“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”—Galatians 5:1
“The true worth of a man is to be measured by the objects he pursues.” —Marcus Aurelius
Several years ago I wrote a study of the Book of Job, and recently I have revisited the study and wanted to share some things I learned from it.
I do not know who said it first, but it is so true that when people give testimony to their life, the version they tell differs depending on the audience. There is the version told to a Christian audience. Then there is the version told to non-Christians. Finally, there is the truth.
Well, the story of Job tells things from the third point of view—the truth. When we examine his life, it is impossible to pervert the truth into pious pabulum. My personal opinion is that the story of Job does this better than any other book in the Bible, other than perhaps Ecclesiastes.
I began this study in 1984 when my wife was pregnant for our twin sons. We had taken a vacation and were staying in a Condominium on Mackinac Island. The weather was chilly and rainy, so we spent the majority of our time inside the Condo. I had read the book of Job many times before and I could not explain why the Lord had so deeply moved me to re-examine this book of suffering during that time. Although, over the years I began to see this story lived out in my own life, and after many years of working, editing, expanding and clarifying my writing, I still find new lessons.
To be honest, I have a hard time believing that I have been working on this project for all these years, but in retrospect, it is very clear where my needs were. Maybe I am exaggerating, but the past several years have it has seemed as though all of hell was working against me. There have been times of dryness and frustration; times of failure and dissatisfaction; times of emotional and spiritual turmoil.
Oh, I realize that I have not suffered in any way like what Job suffered. Although, I have often been brought to my knees, defeated, and begging for the Lord to help me understand what was happening in my life. During this time, I would pray, but somehow my prayers did not work. I confessed the right things, read all the books and listened to all the tapes. Nothing at all worked. That is until my frustrations began to loosen a little. I have never suffered depression, which I know is prevalent in many lives, and I do feel for those suffering this way, but everything I was experiencing did not “fit” what I was taught by all my “Faith-Teachers.”
How was I supposed to fight this? I quoted all the Scriptures, but nothing changed. The reality is that I could not do anything to stop my frustration. I was helpless; impotent, confused. I later discovered that most believers resist this aspect of their life of faith. Maybe that is a small taste of what, for some, will be the final and most terrifying impotence of all, which is death.
My dad had reached that point. He came to a point where he realized there was nothing more that could be done for his cancer. The only final solution would be death. Which led me to asking are we suppose to face that reality?
Christians simply do not like to think about being helpless in the hands of our God. Oh, we love to quote all of the “positive” verses with conviction, but with all of our faith and with all of His grace, we still prefer to maintain some semblance of control to our lives. When difficulties arise, we like to think there are certain steps we can take, attitudes we can adopt, or positive confessions we can make to alleviate our anguish and be happy again. Sometimes there are. However, anyone who has truly suffered will know that when it comes to the real thing, there is no help to ease the pain, at least no human help. Simply put, when we reach the “pits,” we are not going to be able to think our way out; nor hope, sing, pray, confess, nor even love our way out. Only the Lord Himself can do that, and when he does, as Exodus 6:6 puts it, “Then you will know that I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from under the yoke.”
That is an interesting verse . . . how will we know? We will know because nothing and no one else was able to do it. Frankly, when we are living in this kind of crucible, we will finally be able to understand what it means to be saved, what it means to be, as the Psalmist points out, “snatched away” from the brink of destruction. This, as Mason points out in his book, is where we get down to the bedrock of the gospel.
Over the years, as I read and re-read this story of Job, I discovered growing within me a brand-new dignity to being an ordinary human being and to all that entails. I was finally free to doubt, to ask question of my Lord, to be overwhelmed, to fail, to fear, to be angry, to have passions—in short, to be completely who I am! I think this describes the kind of man Job was. What I discovered (and I hope you will learn through this study) is that it is all right to be a human being. I found out that mercy is the permission to be human.
There is no way to simplify this story. There are no easy answers to suffering—there is no such thing as getting a grip on ourselves or pulling ourselves up by the bootstraps. As Believers, our only bootstrap is the cross. Sometimes, when we lay hold of the cross, it can be comforting; but in all honesty, sometimes it is like picking up a snake. Even Jesus demonstrated this when He cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Let me confess something to you. Over the years I have gotten angry with God; I have screamed at Him; I have even shook my fists in the air. I have gotten far angrier with God than I have ever been, even my children, Look, Oh, I am not trying to defend my behavior. Frankly, even when I remember my fits of anger I am once again drawn to repentance.
Although, in the course of all this struggling, I did learn that these kinds of feelings are quite compatible with faith. Faith always involves our deepest passions engaged by the reality of Yehoveh. The person of faith is someone who, like Job, discovers how big their God really is.
The story of Job displays the best and the worst in each of us. In effect, the book says, “This is what faith is like.” So as you read this study, do not be surprised if you find yourself confused and doubting. It does not mean you have lost favor with your Lord. No. On the contrary, if you are willing to continue to seek understanding, you will discover a deeper wonder of your Father.
To drive this message home, the book of Job does more than just address itself to the problems of suffering faith. It also addresses the problem of complacent faith, and you see this in the form of Job’s three friends—Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. I confess that when I read about those three “friends,” I really struggled with them because their part of the story struck too close to home. I can say that because as I began studying Job’s friends. I realized that they are just as complex and puzzling as Job himself. The more I thought about them, the more frustrated I grew. Why, you ask? Because I discovered that my feelings had less to do with them, than they did with me! What I mean is that I began this study thinking that I identified with Job, I ended up realizing that I identified just as much with Job’s friends in their loveless pharisaism. What the Lord showed me is often, I am just like them! No, I did not like hearing that, but here is no doubt that the Word of God is a double-edged sword! While Job is primarily a tale of one man’s suffering, there is also an implied sequel to the story. What I am referring to is the peculiar suffering of Job’s three friends as they come face-to-face with the treachery of their feelings of authority and expertise.
Mike Mason tells of a time when he was going through a time of particular spiritual oppression, when he could not shake the sense that God was disappointed in him. His wife, very wisely, gave him a Valentine card. The card read “You are okay with me, Valentine,” and she wrote on it, “To Mike/Love God.” It is funny how a person can be a Christian, yet not really know the gospel; that Christ can live inside us without our really enjoying Him. Even the most steadfast faith can be faced with times when its reality is put to the test. That is what we are going to study.
If you are interested, you can download the whole study of Job.
Other Bible Studies and Commentary are available at Doulos Studies.