Job was a “righteous man” (as far as people go), but he wasn’t very sympathetic toward other people going through tough times. We realize this only when his friends mirror the advice to him that he gave to others. (See Job: When the Tables Are Turned Part 1) It’s easy to think of ourselves more highly than we ought to. It’s easy to be “good” and religious when things are going well. When the tables turn, however, our attitudes and perspectives change. (See Job: When the Tables Are Turned Part 2)
The Book of Job is an example that religious people, and good people, generally, sometimes have a hard time sympathizing with people going through tough times. We tend to think that they deserve what they get for making bad decisions, doing bad things or just being unwise.
The truth is, though, that bad things happen to “good” people; and sometimes, “bad” people don’t get what they deserve. Life isn’t fair, as I say often to my children.
Job thought of himself as righteous, and he was righteous – at least more righteous than most. He was proud of his goodness and attributed the good fortune he enjoyed to his moral character and wise living.
Job and his friends looked down on others who suffered hardship, believing that the hardship they suffered was the just fruits of their bad decisions, bad character and lack of wisdom and faithfulness toward God.
Only when the tables turned did Job wake up to the fact that life isn’t fair. He may have been a better man that most or all of the people he knew, but that didn’t prevent calamity from overtaking him. The hollow advice he had given others (live right and all will be well) rang false when the shoe was on the other foot.
Of course, goodness and badness are relative in human terms. We often only think of goodness and badness in human terms, and we fail to appreciate that God’s standard of goodness is on a completely different level than ours.
Jesus made that clear in stating that “only God is good” (Mark 10:38), words that Paul echoed when he said no one is righteous, not a single person. (Romans 3:20)
Again, we have to look to Jesus to understand God’s standard of goodness (perfection). He explained the standard in the Sermon on the Mount, and Jesus demonstrated that standard in his own life.
Jesus went well beyond the Ten Commandments by directing people to look inward. We don’t satisfy God’s ultimate standard by refraining from murdering people or committing adultery, for instance. That’s only scratching the surface. Perfection requires that we refrain from harboring anger in our hearts towards others, refrain from casting insults and thinking them fools. (Matt. 5:21-26) Perfection means not even looking at another person with lust in our hearts. (Matt. 5:27-28)
Jesus went much, much further still. Perfection isn’t just what we should refrain from doing; perfection is demonstrated in affirmatively loving people. And, it’s not enough merely to love family friends and people good to us.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matt. 5:43-48)
Perfection requires love, the kind of love God demonstrated in Jesus. In Jesus, God emptied Himself of His power, privilege and position to become one of us, and He submitted Himself to the point of laying down His life for our benefit. (Phil. 2:6-8) When Jesus said there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for others (John 15:13), Jesus backed those words by doing exactly that.
Job and his friends had no sympathy for people going through hard times because they thought more highly of themselves than they should have. They thought they were better than they were, and they thought heir goodness (or lack thereof) should result in reward in this life. But it doesn’t. That is the harsh reality.
When the tables were turned on Job, he came to realize that it didn’t matter that he was “better” than others. He became aware that bad things happen to “good” people, and sometimes “bad” people reap good things they don’t appear to deserve. Job and his friends felt comfortable in a world in which they thought they could earn good things with good behavior, and Job is undone when he realizes the world God made doesn’t work like that.
Of course, we can’t be (we aren’t) good enough or righteous enough before God to earn what we think we deserve. We don’t compare to God. What is the goodness of people compared to the perfection of God?
And even more importantly, God isn’t looking for workmen who will come before Him demanding wages for what we have done. God isn’t interested in that. That’s why salvation is a free gift. It can’t be earned… so there is no boasting. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
God is looking for children who are made in His image who might have relationship with him. God isn’t looking for self-made men, but for people who will allow God to work in them to will and to act according to God’s good purpose. (Ephesians 2:10 & Philippians 2:13)
Does our goodness earn us heavenly brownie points? No! It doesn’t. As Jesus mentioned in the very passage in which he describes the perfection of God, “[H]e makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”
God created a world in which things just happen. Jesus tells us that the Galileans who died at Pilate’s command, and the people who died when the Tower of Siloam collapsed were sinners or more guilty than other people who didn’t suffer that fate. (Luke 13:1-5) Sometimes, things just happen. The important thing isn’t our good or bad fortunes in this life, but that we bear the fruit that God seeks to develop in us. (See Luke 13:1-9)
That fruit is ultimately love, the same kind of love God demonstrates in his perfection. (It’s also faith and hope (1 Corinthians 13) and joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal 5:22-23).)
Bad things do happen to “good people”, but God uses those things to accomplish His purpose, which may include bringing us to the end of ourselves where we will surrender to Him, letting go of our own righteousness and letting God have His rightful place in our hearts.
In the end, God restored good fortune to Job (Job 42:10), but this time Job knew it was nothing he had earned. And this time, Job knew God personally, because God met him in his anguish. (“My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.” (Job 42:5)
The Book of Job doesn’t directly or expressly “solve” the problem for evil for us, though it faces the problem head on. Rather, we need to read between the lines. Job refused to let God go until God “showed up”. Job sought God in his anguish and confusion, and he wouldn’t back off. Job came to the end of himself, and reached for God sincerely, authentically, desperately, settling for nothing less than an answer.
He didn’t get the answer he sought. He didn’t get to plead his case face to face. When God “showed up”, Job was utterly unable to respond. All he could do is tremble in awe and repent of his attitude, but God showing up was enough. It was enough for Job’s friends also. They saw their error and repented of their attitudes as well, comforting and consoling Job for the trouble he experienced.
When we have an authentic experience with God, we don’t become more religious, more moral or more righteous; we become more loving and understanding. We stop seeing ourselves more highly than we ought to see ourselves, and we become loving and sympathetic toward others. We begin to model the perfection of God who makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
We begin to see that God doesn’t want our sacrifices and religious observances; He doesn’t want our morality or our righteousness; He wants our hearts. He wants us. He wants to make us like Him, like His children who reflect His character.
The world in which we live – the good, the bad and the ugly – is designed to accomplish the purpose of God. It’s designed to bear the fruit God intends by providing the soil in which such fruit can be grown in us.
We may not know exactly how or why it works that way. We may never know in this life the reasons why things happen as they do. But we should know this: God loves us and intends to work His perfection in us if we will let Him, if we want Him to do that. And sometimes, we need to go through troubles so that we can come to the end of ourselves in order that we can become willing to let go of all things other than God and settle for nothing but Him.