babbled on about things far beyond me…I once lived by rumors of you; now I have it all first hand–from my own eyes and ears…”Job 42:1-16 MSG (partial)
That phrase about rumors is thought provoking. I got the impression that intimate, first hand knowledge of God often comes through our struggles, especially the catastrophes. I’m always on the hunt for a workaround! I don’t want to struggle to know God intimately. But by reading Job, I’m realizing that my struggles are a gift that allows me to know God in ways I otherwise would not. I can honestly look backward in time and be grateful that God allowed them.
I’ll share a quote from one of my favorite children’s books, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. It describes the lion Aslan, a sort of picture of Jesus/God. I was reminded of it while reading Job this time around,
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
There are times when the things that God allows aren’t safe to our natural minds. But He is good and He is the King. And he is always trustworthy,
Even when it feels like he isn’t