A job interview that didn’t go the way you expected. A dinner that came out the oven smoky and flat instead of light and fluffy. A checkbook that appears to be inflicted with the black plague. A friend that suffers from a chronic illness. A favorite shirt that gets lost by the dry cleaner. An over-active child that crosses the line of busyness one too many times. An ill-timed word that gives an offense. These are all individual moments of disappointment. And when too many appear in one day, they may result in discouragement.
And when the discouragement deepens, we may despair — even of life itself. Certainly Job knew the depths of such hopelessness. His family was decimated, leaving him with only a bitter, unsupportive, hopeless wife (though we can appreciate her despair since she lost virtually as much as Job). His riches? Destroyed. His health? Vanished. After suffering from the first round of attacks of Satan, his resolve was clear: “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord” (1:20b). But after the second round? Like a punch-drunk fighter, he wobbles. He gropes for the ropes, misses and stumbles badly. Down to one knee he goes, and out come these words: “Why did I not die at birth, come forth from the womb and expire?” (3:11) That is, “I wish I had never even been born!” There is a depth to the words that makes one believe that his complaint is real.
He is bold enough to say what many feel but are wary of expressing verbally. “Life hasn’t been fair; I haven’t received what I’m owed. It would have been better if I’d never lived.”
Job is staggered. But he is not destroyed. Throughout the debate with his friends, they seek to condemn him and he seeks to justify himself. But after hearing the judgment and declaration of God (chs. 38-41), Job’s perspective and hope return. “‘Hear, now, and I will speak; I will ask You, and You instruct me. I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear; But now my eye sees You; Therefore I retract, And I repent in dust and ashes.’” (Job 42:4-6). At the end of his deepest loss Job still finds reason for hopefulness. When nothing remains, there still is something, Job reminds his friends and us.
When nothing remains, God does. When everything disappears, God doesn’t. When all is lost, God will always be found. When all have spoken, God still has a better word of wisdom to declare. When we are blinded by discouragement, God may still be seen. When all has been taken away, there is one thing that will not, no, cannot, be taken away. God Himself.
There is hope in suffering. That hope is not that the loss will be restored. Not that life will return to the lifeless. Not that the sickness will be cured. No. Hope is found in the comfort of knowing that at the end, the follower of God will hear the truth of God and be transformed by that Word. Though Job’s possessions were restored to him at the end of the account (ch. 42), that is not the final lesson of the book. No, one of the primary lessons of the book is found in Job’s first and last words. In his opening words he complains and despairs that there is no purpose in life if there is suffering. And in his last words, he acknowledges that his suffering has led him to be taught by God and he desires that instruction.
God teaches His people in their hardships. He sustains them through the hardships. And He transforms them by their hardships. This is one of the hard and good lessons learned by Job.