When Your World Falls Apart
It all happened in one day. One day he could choose his tee time at the nicest golf course in the country; the next he couldn’t even be the caddie. One day he could Lear jet across the country to see the heavyweight bout at the Las Vegas Mirage. The next he couldn’t afford a city bus across town.
Talk about calm becoming chaos. . .
The first thing to go is his empire. The market crashes; his assets tumble. What is liquid goes dry. What has been up goes down. Stocks go flat, and Job goes broke. There he sits in his leather chair and soon-to-be-auctioned-off mahogany desk when the phone rings with news of calamity number two:
The kids were at a resort for the holidays when a storm blew in and took them with it.
Shell-shocked and dumbfounded, Job looks out the window into the sky that seems to be getting darker by the minute. He starts praying, telling God that things can’t get any worse . . . and that’s exactly what happens. He feels a pain in his chest that is more than last night’s ravioli. The next thing he knows, he is bouncing in an ambulance with wires stuck to his chest and needles stuck in his arm.
He ends up tethered to a heart monitor in a community hospital room. Next to him lies an illegal immigrant who can’t speak English.
Not, however, that Job lacks for conversation.
First there is his wife. Who could blame her for being upset at the week’s calamities? Who could blame her for telling Job to curse God? But to curse God and die? If Job doesn’t already feel abandoned, you know he does the minute his wife tells him to pull the plug and be done with it.
Then there are his friends. They have the bedside manner of a drill sergeant and the compassion of a chain-saw killer. A revised version of their theology might read like this: “Boy, you must have done something really bad! We know that God is good, so if bad things are happening to you, then you have been bad. Period.”
Does Job take that lying down? Not hardly.
“You are doctors who don’t know what they are doing,” he says. “Oh, please be quiet! That would be your highest wisdom.”2
Translation? “Why don’t you take your philosophy back to the pigpen where you learned it.”
“I’m not a bad man,” Job argues. “I paid my taxes. I’m active in civic duties. I’m a major contributor to United Way and a volunteer at the hospital bazaar.”
Job is, in his eyes, a good man. And a good man, he reasons, deserves a good answer.
“Your suffering is for your own good,” states Elihu, a young minister fresh out of seminary who hasn’t lived long enough to be cynical and hasn’t hurt enough to be quiet. He paces back and forth in the hospital room, with his Bible under his arm and his finger punching the air.
“God does all these things to a man—twice, even three times—to turn back his soul from the pit, that the light of life may shine on him.”3
Job follows his pacing like you’d follow a tennis player, head turning from side to side. What the young man says isn’t bad theology, but it isn’t much comfort, either. Job steadily tunes him out and slides lower and lower under the covers. His head hurts. His eyes burn. His legs ache. And he can’t stomach any more hollow homilies.
Yet his question still hasn’t been answered:
“God, why is this happening to me?”
So God speaks.
Out of the thunder, he speaks. Out of the sky, he speaks. For all of us who would put ditto marks under Job’s question and sign our names to it, he speaks.
· For the father who holds a rose taken off his son’s coffin, he speaks.
· For the wife who holds the flag taken off her husband’s casket, he speaks.
· For the couple with the barren womb and the fervent prayers, he speaks.
· For any person who has tried to see God through shattered glass, he speaks.
· For those of us who have dared to say, “If God is God, then …,” God speaks.
He speaks out of the storm and into the storm, for that is where Job is. That is where God is best heard.
God’s voice thunders in the room. Elihu sits down. Job sits up. And the two will never be the same again.
“Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge?”4
Job doesn’t respond.
“Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me.”5
“Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell me, if you know so much.”6
One question would have been enough for Job, but it isn’t enough for God.
“Do you know how its dimensions were determined and who did the surveying?” God asks. “What supports its foundations, and who laid its cornerstone, as the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?”7
Questions rush forth. They pour like sheets of rain out of the clouds. They splatter in the chambers of Job’s heart with a wildness and a beauty and a terror that leave every Job who has ever lived drenched and speechless, watching the Master redefine who is who in the universe.
Have you ever once commanded the morning to appear, and caused the dawn to rise in the east? Have you ever told the daylight to spread to the ends of the earth, to end the night’s wickedness?8 God’s questions aren’t intended to teach; they are intended to stun. They aren’t intended to enlighten; they are intended to awaken. They aren’t intended to stir the mind; they are intended to bend the knees.
Has the location of the gates of Death been revealed to you? Do you realize the extent of the earth? Tell me about it if you know! Where does the light come from, and how do you get there? Or tell me about the darkness. Where does it come from? Can you find its boundaries, or go to its source? But of course you know all this! For you were born before it was all created, and you are so very experienced!9
Finally Job’s feeble hand lifts, and God stops long enough for him to respond. “I am nothing—how could I ever find the answers? I lay my hand upon my mouth in silence. I have said too much already.”10
God’s message has connected:
· Job is a peasant, telling the King how to run the kingdom.
· Job is an illiterate, telling e. e. cummings to capitalize his personal pronouns.
· Job is the bat boy, telling Babe Ruth to change his batting stance.
· Job is the clay, telling the porter not to press so hard.
“I owe no one anything,” God declares in the crescendo of the wind. “Everything under the heaven is mine.”11
Job couldn’t argue. God owes no one anything. No explanations. No excuses. No help. God has no debt, no outstanding balance, no favors to return. God owes no man anything.
Which makes the fact that he gave us everything even more astounding.
How you interpret this holy presentation is key. You can interpret God’s hammering speech as a divine “in-your-face” tirade if you want. You can use the list of unanswerable questions to prove that God is harsh, cruel, and distant. You can use the Book of Job as evidence that God gives us questions and no answers. But to do so, you need some scissors. To do so, you need to cut out the rest of the book of Job.
For that is not how Job heard it. All his life, Job had been a good man. All his life, he had believed in God. All his life, he had discussed God, had notions about him, and had prayed to him.
But in the storm Job sees him!
He sees Hope. Lover. Destroyer. Giver. Taker. Dreamer. Deliverer.
Job sees the tender anger of a God whose unending love is often received with peculiar mistrust. Job stands as a blade of grass against the consuming fire of God’s splendor. Job’s demands melt like wax as God pulls back the curtain and heaven’s light falls uneclipsed across the earth.
Job sees God.
God could turn away at this point. The gavel has been slammed, the verdict has been rendered. The Eternal Judge has spoken.
Ah, but God is not angry with Job. Firm? Yes. Direct? No doubt. Clear and convincing? Absolutely. But angry? No. God is never irritated by the candle of an honest seeker.
If you underline any passage in the Book of Job, underline this one: “I had heard about you before, but now I have seen you. “12
Job sees God—and that is enough.
But it isn’t enough for God.
The years to come find Job once again sitting behind his mahogany desk with health restored and profits up. His lap is once again full of children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren—for four generations!
If Job ever wonders why God doesn’t bring back the children he had taken away, he doesn’t ask. Maybe he doesn’t ask because he knows that his children could never be happier than they are in the presence of this One he has seen so briefly.
Something tells me that Job would do it all again, if that’s what it took to hear God’s voice and stand in the Presence. Even if God left him with his bedsores and bills, Job would do it again.
For God gave Job more than Job ever dreamed. God gave Job Himself.