In life there are times that we use some pretty strong words (phrases) to convey a message. They can come from a place of anger or frustration, “I hate…” is commonly used and can conjure up hurt feelings or convey a dislike of particular foods like, “I hate peanut butter”. The contrasting phrase would be “I love”, which is also strong and holds some powerful and beautiful nuances (except when it comes to peanut butter of course).
I was feeling a little discouraged this past week as I read through the book of Job. I was looking for patterns of biblical community and how they might help me understand and better live in community with others. Forty-two chapters later I didn’t have much to go on. Then, as I re-read through different passages, I stumbled on chapter 16 and found a powerful example of what community is not. Job uses some strong words in response to his friend’s attempts to comfort him, “You miserable comforters, all of you… Will your long-winded speeches never end?” (Job 16:2&3) Earlier in chapter 13:4 he calls them “worthless physicians”. I believe that Job’s friends came with good intentions, they left from their homes to “go and sympathize with him and comfort him” (2:11). So what happened? Jobs friends seemed to only bring more pain to the situation, they thought they had all the answers. Rather than brining comfort, they openly criticized him, assuming they knew why he was suffering.
What lessons can we learn about living in community from this exchange? Comfort (love, encouragement, sympathy, support, reassurance) is the cornerstone of community. Job clearly explains that what he was getting from his friends was far from comfort. Living in community we must have the presence of mind to stop and listen, encourage, listen, pray, listen (I think you get the point). The function of community is to build each other up not tear each other down, to live in unity. Job’s story, his life, helps us to see that our faith must stay true to our heavenly father no matter the circumstances. Easy to say, hard to comprehend and seemingly impossible to live in hard times. True community with others and God is born out of love for one another.
Your sitting in a dark room with only a faint light above your head, there are no windows. It is cold and damp, you feel like you have been through a storm, you don’t know how you got there and can’t see a way out. Unexpectedly out of nowhere you hear a loud thundering voice call out to you “Brace yourself like and man; I will question you, and you shall answer me”. Your heart is pounding, the questioning begins. One question after another, questions you don’t have answers for, questions that force you to examine who your really are.
Job was in the hot seat. God questioned Job about things that surpassed his knowledge and understanding. Each question had a grand purpose, not just to put Job in his proper place but to reveal the ultimate glorious power of a sovereign God. Job may have felt like he was on trial and really I believe he was, God used these questions to draw out the ultimate truth in Job’s life, the truth that he was nothing without God, the truth that God was in full control of everything in heaven and on earth.
As I read through these questions it makes me feel small and insignificant in comparison to God. These questions help draw me into a place of worship. Reading, seeing and hearing of the magnificent wonders that God has created and controls in and above the earth leaves me in awe and wonder. Genesis records the account of how God created the world, an inspiring story on it’s own but here in Job 38-41 we are given details of the very nature of God’s hand in the mechanics of the world today. This moment in history, these questions should inspire us to worship God. Job replied to the Lord: “I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted” (42:2). God has a plan, a purpose for our lives. That plan might include suffering, trials, temptations or on the flip-side it could include joy, peace and happiness. Whatever the circumstance of life, we are called to worship God in all his glory, splendor, honor and majesty.
Leonardo da Vinci found inspiration from the study of nature. He was fascinated by the fluid motion of water as it moved over and around obstacles in its path. He observed the intricate patterns etched into the face of leaves and was intrigued with textures and colors. Today we can find inspiration in nature just as he did or we can be inspired by the words of a great speaker, a powerful song, or a beautiful piece of art. But can we find inspiration in something difficult, hard or even devastating? The tough, difficult things of life typically bring us down but sometimes we can find a spark of inspiration or hope through these times.
The story of Job is one of those life stories where someone might find inspiration. I find inspiration in his personal faith and trust in God. His story reveals the strength of a solid foundation in God, as well as revealing the weaknesses in the structure that is built upon it. Like us, Job was only human. His limited knowledge of who God is and how He works brings him to a place where he questions God’s motives and actions. I don’t think there is any doubt that Job wrestled with questions like these: Why pain and suffering? Why death? Where is God? What have I done to deserve this? Is God in really in control?
I can also find inspiration in Job’s discernment as he endured the well intentioned but misdirected arguments of his three friends. In a time where he could have easily followed the direction and counsel of his friends, he knew deep down in his own heart that they were wrong. Job was able to maintain his integrity before God and his friends as he faced his trials. Ultimately in the end Job humbly acknowledges his unworthiness, and gives honor to God’s sovereign power and control over his life.
Finding inspiration in something difficult may not be easy. God made us intelligent and emotional human beings, His plan for our lives calls us to come before him when we are angry, frustrated, scared, burdened, happy, joyful and confident. Like Job, God knows our limits and will walk with us without giving us more that we can handle.
Do you remember the show “Who wants to be a Millionaire”, the game show that has a contestant answer multiple choice questions that progressively get harder and harder? The person has “lifelines”, (phone a friend, 50:50 and Ask the Audience) an opportunity to ask for help when they are stumped on a question. When crisis hits, what is your lifeline? A lifeline can be a rope or line for life-saving or could be someone or something you depend on to provide a means of escape from a difficult situation. That something could be finances, technology or relationships, can these things help us in difficult situations?
I didn’t have to read to deep into the book of Job to understand what his lifeline was, despite losing everything His lifeline was his faith in God. Chapter 1 of Job introduces us to the beginning of a brutal journey of physical and emotional suffering and loss; while at the same time it draws us into the life of a man who exemplified the true meaning of being blameless and upright before God. I have read and heard the story of Job many times and each time I still have a difficult time understanding Job’s first response to the terrible reports of loss. “At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship” (1:20). Job was a one of a kind, “There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil”. (1:8) Today I believe that we would be hard pressed to find another “Job” among us, it is my hope and prayer that as the Lord leads and directs our lives He would help us live blameless and upright lives in His eyes.
We are called to worship in the midst of suffering. The life story of Job should be an inspiration for us to find our lifeline in Christ, not in the objects of this world. In Christ we have the “phone a friend” lifeline through prayer, we just have use it. Suffering and loss are never easy and Job’s life reflects that as well as his commitment to his Faith in God. I am encouraged by this thought today: The God that Job worshiped and served is the same loving God that we serve and worship today.