When I was a kid, I loved watching The Wild, Wild West. It was everything I wanted in a TV show. It was a horse-riding-western featuring a gadget-toting secret-agent man set in a mission-impossible, cliff-hanger motif with a cool theme song. When the network cancelled it, I was crushed. I even recorded the theme song from the very last episode ever (using my Craig recorder with the cool stick-shift control) so that I would never forget it. I was also proud of myself. While the rest of the world would soon forget the melody, I would be able to hum it on cue (and I heard the girls were really into guys who could hum TV theme songs! (Fun Takeaway #1 for those interested – they were lying!). And then exactly one week later (same bat time, same bat channel), there was The Wild, Wild West on my TV! I was shocked. Now, I had seen reruns before, but those shows had not been cancelled, they were just on summer break. But now, I understood. All shows when they die (or go on break) can come back to life as reruns. It’s a television miracle. And when they really die, they can go to TV heaven (a place called Netflix) where they can live forever (until we watch them again and realize the show that we loved as kids was “the really, really bad west”).
Here’s my point. I think what we need today is a rerun of the book of Job. My guess is that most of us have read it at some point in our lives, but we have forgotten most of it. After all, it is 42 chapters long and is not an easy read, nor is it easy to understand. So today, let’s go back and watch a rerun of Job.
Job begins with a very quick introduction of Job’s character (he was blameless, he feared God, he shunned evil, and so forth). He also lived in the land of Uz (free trivia to drop on your friends: when the Wizard of Oz was translated into Hebrew, the translators chose to translate Oz as, you guessed it, Uz. In Hebrew, he is the Wizard of Uz!). In any case, Job is a really good guy and a man of deep spirituality. And then, the scene switches, and we are suddenly in heaven. And the Satan (that’s right, “The Satan,” because in Job, this is not a personal name, but a position meaning, “the accuser”) comes before God and basically says, “Let’s make a bet. I’ll bet you if you took away all of Job’s blessings, he would curse you to your face.” And God says, “You’re on, but you can’t harm the man himself.” And the Satan agrees and goes out and wreaks havoc on Job. In a matter of paragraphs, everything Job has (camels, oxen, donkeys, sheep and servants) and everything Job loves (his family) are killed or stolen. The only thing Job has left is his wife, which may have been even more painful because she was a pill (her one line in the whole book tells Job to curse God and die.). But instead of cursing God when Job hears about all this terrible news, he goes to God and says, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” As I said, Job was a man of deep spirituality.
Chapter 2 opens with another scene in heaven. And God says to the Satan, “Did you happen to note how Job responded to all the tragedies you brought on him?” And the Satan says, “Well, of course, he responded that way. You wouldn’t let me touch him! But if you allow me to give him the virus, he would give up his faith in a flash.” And God says, “Fine. You can touch him, but you can’t kill him.” And so, the Satan afflicted Job with all sorts of painful sores, from his head to his toes. But in all of this, Job did not sin.
We interrupt this rerun with this First Important Takeaway. Note that Job has no idea any of this is happening. He is absolutely clueless that there’s something much larger going on in the heavenly realm than what is going on in the land of Uz. In fact, Job never finds out about the “why” behind his sufferings until the first edition of “Job: The Book” comes out. And that is often the case with us, as well. We want to know the “why” behind our sufferings. In fact, we will often demand that God give us an accounting for why these terrible things are happening to us; and when he is silent, we are outraged (much like Job in part 2 of the story, but I am getting ahead of myself.). And for many of us, if we let it, not knowing “why” can become a real stumbling block. But Job’s job is to convince us that we don’t need to know the “why.” We just need to know the “who.” Job knew God; and as a result, he was content to trust in God’s goodness and grace. We want to know the “why.” Job says, the “who” is more important.
Back to the story. In chapter 3, Job’s friends show up; and for the next 39 chapters everyone talks in poetry. And while these friends say they want to comfort Job, they do very little of that. Instead, they try to convince Job that he has brought God’s wrath down upon himself through some sin and that if he would confess it and repent, his suffering would end (Fun Takeaway #2, before entering into any time of suffering, make sure your friends are not really weasels in disguise). Two things happen now in the story. Job becomes more and more demanding and begins to accuse God of being a little conniving (earlier, he was patient and trusting; now, he is critical and angry); and two, as Job’s friends speak, numerous weighty questions arise. For instance, there is the “why” question (“Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?”). There is the “where is God when I am suffering?” question. There is the “Is God fair?” question. There is the “Why doesn’t God answer our prayers?” question. There is the “Is God good?” question. There is the “Does God care about us?” question and a host of other questions that question God’s character. And underneath many of these questions, there are some assumptions. I know better than God. God operates strictly on the basis of reward (if we obey) and punishment (if we don’t obey). God is mean. God is capricious. God is distant and so forth.
Now, we think it is Job’s job to explain to us why God allows suffering. After all, isn’t that the point of the book? But strangely enough, the book of Job never answers the “why” question. Instead, Job’s job is to show us how (and how not) to go through suffering. At first, Job trusted God; but slowly, he lost that trust. If you read the book, it is clear that Job crosses the line. He no longer is a man of faith. He is a man who accuses, who demands and who feels he knows better than God how to run this world. In fact, the whole point of God’s speech in chapters 38-41 is to remind Job that Job isn’t God and that he would be terribly ill-equipped for that job. And when Job surrenders to God’s wisdom and repents of his impatient and demanding spirit, then the book switches back to narrative and quickly resolves. Now, the point of the book becomes clear: The book is not about why we suffer, but about how we are to go through suffering. Instead of raging at God, we are to trust in God’s goodness, wait patiently for his deliverance, do what we can to minimize our pain and try to hold on to him in the meantime. Now, Job will tell you that none of this is easy, but it is the path of wisdom.
Important Takeaway Number 2: When trials and tribulations and viruses come our way, our job is not to ignore them and plaster a Christian smile on our face. And our job is not to rage against God and accuse him of sin, but our job is to trust in God’s love and seek him in the midst of our pain. The key is not to demand that God tell us “why.” The key is to show our faith in God in the way we suffer. The key is in the “how,” not the “why.” Someday, maybe we will know the “why”; but then again, maybe we never will, but that’s not really important. The important thing is how we live out our faith in times of heartache and pain. And Job’s job is to show us that when we do that, God will be with us and that everything will be okay.
But if you are like me, when suffering comes, you forget all of this. That’s why we should make it a habit to watch reruns of Job every so often and hear anew that God can be trusted even when our world turns upside down (after all, it is Job’s main job to remind us of that great truth!). And sometimes, maybe most of the time, that message seems so new to me that it almost seems like it is not a rerun, but a brand-new episode.