A couple weeks ago I was having a conversation with another pastor and the book of Job came up. This friend said something that has stuck with me ever since. He said, “You know, the end of Job isn’t very satisfying for us. God says essentially, “I am God; you aren’t.”
But then my friend said something I’ll never forget. He said, “What Job got was God’s presence. And that was enough. He didn’t need anything else.”
Somehow we had gotten on the topic of suffering and trials and how they can, if not addressed with solid theology and pastoral care, lead to a loss of faith. This pastor mentioned that he was once talking with an evangelist in India, and the evangelist said something along the lines of, “these baby Christians are all one trial away from losing their faith.” It was a bit of a shock to me. I had always assumed that the assumption of divine favor was a Western phenomenon. (The assumption of divine favor goes something like: “If I follow Jesus nothing bad will happen to me.”) But this story from India confirmed that this was more a part of the human condition than any one culture.
It also seems to me to be one of the most powerful “darts” the enemy can throw at us. In the loneliness of our pain, we assume that if God loved us, he would keep us from experiencing suffering. The story of Job provides a stark contrast to that belief. Job is completely faithful, upright…and still he suffers. And, if we are honest with ourselves, he never really gets an answer from God as to why he suffered.
It seems to me one of God’s aims in the book of Job is to uproot this insidious belief, that the righteous will always be shielded from suffering.
At the end of the book, Job get’s God’s presence. Which of course, is enough. When you sit in the very presence of God, sometimes answers become superfluous. When we suffer, when we encounter trials of many kinds, let us cling to the hope of God’s presence, even in the darkest places of our souls.
The poet Mary Oliver once said, “Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this, too, was a gift.”
God doesn’t “give” us darkness, but he is able to turn that darkness into light through his presence if we allow him. He may not give us an answer to the “why” of pain, but he does give us His presence…and often what comes on the other side is a wisdom, a humility, and a character to face life we could never have experienced before.
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