Read the Bible in 2023 ◊ Week 1: Thursday
Today’s reading is in the book of Job, chapters 1 and 2. When you read Job without having experienced lengthy suffering, you may feel as if you’re looking through a window into someone else’s world, however, when you read it in the midst of extensive and intense affliction, then you walk with Job through every word of faith and doubt, every cry of pain.
The first two chapters set the scenario for the rest of the book. Job is introduced as a man who is blameless, upright, fearing God and turning away from evil. We learn of his wealth and his care for his family. Then we read the dialogue between God and Satan—a dialogue that sets the scenario for the rest of the dialogues that run through the book: dialogue between Job and his friends, and at the end God initiating dialogue between Himself and Job.
In chapter 1, Job loses his wealth and his family, except for his wife. In chapter 2, he loses his health, and being handicapped with severe hearing loss, I will say I have felt the brunt of Satan’s challenge in 2:4, “Skin for skin! Yes, all that a man has he will give for his life.” I’ve been through three lengthy illnesses, and other losses do not compare to the loss of health. It takes you down to the bare bones of complete dependence on God.
As I was praying and asking, how is this part of Scripture a lamp to my feet and a light to my path, I thought again that even as Job did not know any of the backstory of his affliction, we do not always know why we suffer. Job had no idea of God’s high praise of his integrity or of the dialogue with Satan. Neither do we know the entire picture. I know I sometimes look around, and think why this? Why now? What you and I are called to do is to trust in God and rest the inexplicable in His hands.
Os Guiness wrote in his book, Doubt:
If we do not know why we trust God, then we will always need to know exactly what God is doing in order to trust him. Failing to grasp that, we may not be able to trust him, for anything we do not understand may count decisively against what we are able to trust.
If, on the other hand, we do know why we trust God, we will be able to trust him in situations where we do not understand what he is doing.1
To know why you can trust God, you must know the God you want to trust. To do that you must be in His Word. You cannot trust God if you don’t know who He is, and to know who He is, you must know what He has said about Himself and who He has revealed Himself to be in His Word. I cannot emphasize this enough: it is vital, crucial to your growth as a believer in Jesus Christ to be reading, studying, and thinking on God’s Word.
You and I will not always know why we suffer. I’ve frequently raised my eyebrows at circumstances and thought, what? We are not privy to all God is doing in our lives and in the world. There is one why we are able to understand and know: why we can trust God.
Right now my husband and I are in the midst of trying to move and find a place to live. In an expensive and volatile market this has turned into a hard and wearing search, a string of sharp disappointments, as well a very real fear of where are we going to live? Again as I read His Word, God calls me to trust Him with this search and in the midst of this search. Once again I must remember, I may not know why, but I know why I trust God who knows why.2
In the midst of the tragic events that have overwhelmed him, Job does not sin.
And naked I shall return there.
Yahweh gave, and Yahweh has taken away.
Blessed be the name of Yahweh.”
Even if you’ve never read Job before, you may have heard the phrase, “Job’s Comforters,” used to describe those who don’t comfort, but only burden someone as they suffer! But before they open their mouths and give Job more grief to endure, look at what they did right.
When they heard of Job’s grief, “they came…to console him and comfort him.” They cared about Job. They did not leave him alone. Their intentions were to help him. Being left alone is absolutely horrible when you are suffering. I remember after I had my first ear operations and lost my hearing. I went to a church picnic after having been absent for about six weeks while recovering from surgery. I could not walk easily because of recurring dizzy spells, and that meant I couldn’t go and be with people—they had to come to where I was sitting. Only had two or three come to me. I had been so lonely and was going through such difficult adjustments over my hearing loss, and I was largely ignored. Isolation and lack of interest by others is incredibly hard to handle—especially in a time of fear and doubt.
In Romans 12:15, Paul tells the Romans to weep with those who weep. Job’s friends did that. E. S. P. Heavenor writes that, “The sight of Job’s disfigured countenance filled them with profound anguish.”3 They wept, tore their robes, threw dust on themselves, and sat down with him as he sat in the ashes (Job 2:8). They were in anguish! How often are we in anguish when we see the extreme suffering of a friend?
When someone is walking through a valley of affliction and you are a friend, go and be with him. In late 2010, when I had to deal with one more blow after a long series of devastating events, a friend emailed me and told me she was sitting in the ashes with me—a clear allusion to Job’s friends. She could not be with me in person, but she was with me with her words and prayers and grief for me. It helps so much to know that someone is in anguish because you are in anguish—they realize and share your sufferings.
Job’s friends stayed with him. They didn’t make a one-time visit and leave. Those who are suffering can’t leave—they must wait and live it out. You are able to leave the situation, but they can’t. You can help them by staying with them through regular visits or calls or emails. There may be physical or material help you can give, but don’t let that be a substitute for emotional and spiritual help. I think it can sometimes be easier to give physical help because then you can leave, having felt you have done your duty! There have been numerous studies about the destructive effects of solitude and the alleviating effects of relationships. Don’t leave!
It can be hard to ask for help, especially if you’ve met with the passive rejection of a polite excuse or even active rejection. Think and pray and ask God for wisdom about what the person needs, rather than giving what you think the other needs. People don’t talk much today about prayer partners, but consider asking someone you know who might need one to meet with you once a week to pray. Meet, listen and pray.
Those who are not going through a difficult time can give so much help to those who are, yet far too often in the church those who reach out and care about those suffering are others who have suffered or who are suffering. We are to look out for the interests of others.
One summer I was doing a women’s Bible study on suffering, and only one woman attended who was not going through some sort of affliction. I was glad to be with those who were there, but it would have helped a great deal if love and care had been shown by those who were blessed at that moment with stable circumstances (often they are those who have the resources needed to help). We had women share extreme needs, we sang together, we studied the Bible together and we prayed together. We saw God answer many prayers that summer. It was rather strange, but at the very last meeting, after not having a single wife of an elder or deacon attend, several showed up. They seemed surprised to hear of the answers to prayer that God had given us. They had missed a chance to encourage us, and they had missed a chance to be encouraged by seeing God answer prayers during those weeks.
Be aware of what others are going through, and stay with them. My friend, Lisa, stayed with me through one of my most difficult skin for skin periods. She came week after week to sit with me.
When they came and sat, Job’s friends didn’t say a word, for they saw that his pain was very great. Sometimes any words are too much to bear. Sometimes when someone suffers, the person simply need to know he or she is loved.
So you don’t have to know what to say, for when you come, when you weep and when you stay with someone in ashes, you have spoken profound love eloquently simply by being there.
Towards the end of his letter to the Galatians, Paul writes:
What is the law of Christ?
Come, weep, stay.
Silvesterzug Laterne: Bk muc. (CC BY-SA 4.0).
Job Receiving the Messengers (Dalziels’ Bible Gallery): Metropolitan Museum of Art. (CC0 1.0).
1Os Guinness, “Keyhole Theology,” Doubt (Lion Publishing plc, England: 1976, third ed. 1987) 200.
2This is the main theme of the chapter, “Keyhole Theology,” in Doubt.
3E. S. P. Heavenor, “Job,” The New Bible Commentary: Revised, D. Guthrie, J. A. Motyer, eds., A. M. Stibbs, D. J. Wiseman, contributing eds., (Inter-Varsity Press, Downers Grove IL: 1970) 424.
Copyright ©2011–2023 Iwana Carpenter