By Pastor John Eger, Intro by Kevin Smith
Quitting is easy. But it’s also habit forming. It doesn’t take many experiences of quitting to make it your go to practice. Persevering is hard – super hard. It takes work and can be exhausting. I almost quit on a team that I played for because of many circumstances that were just piling up and really getting to me. Yet, deep down I knew it was the wrong path to take. I loved that team despite the faults and situations going on. Some of my friends counseled me to quit but some of my teammates stepped up to convince me to stay. I had to fight the doubts that were forming my own mind and hold onto what I knew to be true about myself, the team and who I wanted to be. In the end I chose to stick it out and I was absolutely blessed by the decision. But it was hard.
Job faced a similar decision though his circumstances were definitely much more severe than mine. He received a range of advice that including quitting. He had to fight to hold onto what he knew about God. It was probably the toughest thing he had to do in his entire life. He knew that God is good and faithful and never changes but there were enough forces trying to seed doubt into his mind. In the end Job was able to see what is spoken about God in Ps 100:5. “For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.”
Here’s Pastor John:
9Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.” 10But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Job 2:9–10.
As I read through the book of Job I can’t help but ask the question, “why didn’t Job just give up?” What was he fighting for? What was he hoping for? Why didn’t he take his wife’s advice?
Even this early on in the book we deal with the nature of God’s goodness. Is God good because He gives us good things and prevents bad things from happening? Or is God good because His character and nature are good?
If God is good based only on the consequences of our lives (if we do good then He is good, if bad, then He disciplines) then God is utilitarian. God is only as good as the consequences of our actions determine Him to be.
That version of God is easy to walk away from. In fact that is not really God at all but an idol of our own making. If we believe God simply reacts to whatever is happening in time and space then we have lost the sense of who God is in His sovereignty and majesty.
Job sees and believes in a God who is bigger than our utilitarian version. God is not good based on what life looks like at any given moment, God is good because His character is good, His nature is good. And every when everything goes sideways, that does not shift or change His nature. It just shifts and changes the way that we see Him.
And Job, as he complains and yells and demands justice, is trying to find God from that bent perspective. Job will not let go of seeking after God. Not after deep loss, deep pain, and bad advice, does Job quit.
A third of the way through the book he declares.
15 Though he slay me, I will hope in him;
yet I will argue my ways to his face.
16 This will be my salvation,
that the godless shall not come before him.
He, in trying to find God in this new landscape of pain and loss, tells us two things: Job will follow God no matter what, even if the pursuit kills him, and he is leaning in to God, not for comfort but to argue.
The God in whom Job has faith (the God before the loss) is different from the God he is now experiencing (within the loss). And Job is holding onto faith and trying to reconcile the God who does not change and the God Job does not now recognize.
Diane Langberg in her book Suffering and the Heart of God: How Trauma Destroys and Christ Restores writes that “a crisis is literally ‘a separating.’ It is something in life that is so significant that it becomes a marker. You think of life before and life after a crisis.”
Job is experiencing the separating of his life before and his life now. And his life now, amidst pain and loss is the attempt to seek and find God in a barren landscape.
11 What is my strength, that I should wait?
And what is my end, that I should be patient?
12 Is my strength the strength of stones, or is my flesh bronze?
Job keeps fighting because he can’t imagine a world in which his suffering is the biggest thing in it. He fights to find and relate to God and will not give up.
Even in his complaints we hear minuscule attempts at hope. The first 6 verses in chapter 14 are grief filled and verse 7 captures a glimpse of hope. In the middle of an ashen heap, Job grieves but cannot let go of a God who is bigger than his circumstances.
“Man who is born of a woman
is few of days and full of trouble.
2 He comes out like a flower and withers;
he flees like a shadow and continues not.
3 And do you open your eyes on such a one
and bring me into judgment with you?
4 Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean?
There is not one.
5 Since his days are determined,
and the number of his months is with you,
and you have appointed his limits that he cannot pass,
6 look away from him and leave him alone,
that he may enjoy, like a hired hand, his day.
7 “For there is hope for a tree,
if it be cut down, that it will sprout again,
and that its shoots will not cease.
Job’s monologues teach us that God cannot be neatly decided or dissected. And that is good news for anyone choosing to follow Him.
Job keeps fighting because he recognizes something is missing. And that something missing now promotes him to fight for something more.
When we experience loss we often stop fighting altogether. But what if we took our queues from Job and within the space of missing things, we find ways to fight for something more. God is more than Job’s sufferings, more than Job’s circumstances. As Gustavo Guitirrez wisely observes about the book of Job: “they complain to the God in whom they believe.” (On Job: God-Talk and the Suffering of the Innocent by Gustavo Gutierrez). When we experience suffering, it is not an invitation to give up, it becomes a place to fight with God about God in a way that leads us back to God.