Sunday, November 22, 2015

Bro Job

Beginning in January of this year, trouble began falling on me like bricks tumbling out of a dump truck one after another.  I won't bore you with the details except to say that I've had nine months of pain and aggravation and now enjoy a certain kinship with Brother Job.

Job is one of my patron saints. I see him—a man bereaved, humiliated and stripped of all this life has to offer; his skin is blistered and festering and his nerves are on fire. I ask, "How will this best of all men respond?" "What great truth can I learn from him?"

"After this Job opened his mouth and cursed..." (Job 3:3)

Job is my kind of man.

I haven't always thought that way. I stand in a long tradition that confused the Christian virtue of endurance with the pagan ethic of stoicism. I was taught to curb my emotions, or at least the outward expression of them, and to never complain. Ours was the virtue of the stiff upper lip. It's little wonder that I never took well to Job, his overmastering sorrow, his angry outbursts of frustration. Job was a whiner.

I've been told that stoicism found it's way into Western thought via the Renaissance and the notion that reason must override passion, but the Renaissance is not our mother. We go back to an older, richer, inspired tradition: The lament psalms in which Israel's poets pour out their emotions with groans and loud complaints.

Biblical endurance, the chief virtue in times of testing, is something quite different from stoicism. It has to do with steadfast trust in God's goodness and love despite all counter-indications, but it says nothing about our emotional state while doing so.

Job is no Stoic, striving to be pure mind with no passion. Job's was not the strength of stones or of bronze (6:14). The man is an emotional wreck. The Lord’s testing is not to find out if Job can sit unmoved like a block of wood, but will he continue to hope in God despite his suffering and the emotional turmoil that surrounded it.

The example of Jesus should forever silence those who criticize emotional outbursts and consider them to be sinful or signs of immaturity: ”In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears..." (Hebrews 5:7)

Jesus experienced the whole range of human emotions, yet he did not sin. His strongest desire, even in agony, was to surrender himself wholly to his Father.

We are drawn by our suffering to that same point of giving in to our Lord. Going through a wrestling match with God is not an indication of spiritual weakness, but of the intensity of our desire for wholeness. We have a God who lets us be angry at him and accepts our emotional pain as his own. It's okay to fume and fret o'er our troubles; okay to wish they were gone.

What I long for, pray for, therefore, is not bland, vapid, phlegmatic calm, but absolute and undoubting confidence in the love of God in the face of all my troubles—and someday to say with Job, "Though He slay me, yet will I trust him."

David Roper

1 comment:

Dieter Schlaepfer said...

Dave, I’m so sorry to hear that you’ve been experiencing a lot of trouble and suffering. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

Four Questions
How many friends do we have that would display such commitment to us as Job’s friends who wept when they saw him and sat with him for a week without saying a word? Nevertheless, they were convinced that Job’s suffering was due to unrecognized karmic debt. However God is quoted as telling satan

“And he still holds fast his integrity, although you incited Me against him to ruin him without cause.” Job 2:3 NASB

Imitating the refreshing Socratic style that you used in Seminar 70 at Stanford so long ago, I would mention that for integrity, the LXX uses the word akakai, which means innocence, good nature, and simplicity.

First, I would then ask the question

In what way did Job still have akakai?

“Oh that my words were written! Oh that they were inscribed in a book! That with an iron stylus and lead they were engraved in the rock forever! As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will take His stand on the earth.” Job 19:23-25 NASB

Next, I would ask the question

Which of his words did Job want to have written down and what was it that Job wanted to preserve forever?

Once again, I am amazed and humbled by Job’s perspective, even in agony.

After we learn in Hebrews about Christ’s suffering, we read

“Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered.” Hebrews 5:8 NASB

The question presents itself

What is it about obedience that Christ learned?

The Apostle Paul also suffered greatly, and he attributes the reason for suffering to increasing our compassion and ability to encourage others.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 NASB

But in another letter, Paul ascribes another purpose to suffering, one that I find astonishing!

“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.” Colossians 1:24 NASB

And finally, I ask

What is Paul saying here about suffering and the body of Christ?


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