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Hope

Have you ever noticed how much the book of Job is about hope? I know it has a bit of a reputation for being gloomy and depressing. I mean, the guy starts out on top of the world, living the dream, only to be tested and lose everything. The rest of the book is a group of men debating this turn of events. Somewhat akin to the classic Henry Fonda film Twelve Angry Men.

I love the book of Job though. In fact, it is one of the first books of the bible that I truly fell in love with. Just about the whole thing is Technicolor underlined in my first bible. Job was well acquainted with grief, and when grief struck my life he was my companion.

The book of Job is about testing and going through the refiner’s fire. But it is also about processing the loss and very real consequences of that testing. As Job processes his grief he gets into a debate about holiness and sin with his friends. In and amongst this debate they try to work out the viability of hope in the wake of grief and loss. Isn’t that a question we would all like to have answered? How can we find hope in the midst of calamity?

In chapter 4 we find Job sitting down with his friends. He’s lost his house, his children, his wealth, his wife left him, and now he’s just lost his health. One of the friends, Eliphaz, comments on the irony of Job’s predicament. Job used to help those in need, but he was still above them and retained his personal comfort. Now that need has touched his life and he is no longer above the needy, he is one of them. Eliphaz starts to question whether Job was as blameless as he thought, and asks whether he should put his hope in such shoddy holiness. (Job 4:1-11)

Eliphaz goes on in chapter 5 to say that only shady people trust themselves, and Job’s former hope should’ve been a clue to the doom that had now fallen. But he adds in the reassurance that God rescues the poor and disenfranchised, and they can hope in His justice. Implying that Job’s recent change in social status gives him the guarantee that at some point in the future God will avenge the injustice he would surely experience in days to come. (Job 5:8-15)

Job tries to defend himself in chapter 6. He says something along the lines of, “I thought I had led a righteous and holy life. If that righteousness isn’t enough, what hope is there?” Job starts to mourn his loss of joy, his inability to even enjoy food. He talks about how he used to be a source of life to others, now people came and he had nothing left to give. (Job 6)

It’s no surprise when Job starts to talk about how there is no comfort, only suffering in chapter 7. He basically says, “I’m miserable, my life is slipping through my hands. I’ve lost my hope.” He goes on to talk about feeling abandoned by God, like he lost God’s love. So Job cries out for forgiveness from God for whatever mystery sin he committed. (Job 7)

At this point another friend decides to chime in. In chapter 8 Bildad says how Job’s loss of hope only proves he was never righteous, because only the hypocrites and Godless lose hope. He tells Job to repent and get back into God’s good graces. Then he can enjoy the favor and restoration of God again. (Job 8)

Job responds to this by wishing he had a way to talk to God face to face, or someone who could be a go-between. He feels that if he could only make his case, God would see that he never wavered in his righteousness. Job feels he doesn’t need to repent, he just needs to make God see reason. (Job 9-10)

Zophar adds his two cents and basically says he’s with Bildad on this. Job did something wrong, and all this talk of making a case before God only makes Job look more guilty. Zophar tells Job to repent if he wants his hope restored. If Job returns to God in repentance, the wicked will be left behind in hopelessness while Job is safe within the favor of God. (Job 11:13-20)

Job launches into a desperate defense against the words of his friends that lasts for three chapters. Right near the end He says that a tree stump has hope for growing back if it is near water, but he has no hope of recovering. He accuses his friends of being nothing but discouraging and washing away what little hope he had when they sat down with him. (Job 14:7-19)

Eliphaz doesn’t like this and calls Job a fool, among other things, in chapter 15. But Job holds his ground in chapter 16, saying his friends are “miserable comforters,” who only added grief to grief. He did nothing to deserve the loss he experienced, he can’t explain it, but he did nothing wrong. (Job 15-16, quoted 16:2)

After this exchange Job decides he will only find comfort in death, if his life is over then the pain and confusion are over. He tells his friends that his life is over and he is ready to die. Job says if he has hope it can’t be found because it’s not there. He says his only hope is waiting in death. (Job 17:11-16)

Bildad (likely still smarting from being called a “miserable comforter” etc.) reiterates that only wicked people are punished by God, not righteous people. He goes on to describe the wicked and what they experience at the hand of God. Bildad says it’s someone who loses his home, his wealth, his children, and all security (aka everything Job just experienced). On top of which, the wicked doesn’t know the difference between wickedness and righteousness because he doesn’t know God. (Job 18)

Job is crushed. He tells his friends that their words break him down even further. Job says that if his life before loss was sin, like they were telling him to make themselves feel better, then God misled him. He again expresses his feelings of being forsaken by God and says that God left and took all his hope with Him. (Job 19:1-10)

This sparks a three chapter debate about wickedness, wicked people, and whether Job is wicked. Then Job switches the topic to God and His righteousness, so they debate righteousness and whether people are able to be righteous at all for another four chapters. At the end of which, Job spends five chapters defending himself with great detail and fine reasoning. (Job 20-31)

Job mentions hope twice in the midst of this spectacular speech. The first time he says that if he agreed with his friends’ accusations of wickedness he would make himself a liar and therefore make himself into what they are speaking into his life. Instead he agrees with the earlier statement that God wipes away the hope of the hypocrite, but only after establishing that he isn’t one. (Job 27:1-8)

The second time is near the end of the speech. Job essentially says, “If I had put my hope in money, worshiped false gods, celebrated the downfall of others, or turned away from the needy and vulnerable, I would understand Gods silence towards me.” Job ends the speech by saying he wishes he could break the silence himself and defend his life before God. (Job 31:16-37)

After six more chapters of debate about whether Job is innocent, God’s justice, righteousness verses self-righteousness, and God’s goodness. God shows up (whew!). God spends four chapters revealing his majesty and omnipotence. In the middle of this revelation, Job realizes he does need to repent, not from wickedness but from pride. After God finishes speaking Job repents of his pride and finds restoration in his relationship with God after which God restores everything Job lost, but greater than before. (Job 38-42)

I know that was a bit of a long haul, but what a picture. Job lost his hope because he was listening to lies and curses from those around him rather than listening to God. He clung to his right-ness, he was right and everyone else was wrong, including God because He wasn’t recognizing Job’s right-ness. There isn’t any hope in pride and being right. There’s only offensive and defensive in the game of Right-ness. Job was right but there was no comfort in that knowledge.

So when loss comes we need to remember the lesson Job learned and stop using what right-ness we possess as our shield against grief. It is a poor shield. Rather we should cling to God, His love and kindness. We should remain in Christ so that His righteousness might be our shield. Let’s kick pride out of our hearts and make room for God, His restoration, and His hope.

-Etta Woods

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