We often hear of the patience of Job. But what stands out to me is his raw honesty and his relentless persistence to see and know God. He never claimed patience and in fact railed against the idea because of his immense suffering, not only physically but emotionally and spiritually.
His story is found in the Old Testament in the book of Job. There are insights into transformation that spring from his tremendous loss and eventual reconciliation with God and his friends.
Background: Job persists in his loyalty to God despite major losses
Job is a perfectly happy man who seemingly becomes a human pawn in an argument between God and Satan. When we first meet him, we learn that he has seven sons and three daughters, thousands of livestock, and a large number of servants.
God casually mentions to Satan that his servant Job is a model of loyalty and right behavior. Specifically, He notes: “There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” Satan contends that Job is righteous and loyal only because God has “put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has” and “blessed the work of his hands,” leading to continuous prosperity.
To prove Job’s loyalty, God allows Satan to first destroy everything Job has and then cause illness, sparing only Job and his wife’s lives.
For much of the book, Job curses his life, argues with three friends about the cause of the tragic events, and talks about the capriciousness of God. Consistent with the beliefs of that time period, which persists today, his friends believe that Job must have had some moral failings that lead to the death of his family and the loss of his wealth. Job is angry because his friends condemn him, rather than comfort him.
As he defends his righteousness against the relentless accusations of his friends, Job pleads for an audience with God, who finally enters the story. Then God contrasts His position in the universe with Job’s, asking “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?” Job responds by acknowledging God’s power and then admits “my ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.”
In the end, God admonishes Job’s friends because their words did not reflect who God really is. Meanwhile, Job, in his angst, comes to a new and richer understanding (or perhaps a realization that we have limited knowledge and that God’s knowledge vastly surpasses ours). Then the God restores what Job had lost and makes him prosperous again.
Lessons: People can be transformed through dark times and good times, often through a fresh understanding of who God is
Much of what we learn from Job is about how we should perceive suffering in ourselves and others; that is, we should seek to comfort others in dark times, rather than condemn people as deserving their suffering. And we shouldn’t suppose to know the mind of God and make statements about why God is acting or not intervening in any situation.
But the story also contains lessons about transformation. Here are a few things I learned:
Difficult circumstances can lead to transformation
When Job’s family is intact and he is prosperous, he has no impetus to change. Certainly, he could seek transformation on his own. But in this story, tragedy and its fallout (condemnation from friends; God’s silence and absence; deep personal angst) lead Job to reconsider his beliefs.
Note that Job lives in a time well before Jesus’s day. Communicating directly with God is a novel concept. Today, we are able to interact with God on a daily basis.
Transformation happens when what I believe about reality is challenged and altered
Today, we might call this change a paradigm shift.
In the book, Job expresses beliefs in opposition to those firmly held by his friends. It’s not clear whether Job secretly harbors these thoughts before the tragic events or simply begins to question his earlier assumptions as a result of his suffering. Either way, he does not hold the worldview of his circle of friends, who contend that tragedy, lack of prosperity, and illness are a result of his sin.
Also, he notes that the wicked prosper and live happy, carefree lives while rejecting a relationship with God. Job doesn’t adhere to the party line. Instead, he is honest about what he sees and feels.
As Job struggles with his pain and cries out to God for relief or explanation, he comes to a new understanding of God. He realizes that God is all powerful and begins to glimpse the concept of grace.
Being upright and shunning evil are great but they have little to do with transformation
At the beginning of the book, Job is described as blameless by God. Such a state is desirable but doesn’t lead to change the way that a confrontation with God does.
We may fool ourselves into thinking that walking along a straight path will lead us safely, albeit slowly, to transformation. Certainly being upright and shunning evil are desirable but dramatic change happens when we have experiences that cause us to challenge our assumptions about who God is and how He interacts with us, our family, our community, and the world.
Honesty and the courage to interact with God allow us to be transformed
Before, Job had a distant relationship with God. He had heard about God and followed His precepts but he had never had a true encounter with God. Though Job was terrified in the confrontation with God (he suddenly understands how insignificant he was), God appreciated Job’s honesty. That dialogue, I think, is what God most desires and what leads to transformation. Honesty seems to be more important to getting close to God (and gaining a new perspective) than following a set of rules.
Post-transformation, you never look at things the same again
The epilogue is relatively short, comprised of four paragraphs. There are a couple of noteworthy items, though, which may indicate that Job has a new perspective:
- Job prays for his friends at the request of God (showing that Job is obedient and hinting that he forgives and loves his friends)
- Job gives an inheritance to his daughters along with their brothers (which indicates that he is making decisions that depart from convention, based on love not protocol).
I have some discomfort about explaining Job, mainly because I think the whole point of Job is that you can’t explain some things. Still, the book gives insight into a certain type of spiritual transformation, which involves changing perspective in general and accepting that you can’t understand or rationalize everything that happens in the world.