Job: An Introduction

Crosses are everywhere in our society. They appear on jewelry, tattoos, bumper stickers, tombstones, and even cityscapes. Crosses come in dozens of shapes: Greek crosses, Latin crosses, Celtic crosses, Byzantine crosses — the list could go on. On the one hand, crosses can be constant reminders of a central feature of Christianity. They call to mind the sacrificial love of God in the death of His Son. On the other hand, their prevalence can desensitize us to the radical nature of the Christian religion. We see a decoration rather than remembering that the incarnate God has entered into our pain.

Over the centuries, believers have consistently wondered how immense suffering could take place in a world that a kind and sovereign God created. The Bible doesn’t shy away from this problem. The psalmists cry out, “How long?” when God feels absent. The author of Lamentations is despondent over the fall of Jerusalem. The martyrs of Revelation express piercing outrage at the continued prosperity of their murderers. The stories and tears of Abel, Hagar, Esau, Joseph, Hannah, Mordecai, James the son of Zebedee, and the apostle Paul are just a small sampling of other examples of biblical characters who experienced deep and abiding pain. Some of these stories end happily, but others do not.

The story of Christ’s death and resurrection are God’s primary answer to the problem of suffering and pain. But no book of the Bible gives such a sustained, unblinking treatment of pain than the Book of Job. Ultimately, Job’s suffering points us to Christ’s suffering. But what is the Book of Job? The plot is not hard to follow. Job is a wealthy, God-fearing man who loses almost everything at the instigation of Satan. His three friends come — and fail — to comfort him. God eventually heals Job, restores his possessions, and gives him more children.

Although the plot is straightforward, the book is far more than this basic outline. We miss vital features of the message if we only pay attention to the story. The Book of Job is primarily a book of words. Most of the book is a collection of speeches between Job and his friends. Job deals with his pain through words — words directed to his friends and words directed toward God. Job’s friends try (and again fail) to help the situation with words. At the end of the book, the Lord first responds not with actions, but with words. To understand Job, we must look at the words.

In dealing with pain, most of us want answers. “Why am I feeling this way? Why do I hurt? How can I get better?” We look to physicians and therapists to give us answers, and when they don’t, we often keep looking for those who can. The Book of Job, however, is not a book of answers; it’s a book of questions. Job asks questions like, “Why did I not die before I was born? Why will God not speak to me? Where is God?” When He encounters Job at the end of the book, the Lord responds not with answers, but with questions. The only characters in the book who have answers are Job’s friends. And the answers are largely worthless.

As we will see in future columns, the Book of Job is not merely a book of words and questions. It’s a book of grace. And what the shape of that grace teaches us is that grace doesn’t always look like what we think it should look like. Sometimes, before God changes our situations, the most gracious action He can take is to change us.

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