I love the way the story of Job begins.
I can just see it, Satan mumbling something under his breath about Job, God’s faithful servant. God’s eyebrows raise, and He says, “What’s that? You call my servant into question? Well, let’s just see about that.”
And boy, does God deliver. What a story. Job watches his life crumble, bit by bit. He loses his property, his livelihood. His children. His health. Until finally, he sits in heap of ash, scraping at the sores upon his body, with nothing but his belief in the One True God.
He is the object of ridicule, I am sure. His outraged wife and misguided friends give nothing but terrible counsel. He is a pathetic figure, with nobody and nothing in this world, literally.
And yet, he still will not curse God.
So, Satan loses (again), and goes off to plot something else, which will fail (again), because that’s just the way the world works. Satan always loses, God always win.
I think though, that we tend to skip a very interesting element of this story. Job, while faithful to the end, is not stoically, unemotionally clinging to his principles here. He believes, yes indeed. And he maintains a steady, unwavering belief that God is good and just. But at the same time, he is crying out, pleading, begging God. He is moaning and groaning. He wishes he were dead, he cries out in despair for chapter, after chapter, after chapter. He is eloquent in his grief, but do not doubt that he was complaining to God. And yet, he wasn’t in sin per se. He wasn’t rebelling against the nature and authority of God. But that didn’t stop him from asking for a reprieve. From asking God to simply snuff out his life, to end the pain. Up to that point, Job was okay. But then he began to walk a very fine line. He began reminding God that he was a faithful man, that he has done no wrong. He didn’t fault God, but he certainly wondered (kind of loudly) what in the world he’d done to deserve this change of fortune.
Job’s lengthy entreaties were successful, though not how he intended. God didn’t end Job’s life. But God did respond. And He did it big. He did it in chapter, after chapter, after chapter. It’s amazing, you should read it (chapters 38-41). It’s humbling- these words of our Maker about who He is. He makes His point by asking Job rhetorical questions,
“Have you entered into the springs of the sea, or walked in the recesses of the deep? Have the gates of death been revealed to you, or have you seen the gates of deep darkness? Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth? Declare, if you know all this.”
His voice booms off the page, and must have boomed in Job’s ears. Word, after word, about the wonders of who He is, and who Job is not. It is a torrential, relentless downpour from the Almighty.
Job thought he had faith before, but after hearing the whirlwind of God’s voice, after standing face first in the awesomeness of his Creator, he understood all the more…
“I had heard of thee by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees thee; therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”
Even Job’s faith, which was far greater than most (oh, how untested we all are in comparison), was still paltry. Even the very best a man can muster, is still a tiny speck before the Creator. What did we do to deserve it, indeed. To Job, I am sure, his earlier words must have seemed so silly.
Now if the story ended there, ‘twould be tragic indeed. But it is not. Because, we do not serve a Tragic God, do we? He does not berate us, punish us, for His whims. (Although He could, He does not, because He loves us.) He is the author of happy endings, and here is a shining example.
As Job lay repentant in the ashes, those very ashes and dust of his lost life, all that remained of his home, his children, God lifted him from them. He could have done it any time. But, He waited until Job, His faithful servant, had come to understand the true nature of his fallen state, had fully come to appreciate what the grace of God means. When Job saw how high, how mighty his God was, then he understood just how far down God had to bend. It made God’s grace all the more marvelous, all the more amazing. What happened to Job wasn’t torture, it wasn’t a game to God. It wasn’t even a bet with Satan. It was about the man of Job, about teaching a faithful servant how to be even more faithful. It was a reminder of Who He Is, so that we are able to praise Him better, more deeply, more truely.
It’s difficult for us to understand, because God is too big for our minds sometimes. But this is what God did, and Job became more sanctified, more of the man that God wanted him to be. This is the crux of the matter, the reason I sat down to write this blog to begin with: Sometimes God takes it all away, because when our hands are empty, He will fill them with something even better. When we don’t understand why bad things happen to good people, when we can’t wrap our heads around why God is allowing tragedy, misfortune, agony into our life, we must remember that all the works of God are good, because He is God, and we are not.
God took away from Job, but oh did He restore! He prospered him, blessed him with more than he’d ever had before. The second half of his life was even better than the first. He had more children than you could shake a stick at. He had beautiful daughters he could be proud of. His friends repented, and feasted with him at his table. He had land, and food, and donkeys, and sheep, and I bet you, Job fell asleep every night in his bed with a sweet, joyful smile on his face for the rest of his one hundred and forty years.
The Bible ends his story with, “And Job died, an old man, and full of days.”
That, my friend, is the way to go. Full of days.
I think God must love this story, too. I think surely, it must be one of His favorites. Because it’s not just a portrait of a faithful servant, or even about simply thwarting the Devil, (though that is a good bit!) No, it’s really the story of an almighty God, who leans down low to take our little kernels of faith, and grows them into something mighty for His own glory. It is through Him, through His will, through His (sometimes painful) intervention in our lives, that what was just a tiny possibility of faith and belief, becomes a mature, full-grown product, ready for harvest. Ready for Him.
Sometimes, it is the ashes of our lives, those very ashes in which we repent, that make the richest places to for our seeds to grow.