Yup, that’s right. I’m writing about suffering. Again. But with tomorrow being Palm Sunday and Easter right around the corner, it seems appropriate this time.
I’ve been meditating on the Book of Job lately. I mean, really turning it over in my head. We all know the story: Job was a really righteous man. To prove the depth of his devotion, God allowed Satan to destroy everything Job owned. Job continued to worship and, in the end, God blessed him with twice as much as he had before.
It’s a wonderful story, according to my faith tradition. Yeah, Job suffered. A lot. He lost everything. It was terrible. But then he got it all back in a double portion! Just for being faithful! Yay! Let’s celebrate God’s goodness!
Whenever I hear ministers teach on the story of Job, they all seem to conveniently glaze over one particular aspect: Job lost 10 children. According to the scriptures, some of these children were old enough to have their own homes, so we’re talking about people in their young adult years, at least. And when God restored to Job everything he lost, He didn’t simply raise these offspring from the dead. Job and his wife had to start over at conception. The years of memories, of nurturing, of relationship and accomplishment that these first 10 children held in the life of their father were all wiped away in an instant–their unique personalities, irreplaceable.
Sure, God gave him 10 new children. But considering how long it would have taken to bear 10 children through pregnancy and then raise them all into adulthood, we’re looking at a span of about 30 years for Job to be fully restored from his loss.
And I wonder. I wonder how many times during that process of restoration Job’s thoughts turned to his oldest son, his firstborn. Remembering how his heart swelled with pride at the boy’s first steps, his first fish caught from the river, his first plant nurtured from a seed–the special joy of a first-time father. Recalling how he grew into a strong young man with a happy, generous heart. Replaying in his mind the son’s distinct laugh, the curve of his jaw, the sparkle in his eye at private jokes shared with his father as the firstborn’s privilege.
And similar thoughts for his second son. And his third. His daughters, too.
The thought that if they hadn’t died in that whirlwind, Job would be embracing grandchildren instead of new children.
This is a parent’s loss when a child dies. Nothing on earth ever completely fills that void.
So when we speak of the suffering of Job, we’re speaking of something practically lifelong in its duration. Something horrific and deep and profound. Some people might find Job’s response in shaving his head and sitting in ashes a little dramatic, but, honestly, facing that kind of grief, it’s a wonder he didn’t end his life.
Why do I mention this?
Because I think people tend to believe that blessing and restoration results in total wholeness. We labor under the assumption that whatever losses we suffer for the sake of God’s glory will be completely wiped away once the proverbial check comes in the mail. What we can infer from the story of Job indicates that reality is a bit more complicated than that. Some losses can’t be fully recovered while on this earth. We may be able to cease grieving and find joy again in God’s fresh provision, but that doesn’t mean that the wounds of the past won’t throb occasionally.
A loss is a loss.
And realizing this, some people may ask, “Why on earth did God inflict this kind of suffering on His most faithful servant? And why on earth did Job choose to remain faithful?”
I’ve been thinking on this. And the only conclusion I can come to is that there has to be something in the universe so sublime, so fulfilling, so worthwhile that a parent’s loss is insignificant when weighed against it. That God’s redemption in eternity is so absolute that we’d gladly sacrifice anything in our lives just to experience it.
He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. (Revelation 21:4)
This is exactly what Job’s story reveals to us. Because at the point when his grief and anger are at their peak, when his loss is most wholly felt, Job says this to God:
“My ears had heard of you
but now my eyes have seen you.
Therefore I despise myself
and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:5-6)
God had allowed that which was most precious to Job to be destroyed. Job had every right to be angry with Him. Yet when Job encountered God’s divine presence, he repented of his questioning.
Let that sink in a moment.
Job saw something in the physical presence of God that put his loss into an eternal, otherworldly perspective. Something so profound that minds can’t grasp it and words can’t describe it. Job simply says “my eyes have seen you.”
My eyes have seen you. I get it now. I understand. I won’t be angry anymore.
His sentiment reminds me of similar words spoken from the cross:
Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing. (Luke 23:34a)
Lord, in this world of intense suffering, give us the revelation of Job. Let our eyes see you that we may understand and find our hope fulfilled. Amen.