I had the pleasure of studying the book of Job a few years ago in a small group setting. I love this book because its inclusion in the Bible is a merciful granting of permission to be human. The suffering depicted and the endless discussions about why such suffering might be happening are so typical of the human experience.
We want to be able to understand and explain what is going on around us. In essence, we want to be God. In spite of our arrogance, however, through Scripture our loving Father allows us to see ourselves as we truly are. We are confronted with our inadequacy and forced to look to the Master Designer for reassurance.
In this section of the book Job and his friends are in their second round of dialogues about Job’s predicament. It is almost comical, the lengthy accusation by Eliphaz that Job disregards the wisdom of the ancients and does not adequately fear God. The pervading theme of the “miserable comforters” (Job 16:2) is that Job must have done something to warrant such devastation and suffering in his life.
This action/consequence view of reality exists today as much as it did then. We all want to feel as though we have control over our lives—no surprise, as our society is a meritocracy. Job says, “Yet the righteous holds to his way, and he who has clean hands grows stronger and stronger” (Job 17:9). In other words, if I am good, then I will be blessed. However, Job’s consequentialist worldview doesn’t explain why he has lost everything, since he is a “blameless and upright” man (Job 1:1). Contrast this worldview with the one expressed in 2 Corinthians by Paul, who was no stranger to suffering:
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor. 12:9-10)
This upside-down reality is one emanating from a God of supreme love, who is well acquainted with undeserved affliction, which he himself experienced on the cross. The fact that this book is part of the Bible tells us that we have freedom to doubt, to question, to be overwhelmed, to fail, to get angry, to be afraid—basically to experience the range of human emotion. In other words, we are free to be a human being.
Faith involves our deepest passions being engaged by the reality of God, not disappearing because of him. Faith is trust and belief in God in spite of the circumstances. He knows this is difficult for us, yet he loves us anyway. In times of tribulation we have permission to call out, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24)