The Gospel According to Job

Today, I want to bring out this book, out into the spotlight.  It is a tremendous devotional that makes its way through the book of Job.  I have leaned on it, and it has held me nicely.  I challlenge you to get a copy of this, and to let it work in the confines of your spirit and mind. ––Bryan

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Excerpt from “The Gospel According to Job,” by Mike Mason

 

“An Honest Look at Pain and Doubt from the Life of One who Lost Everything”

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A“Once I met a man who, like Abraham, had moved his entire household halfway around the world on the strength of a vision from God. When I asked him to tell me the story, he answered that there were three versions of that story, and which one did I want to hear? First, there was the version of the story that he told to Christians. Then there was the version he told to non-Christians. Finally, there was the truth. Job is a book that tells things from the third point of view. Probably, along with Ecclesiastes, it does this better than any other book in the Bible.

Not that the other Scriptures do not tell the truth. But Job tells the truth in a way that makes it almost impossible to pervert the truth into pious pabulum. A few years ago I went through a difficult time. Never mind what the problem was. It was nothing compared to the trials of Job. In fact, it was nothing at all compared to the sufferings of many of my neighbors right there on the quiet street where I lived.

But pain is pain, and suffice it to say that my pain was enough to drive me to my knees, totally defeated, half-crazy at times, and crying out for relief. Month after month the battles raged on, thick, dark, agonizing. I prayed, but somehow prayer did not ‘work.’ Usually nothing at all worked, except lying low and gritting my teeth until, for reasons entirely obscure to me, the straightjacket of oppression began to loosen a little––at least enough for me to get on with my life for another day or so before the screws tightened again. What else could I do? How was I to fight this?

In retrospect I can see that a large part of my anguish was rooted in the fact that there really was nothing I could do to control what was happening to me. I was absolutely helpless, and it is this, perhaps, that is the soul of suffering, this terrifying impotence. It is a little taste of the final and most terrifying impotence of all, which is death.

We Christians do not like to think about being absolutely helpless in the hands of our God. With all of our faith, and with all of His grace, we still prefer to maintain some semblance of control over our lives. When difficulties arise, we like to think that there are certain steps we can take, or attitudes we can adopt, to alleviate our anguish and be happy. Sometimes there are. But anyone who has truly suffered will know that when it comes to the real thing there is no help for it, no human help whatsoever.

Simply put, when we are in a deep dark hole we cannot think our way out; neither can we hope, sing, pray, or even love our way out. In fact there is absolutely nothing either we or anyone else can do to better our situation. We can have faith, yes; but in itself faith will not change anything. Neither faith, nor any other good thing that a person might have or do, can actually lift the cloud, move the mountain, or bring about an end to the problem.

Only the Lord Himself can do that, and when He does, as Exodus 6:6 puts it, “Then you will know that I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from under the yoke.” How will we know? Simply because nothing and no one else could possibly have done it. In this kind of crucible, therefore, we come to a new understanding of what it means to be saved, what it means to be snatched away from the brink of destruction.

Here we get down to the bedrock of the gospel. During my night of anguish, I turned to the book of Job, and there I began to make contact with the gospel in a way that somehow I never had in studying the New Testament. Reading Job, I found myself experiencing in new and astonishing depth the reality of Jesus’ promise in John 8:32,

 “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

 

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The Curious Case of Being Job

XIR84999 Job (oil on canvas) by Bonnat, Leon Joseph Florentin (1833-1922) oil on canvas Musee Bonnat, Bayonne, France Lauros / Giraudon French, out of copyright
Image by Bonnat, Leon Joseph Florentin (1833-1922) Musee Bonnat, Bayonne, France French, out of copyright

One of the most intriguing characters in the Bible is Job. Tempted and accused, ignored and maligned– he maintained a faith in God’s goodness when hell wanted to destroy him.

His goodness should not be questioned oe diminished.

“In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil.”

Job 1:1

Job becomes an oblivious participant in a cosmic exchange. God and Satan lock horns over Job’s faithfulness. God is sure of his love, while the Adversary thinks Job will fold when repeatedly tempted. But keep in mind, Job hasn’t a clue of who or why. He has to deal with life that is an enigma wrapped in a mystery. Job will soon become intimate with pain and suffering.

“Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who God, and shuns evil.”

Job 1:8

Satan is like a pit bull. And God has pointed out the character of Job, and what an enticing “meal” he would make. It’s a bit like slathering bacon grease on him and turning him over to the nearest pack of wolves. Satan now pursues his prey.

Again, Job is completely unaware of this contest. No one has bothered to consult him directly about this. Job knows nothing about this ”wager.” And it’s hard to be kept in the dark. I contend that had Job  known what was going on, this all would’ve been far easier. However, everything would be “unscripted” and  Job would suffer in complete ignorance. And that is doubly hard.

“At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.”

Job 1:20-22

But there was no sin! Job will not travel down that road. Yet he loses everything– all of it. And things are going to get even worse for him. He will be visited by three “friends.” However, they won’t help him. They will only make things worse.

The life of Job, and the “total war” on his soul must be our consideration and our precedent to order our lives.

The pain of Job should become the blackboard where we practice our figures. In the New Testament book of James, (5:11) we are told to think about Job. And in our deliberations, to consider the compassion and mercy of God. Ironic, in some wild cosmic way, our trials of faith are significant.

We should realize that if you or I are going to come out clean in this, we will need to emulate the faith of Job. I think that this what James meant in 5:10-11. We understand that Jesus absorbed all our sin and pain, completely. When we see that, we can come through just about any nastiness. It won’t make the trials any easier, but it will frame the full goodness of God.

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Trial and Error (and Maybe Some Fire?)

I’m personally convinced that living life is all about “trial and error.” We seem to be working out some holy experiment. More orthodox people call it discipleship, but that really isn’t the whole truth. It seems we are working it out in a spiritual lab keeping the good (like humility) and tossing the bad (like selfishness.)

We also experience blisters from “near-brushes” with God’s flames. About 30 years ago, I set myself on fire. I was in my little cabin in Alaska, and woke up on a January morning. It was cold, beyond cold. I set up the coffee pot and opened the oven door to get warm.

I turned my backside to get warm from the oven heat. It was then the fire set my sweater on fire. I went up like a candle. I couldn’t get the flames off my back. I tried to drop and roll, and all that happened was that I pressed the burning sweater into my back. (I also caught the carpet on fire.)

The pain was intense. I was panicking. We had an inside bathroom, and the shower was one of those massage kind with a long hose. By this time the flames were shooting up my back, over my shoulder and into my hair. I couldn’t pull of the tight sweater (which was acrylic and was melting on my skin.)

It took a little bit of time to get the water to flow through the hose– and I was burning to death! The water finally made its inexorable way to the shower head, and at last I found relief.

“He makes his angels winds,
    and his ministers a flame of fire.”

Hebrews 1:7, ESV

The night before I read that particular verse, and spent some time thinking about it. I’m certain I read if before, but somehow it seemed I was reading it for the very first time. “A flame of fire, how very odd,” I thought.

This was of those strategic points for me as I was wondering about any kind of “full-time” ministry. The irony certainly wasn’t lost on me that next morning when I flared up like a torch.

I ended up in the hospital with a lot of 2nd and 3rd degree burns down most of my back. It took a long time to heal, and I have some serious scars. It took many years before I could expose these burned areas to the sun.

Most of what I learned, was that I was a “marked man.” That our Heavenly Father was not adverse to using anything in my life, as long as it didn’t kill me. (I’m thinking of the Book of Job here.) There was such a slow healing, and it hurt so bad, that I must believe it was quite significant. So its trial and error–and sometimes fire.

“The agony of man’s affliction is often necessary to put him into the right mood to face the fundamental things of life. The Psalmist says, ‘Before I was afflicted I went astray; but now I have kept Thy Word.'”   Oswald Chambers

“The Lord afflicts us at times; but it is always a thousand times less than we deserve, and much less than many of our fellow-creatures are suffering around us. Let us therefore pray for grace to be humble, thankful, and patient.”   John Newton

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ybic, Bryan

Joy Comes in the Morning

“I will test you
with the measuring line of justice

and the plumb line of righteousness.
Since your refuge is made of lies,

a hailstorm will knock it down.
Since it is made of deception,
a flood will sweep it away.”
                                   ~Isaiah 28:17

The ways in which our Father tests us certainly can seem clandestine to closed eyes.  Most of us familiar with our own trials and tragedies would agree that these excruciating circumstances are spiritual tests.  I know I’ve had my measure of the mire.  I have lost three children — one to an abortion — and I have also lost three precious people to suicide in three years, and several more as well.

There are times I can scarcely comprehend the magnitude of what I have lost.  Some days, it is a hourly struggle to remind myself of the goodness of God in the midst of my oceanic anguish.  I pray constantly for the blessing of relief — even through the maddening rage of my grief — and I have a handful of blog subscriptions (including this one) that help me stay focused.  Many times, the words I read provide the precise encouragement I need.

I have devoured The Book of Job many times, and God’s speech always gets me at the end.  But, recently, I realized that Job’s three friends not only failed Job, they also failed in the eyes of God, who tells Eliphaz, “I am angry with you and your two friends, for you have not spoken accurately about me, as my servant Job has” (Job 42:7).  While the focus of the book is obviously on Job, that verse made me realize something very significant.

When so many bad things happen to just one person, is God testing just one person?  Is The Almighty so short-sighted?  Wasn’t He testing Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite as well?

Is not the same true for us today?  When we see our brothers and sisters enduring their own fires, isn’t God testing us through them?  Do we understand the magnitude of our Father’s love so very well as to serve Him so gratefully by serving others?  The purpose of loss is not suffering, but to learn compassion for those who are suffering.  In that sense:

Injustice is the measuring line of justice,
and suffering is the plumb line of righteousness.

Such evidence demands a verdict.  For without injustice, we have no need to demand justice.  And without suffering, we have no means to express our faith in gratitude through service.  Through my many trials, the times I have experienced the greatest joy has not been when God has taken away my pain — but when I have ministered to others in pain.

Granted, serving others does not remove my anguish or my struggles, but it has been through my suffering that I have come to understand the suffering of others with profound compassion.

And that brings me a wonderfully excruciating joy.

“Weeping may last through the night,
but joy comes with the morning.”
~Psalm 30:5b