The book of Job is the subject of reflections from August to October. Relying on the Revised Common Lectionary’s readings for Tuesdays, I draw on nominated passages from Job to offer us encouragement and to guide our living week by week.
Job 6: 1; 7: 7-8, 17-21 (NIV)
6: 1 Then Job replied:
7: 7 “Remember, O God, that my life is but a breath; my eyes will never see happiness again.
8 The eye that now sees me will see me no longer; you will look for me, but I will be no more.
17 “What is man that you make so much of him, that you give him so much attention,
18 that you examine him every morning and test him every moment?
19 Will you never look away from me, or let me alone even for an instant?
20 If I have sinned, what have I done to you, O watcher of men? Why have you made me your target? Have I become a burden to you?
21 Why do you not pardon my offences and forgive my sins? For I shall soon lie down in the dust; you will search for me, but I shall be no more.”
The book of Job has a clear structure. Job’s three friends addressed him in turn and he responded to each address. There are three rounds of these address-and-response speeches. Chapter 6 presented Job’s first response to Eliphaz then, in chapter 7, Job turned his attention towards God.
The reader has already been given much more information than was available to Job. In chapter 1, the LORD in his heavenly court said of Job, “There is no-one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil” (verse 8). That is not to say that Job was without sin. Job knew that he had sinned; he also believed he had been forgiven by God: “Early in the morning (Job) would sacrifice a burnt offering for each of (his children), thinking, ‘Perhaps my children have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.’ This was Job’s regular custom” (1: 5).
Job also realised he may unconsciously have caused offence and this prompted his pleas to God in the final verses of the passage above. (Note that the word “If” in verse 20 has no support from the Hebrew text.)
Job spoke in the anguish of his spirit. He emphasised the extent of his sufferings, his physical pain made worse by mental anguish as he anticipated no alternative for himself but death. Job remained convinced that God knew all about his afflictions and that God would not withhold his care and concern for all of his creation.
Today people continue to suffer as a consequence of all manner of cruelties at the hands of human actors or disasters brought on by forces of nature. This book of Job emphasises to us that suffering is an enduring feature of the human condition and that, in our suffering, we are entirely within our rights to groan to our Creator and to wonder where is our Comforter.
The book of Job reminds us that we are not likely to receive a full explanation in this life from God as to why suffering afflicts people who appear to have done nothing to deserve it. Such reminders are small comfort when death seems more attractive than being forced to live in a body subjected to deterioration and pain. Yet the book of Job also reminds us that God is as aware of suffering today as he was in the case of Job. That God restores those whose trust in him remains firm is demonstrated later in Job’s story; for now we, like Job, must endure in hope.