Job 41:1-8; 42:1-17
(watch here: https://youtu.be/E0tcdu6Oric)
[The Lord said,] ‘Can you draw out Leviathan with a fish-hook,
or press down its tongue with a cord?
Can you put a rope in its nose,
or pierce its jaw with a hook?
Will it make many supplications to you?
Will it speak soft words to you?
Will it make a covenant with you
to be taken as your servant for ever?
Will you play with it as with a bird,
or will you put it on a leash for your girls?
Will traders bargain over it?
Will they divide it up among the merchants?
Can you fill its skin with harpoons,
or its head with fishing-spears?
Lay hands on it;
think of the battle; you will not do it again!’
Then Job answered the Lord:
‘I know that you can do all things,
and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
“Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?”
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
“Hear, and I will speak;
I will question you, and you declare to me.”
I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
but now my eye sees you;
therefore I despise myself,
and repent in dust and ashes.’
After the Lord had spoken these words to Job, the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite: ‘My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends; for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. Now therefore take seven bulls and seven rams, and go to my servant Job, and offer up for yourselves a burnt-offering; and my servant Job shall pray for you, for I will accept his prayer not to deal with you according to your folly; for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has done.’ So Eliphaz the Temanite and Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite went and did what the Lord had told them; and the Lord accepted Job’s prayer.
And the Lord restored the fortunes of Job when he had prayed for his friends; and the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before. Then there came to him all his brothers and sisters and all who had known him before, and they ate bread with him in his house; they showed him sympathy and comforted him for all the evil that the Lord had brought upon him; and each of them gave him a piece of money and a gold ring. The Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning; and he had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand yoke of oxen, and a thousand donkeys. He also had seven sons and three daughters. He named the first Jemimah, the second Keziah, and the third Keren-happuch. In all the land there were no women so beautiful as Job’s daughters; and their father gave them an inheritance along with their brothers. After this Job lived for one hundred and forty years, and saw his children, and his children’s children, four generations. And Job died, old and full of days.
This morning’s reading reminds me of the one about a man who went to work one day with a VERY noticeable scar on his forehead. One of his coworkers was quick to ask what happened. “Well,” the man replied, “it all started this morning. It was about 6 or 7 am and I got up fast because I thought I was going to be late and I banged my head on the side of the bedside table. Then I stumbled over to the closet and accidentally slammed into the door.” “And that’s how you were scarred?” asked the coworker. “No, let me continue. So I went downstairs, had breakfast, and went out when all of a sudden some crazy kid threw a rock at me on accident!” “And that’s how it happened?” his coworker asked. “No, let me continue. So I was in massive pain from the rock and then I got in my car, but I was careless and hit a fire hydrant.” “Ok, that was definitely it, right?” his coworker asked. “Hold on, I forgot what we were talking about,” he replied. “How you got that scar on your forehead!” “Oh, that? I got it when I hit my head on the bedside table.”
Aaaah, a little scar humor does the soul some good! I don’t think there’s enough of it in our culture today. We tend to view scars as undesirable things, as marks that reveal our vulnerability and frailty. They reveal to others that we aren’t perfect and can be harmed. Naturally we become ashamed of our scars and try to hide them from the world. “Nobody wants to see my scars,” we tell ourselves as work to present perfect, unscarred selves to the world. But believe it or not, most of us carry a whole bunch of scars, some that are visible and some that aren’t. It’s a rare person who gets through life without any scars either bodily, mentally, or spiritually. And even the ones who claim they have none have put a lot of time and effort and sometimes money into getting them removed. That doesn’t mean they never existed. It simply means some people have cleverly and effectively hidden them away. Some people have more time and effort and money than others, that’s all. Nonetheless, it’s unfortunate that we, as a culture, have developed this ethos of negativity surrounding scars. They represent more than just times when we’ve been hurt as we’ll reflect on in just a bit.
I only bring this discussion up about scars because I think they’re at the root of why I struggle with how Scripture deals with Job’s suffering as we heard in our reading. I think Scripture oversimplified God’s resolution. For chapter after chapter, we walked with Job as he endured his undeserved and unjustifiable suffering. Over and over, he pleads with God and those around him to help him understand the purpose of his suffering. Finally, out of a whirlwind, God answered his pleas by presenting Job with a number of unexplainable mysteries. Well, maybe not unexplainable but certainly not understandable to Job. We, humans, are simply incapable of understanding a lot of mysteries in this world. And that’s okay as I mentioned last week. It’s okay to not be God. It’s okay to have mysteries. Mysteries help build our faith. Besides, we’ll never be God nor know the mind of God so it’s best we come to terms with God’s absolute sovereignty over all that is. Helping Job rebuild his damaged faith is perfectly fine and faithful of God. But then God went and recreated all that Job lost! And not just recreated it but “twice as much as [Job] had before!” Come on, God, really?! What message are you conveying here?! That if we simply endure the suffering that comes from great loss then you will eventually restore it all twofold?! I don’t think that’s how it plays out most of the time. Few people have their losses restored and even fewer have them restored twofold. And what about the scars that come from loss and suffering? Yes, Job received all that he lost twice over and lived a long, full life after his time of suffering but Scripture doesn’t tell us really how he felt about it. And I think that is a great disservice to too many people who look to Job’s witness as hope for restoration. Job received it all back and then some but with scars along with it all. The ten children and doubled livestock could never fully replace the children and livestock that were lost. Job lived out a long, bountiful life but also a scarred life. He could never forget what he lost because of the scars that he carried in his mind and on his heart. Maybe, just maybe, Job lived out quite a miserable life after all.
Nonetheless, I think it’s important to reflect on Job’s scars, hidden to us by Scripture, if we’re to have an accurate discussion on suffering. Like it or not, suffering creates scars and I think we, as a culture, need to find a better way to consider them. Yes, God sometimes restores what is lost but not without scars. And just because Scripture hides Job’s scars from us doesn’t mean scars should be hidden. Though we tend to consider scars as marks of vulnerability and frailty, they can also be considered marks of strength and courage. After all, scars can also represent a decision to heal. When we are hurt, we are presented with a few decisions. We can remove ourselves from what’s hurting us but let the wounds fester. We can remain with what’s hurting us and hope that it’ll eventually get tired and leave us alone before it utterly destroys us. Or we can remove ourselves and actually get to work healing our hurts. Scars reflect the last decision, to remove and get to work healing. So scars can actually reflect strength and courage.
Perhaps that is why we are left with such an idealized, unrealistically scarfree, ending to Job’s suffering. Job was scarred from his losses but because he chose to heal himself with a renewed faith, God blessed him with a restored life. It wasn’t because Job earned such fruitful restoration by enduring his suffering but because he nurtured and grew his faith. Friends, faith is what produces true, joyous life. Not some stoic ability to endure pain and suffering but faith. It’ll carry you through and create life after suffering. Paul writes in his letter to the Phillippians, “not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on towards the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.” (3:12-14) It was faith that carried him through, too…faith that created life after suffering. And faith will naturally carry you forward through this life and the next. Proverbs says, “let your eyes look directly forwards, and your gaze be straight before you.” (4:25) Faith carries us forward, ever onward into the great unknown. We live by faith alone!
Job’s witness isn’t about endurance in the face of great suffering. It’s about living in and through faith. It’s about choosing to live and heal damaged faith. Yes, faith is a gift of the Spirit but we all must choose how to use that faith. Job chose to use it to help him endure his suffering. Job was scarred by his suffering but he regarded his scars as marks of strength and courage, not vulnerability. Let us use his witness to help us in our own faith, in our own suffering, and in how we regard our own scars. Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.