trouble knows no boundaries

Mortals, born of woman,
are of few days and full of trouble.

Job 14:1

Job was a God-fearing, God-honoring man, who had been eminently blessed by God, and was a blessing to many. We know the rest of the story, and it’s not altogether good. In fact it makes little sense in our eyes, considering the backdrop of the story, God even bothering to deal with Satan at all, and especially as in this story.

But the point is: trouble knows no boundaries of any kind in this life. We might be able to avoid some problems, and there are basic steps to prevent trouble itself, like simply making sure a roof is on the house, or eating healthily and exercising. But life is more or less a trouble shoot, from start to finish. It seems like we just go from best case, trying to prevent one problem, to trying to solve the next problem. I notice that in my factory job. With machines, and how they’re working, or not working.

So the point is that we need to learn to expect and accept this fact of life, as hard as that is. To definitely appreciate the seasons or intervals which seem relatively trouble free, and be ready to deal with the rest. Through prayer, and with what wisdom the Lord gives us.

In the case of Job, we know he persevered, and God was full of compassion, and blessed him in the end. Though the story still leaves a gaping hole for me in trying to understand the point of it all. Yes, Job did demonstrate faith in God, and that’s what we’re called to do as well, even when we don’t understand, and life is hard for us. Life rarely falls out like some fairy tale with a happily ever after ending. And Job surely still had to deal with trouble even after he was healed and again had seven children. The hurt of losing the seven previous children could never be fully healed in this life.

And that’s the point. We may not, and will not understand at times, or ever. But we have to trust God and go on. Believing in God’s goodness, and persevering in our faith and trust in God, yes, in spite of. Job didn’t even understand the backdrop, what was going on behind the scenes, thinking it was God who inflicted him with the loss of his children, his health, and his wealth. We know, yet are often bewildered and perplexed, and especially uncomfortable, even perturbed with what we face.

But such is life. We might as well get used to it and go on. In the help God gives us to go through every part of it. God can, and as we trust in him, will help us to the very end, in and through Jesus.

 

patience in the face of suffering and oath taking

Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!

Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.

Above all, my brothers and sisters, do not swear—not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. All you need to say is a simple “Yes” or “No.” Otherwise you will be condemned.

James 5:7-12

In light of James’s warning to their rich oppressors, James tells these believers to be patient until the Lord’s coming. Some say James expected the Lord to come within that generation. Maybe so. I’m not sure we can insist the language found here and in other places has to be interpreted that way. I think not. I would rather see it as God’s judgment being soon given the brevity of life, and that it’s imminent in that it could happen any time. And when life is done, judgment is next (Hebrews 9:27). Of course the judgment spoken of here is at the Lord’s second coming. Bear in mind that the future brings not only the resurrection of the righteous, but of the unrighteous, as well (Daniel 12:2).

James point to the farmer as an example of the kind of patience these Christians in faith are to exercise. There is a process which seems to take time along with God’s working. So patience is a necessity in this, yes, “in the face of suffering.” And with that in mind, James now points to the prophets we read of in a good chunk of the Old/First Testament (Hebrew Bible) who spoke in the name of the Lord. Suffering was their lot, as Jesus pointed out later. Persecution and martyrdom. Not easy, when you read their story. Speaking God’s message and living as God’s people will not go unchallenged in one way or another. And lest we think it’s only about identification with God before the world, it may be about our testimony in holding to God’s goodness and faithfulness in the midst of adversities of any kind, as Job did, even as he presented his case to God. And we remember the end of that story. And I want to just soak in James’s word after these points:

The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.

These words those believers needed to take to heart, and we do too. We wish this for our enemies as well, but if they refuse to respond to this kindness and goodness of God (Romans 2:4), and don’t accept God’s mercy on God’s terms, their end will be according to their deeds. But yes, we need to soak into these words, and let these words soak into us. God’s mercy for us, and for others, yes even for our oppressors. And yet judgment will come, and that too is a word of encouragement, particularly to those who face evil in the form of persecution.

And then James adds a word on oaths. I think it’s in line with making much of taking an oath, as if you are bound by it in a way that you are not bound when simply speaking. God wants our word to be as good as gold so to speak, completely reliable even if not bound legally, morally, and spiritually by taking an oath. Does that mean we can never change our minds, and take back our words, or break our promise? As a rule we shouldn’t. But there may be circumstances when we need to change, or may want to. Which is why we need to choose our words carefully in the first place, if we speak at all. We need to weigh everything in light of what we previously stated and the context. We have enormous freedom, I think, but it needs to be with Spirit-led wisdom. We want to be sure our witness of Jesus is not affected. We want others to see Jesus, and receive for themselves the good news in him. God has what appears to be a change of mind in scripture at times within his unchanging character. There does seem to be some genuine give and take in God’s relationship with people. And God swears an oath as well, we read both in the Old Testament and in the book of Hebrews. So oath taking is not intrinsically evil or wrong. It is the kind of oath taking being done in Jesus’s day and afterward that is evil. As if such an oath is binding in a way that one’s word is not. For God’s people, followers of Christ, there is no place for that attitude or practice.

 

through the hard places with Job

Job is a good study, in fact the study we have on Job on Tuesday nights at church from 6:30 to 8:00 and past that, is hands down my favorite Bible study or study at church I’ve ever been a part of. Led by a seminarian, Jordan, who gets into the Hebrew, along with our Pastor Jack, and excellent participation by those who attend.

I can’t compare my life with Job, either in regard to his integrity (although I accept that which I have as a gift from God) nor in regard to what he experienced. I take Job as a story and not strictly speaking as history, in the inspired, inscripturated word of God. I’m not saying it can’t be history. But it is for sure a masterpiece of wisdom, giving us a slant on wisdom that is unique.

Job directed his complaints to God. He was righteous, period. And he was suffering. His friends could not put that together. If he was righteous, wouldn’t his life be blessed? But if not, than indeed he wouldn’t be blessed. Job has it out both with his friends and with God. In the end, God’s relatively much shorter reply deftly helps Job to see that the world, including Job’s world is much bigger than Job could possibly imagine. Something wonderful exists about it in terms of God’s working, yes in the midst of all the calamity, pain and suffering.

If I can just get hold of that thought and keep it. In my case I have to add that my life hasn’t been altogether one of integrity, as is the case of Job, though I believe by God’s grace I can say now that that part is a thing of the past. We are sinners, but the book of Job teaches that one can live with integrity in righteousness, and still suffer much in this life. And yet something wonderful, and big beyond our understanding can be occurring at the same time.

But Job is a puzzling book to me, just the same. Yes, he is restored at the end, praying for his friends as they offer sacrifices to God, so that his friends are forgiven and before Job was restored. And then restored, with the same number of children: seven sons and three daughters, this time the daughters being the most beautiful in the land. As wonderful as those children were, the loss of the first ten would be one that would remain for life. And all on a bet, so to speak, with Satan. But again, God is at work in wonderful ways beyond our understanding. Job did not receive answers afterward, but he did finally understand that in spite of everything, God was at work.

And so I look at my life and go on. Believing that God is somehow in it in a wonderful way. Even in the pain. In his grace in and through Jesus.