Comfort in Strange Places

I have been working on a number of projects over the last few years. Recently, I have been editing and formatting a few of them. The one I am posting today comes from November-September of last year. This last year proved to be one of the more challenging that I have faced in my young life.

During that time I gained a lot of strength and help from certain Biblical books. This meditation in particular is focused on the book of Job. I have come to dearly love and appreciate this book. These thoughts come out of thinking and wrestling with my own life and the text of Job. My desire is that it would be of help to you. Here is the link to the document: Comfort in Strange Places: Musings on the Book of Job. Your feedback is much appreciated. Thanks.

Soft Whisper, Thunderous Shout: The Gospel according to Job

The book of Job is a stunning portrait of God as the Creator and Sovereign of the universe. In many ways, it is Genesis 1-2 with flare. Genesis 1-2 paints with broad sweeping brushes. Job 38-42 paints with small elaborate strokes. We read of God’s intimate involvement in all of creation. In four chapters we see God as the Creator, Overseer, and Sustainer of all these things: the sea, waves, mountains, wind, lightning, thunder, stars, clouds, sun, day, night, snow, rain, the desert, lion, raven, oxen, donkey, ostrich, mountain goat, horse, hawk, Behemoth, and Leviathan. As our view of God expands and grows in the reading of these chapters we grow smaller and smaller. We are put in our rightful place as creatures and drawn to worship a great God. As Paul made clear in his letter to the Romans, creation is a sermon all its own. It is telling us of the great power of the invisible God (Rom 1:19-20). It is speaking of God’s glory (Ps 19:1ff). It is a magnificent sermon. But listen to what Job says about this creation sermon. “Behold, these are but the outskirts of his ways, and how small a whisper do we hear of him!” (Job 26:17). Astounding. The sun, the pacific ocean, the rocky mountains, the sunflower, the rhino—-whispers!! Incredible. When we have explored all that he has made we have come to the outermost boundaries of his ways. We have merely heard him whispering.

With the coming of Christ we move from the fringes to the center. Whispering gives way to shouting! The invisible God unseen by any human eye is made visible in the miraculous birth of the Son of God. In Christ we see God. He is the God of the manger. He is the God of the cross. His character, his heart, his will, his plans—these are made abundantly clear. Though creation can tell of tremendous inventive power and careful design, only the cross can tell of sacrificial love and regal humility. Creation whispers, the cross shouts. The cross is God’s definitive sermon on his kindness, generosity, hospitality, patience, love, humility,goodness, faithfulness, mercy, and justice. At the cross the veil is shredded and we are welcomed past the fringes into the most holy place. At the cross God mounts the pulpit and heralds a message that practically eclipses the sermon of creation. This is why the cross alone must be our theology. The whisper must prepare the way for and give way to the shout. Job’s whirlwind experience must lead us forward to another earth shaking event (Matt 27:51).

Lament Dramatized

Claus Westermann called the book of Job a “dramatized lament.” In the psalms we only hear the voice of the lamenter and rarely do we know his situation. In Job we see everything. We see the circumstances in detail. We know the lamenter. We watch his lament develop and unravel. We watch the movement to solution. On one level Job is a lament psalm extended and detailed. It fleshes out the journey of the lament. It is a tortuous but necessary voyage. It’s a road that must be walked if we would ever come to a place of reorientation.

When you read the psalms sometimes it appears like a quick road from lament to praise. At times it looks like the shift occurs in a moment. Job shows us otherwise. The road can be long and grueling. The process is not easy, simple, or quick. At times the darkness will not relent, the questions go unanswered, the confusion prevails, and hope remains in exile. The resolution comes at a tremendous emotional price. There is nothing comfortable about this road.

The resolution is hard won, mainly because it is a gift unattached to our effort. We must journey but ultimately this path is about receiving. Just as God orchestrates the calamity so he must work the restoration. The way of the lament is a path that strips us bare that we may be clothed. Lament earns a man nothing. God owes him nothing when he has voiced his complaint. The answer, though rooted in covenant, is ultimately grounded in grace. God brings solution if, when and how he deems best.

(3) The Earthly Dimension

Job and Friends

The third and final dimension to consider is the earthly one. The lion’s share of Job takes place on this plane. The heavenly court provides the setting for the heavenly dimension. The dust of the ground provides the setting for the earthly. Job takes a seat in the mud. He is an earth-bound creature and as such he must process, grieve, revolt, and engage his situation on that level. His friends come and take a sit next to him. They too are earth dwellers. Their perspective is also creaturely. This dynamic is so important to understand. Both Job and his buddies are oblivious of what has occurred in the earthly realm. Borrowing from Ecclesiastes, their entire discussion takes place “under the sun.”

The five men (including Elihu) in this story all possess a theocentric worldview. Their thoughts are clearly informed by faith in the unseen.  Nevertheless their discussion is limited to their earthly capacities, perspective, and experience. The book of Job is a brilliant portrayal of human beings grappling to understand things outside their purview. There are important implications here for the life of faith. We live out our lives on the soil of this earth. All of our experiences and the way we process them are necessarily shackled to the earth. We are always in the position of Job and his friends. We are unaware of all that is happening. We are limited in our perspective and understanding. In short, the book of Job teaches us the significant limitations of a creature. It teaches us to know our place. It teaches us humility.

As rebellious human beings we balk at and kick against our creaturely limits. Sin in its essence is attempting to transgress our creatureliness. Being a creature is freedom for the creature. It is what we are made to be. It is liberating to live within our God-given parameters. It is freedom to leave off trying to exceed our limits. We are to leave omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence, and sovereignty to God. When we relinquish the illusion of control, comprehensive knowledge, and limitless power we are free, free to be a creature fashioned by God. The book of Job tells us we cannot know and understand everything. This is a good thing. It is God’s prerogative to know all things. It is ours to know few things. It is the vocation of the creature to be limited in his knowledge. The glory of God is his infinitude. The glory of the creature is his finitude.

Another take away from the earthly dimension of this book is a profound truth about God. God cares about the thoughts and conversations of his people. Chapters 4-37 matter to God. His omniscience and wisdom does not keep him from listening and caring about his creatures. He sees every flaw in our thinking and yet engages us with concern and patience. Our level of understanding and accuracy in thinking are not prerequisites for meaningful interaction with our Creator. He meets us where we are. He communicates with us there. He comes down. This is humility. We see this condescending glory all over the Christ. It is evident in his lowly birth, his human interaction and conversation, and his cross.  Job’s God comes down again in the person of Jesus.

(2) The Collision of Dimensions

Satan and Job

Heaven and earth collide as soon as the dialogue between God and the Accuser has concluded. The enemy descends to the earth with a fiendish strategy to strip Job of every thing he values. And this he does. Behind the marauding caravan that steals and destroys every last animal of Job’s livestock is the prince of the power of the air (1:13-17). Incited by the evil one these men became tools in his hand to assault the faith of Job. Though Satan steps off the stage in Chapter 2, the reader of Job must recognize his crucial role in creating the situation of suffering.[1]

The book of Job speaks to us of a world where an enemy roams about seeking to devour his prey (1 Pet 5:8).  The shocking thing about this book is that God is his hunting guide. Leaving aside that enigma, the book of Job is a relentless assertion that we are not the sole inhabitants of this earth. There is an unseen community that directly influences our lives. Angelic activity, whether fallen or righteous, has consequences for our existence. Two realms collide when fallen angels assault human beings. Two realms converge when righteous angels serve us and defend us. The conversations of the heavenly court ripple out into our lives.

The collision between Job and Satan is one-sided. The enemy crashes into Job. He seems unaware that one other than the Sovereign is acting upon him. Job does not try to engage the evil one in any dialogue or legal contest. In fact, he does not even acknowledge his place in this entire event. Satan assaults Job and Job looks directly toward God. This book gives us lenses that challenge our view of reality.

Job and God

We also see this collision as God engages Job. The Sovereign deity inserts himself into this earthly realm and interacts with Job on three levels. His hand is discernible in the suffering of Job. His ear is ever present in the lament and petition of Job. And his presence is overwhelming in the whirlwind encompassing Job.

 1.     The suffering

There is tension and paradox in these first chapters regarding who is behind the calamities of Job. We see this in the event of fire falling from heaven (1:16). Clearly this is Satan’s intention and plan and yet we recognize that this feat is outside of his capacity. He is a maverick angel, not an omnipotent being. The text says the fire is explicitly “from God” and that “heaven” is its place of origin (1:16). We see a similar tension in the wind that takes out the house of Job’s children (1:19). This is clearly the prerogative of the Creator. When Job laments his situation he does not identify Satan as the ultimate cause of his suffering. He identifies God. It is God who has “taken away” (1:21), an assertion that God himself does not dispute (1:22). We see this same dynamic in Chapter 2 and Job’s physical ailments. We are left questioning whose “hand” is responsible for Job’s malady (2:5-7).

The book of Job tells us that both good and ill come from God. This is an inconvenient truth that most would like to deny. Doesn’t identifying God as the author of our pain only compound our pain? This may be so. But failing to identify the true source of our suffering also removes us from the one who can do anything about it. Living in denial about suffering is no way to deal with pain. The only way to deal with pain is to go through it. Sheltering sufferers from the extensive sovereignty of God is ultimately damaging. Job certainly teaches us this much. He looks his suffering in the face. He rightly, though incompletely, identifies its source. And he correctly walks in it and through it before the face of God. It’s actually his view of the absolute sovereignty of God that equips him to suffer well.

2.     The lament and petition

The heart of the book of Job is an extended and rigorous lament. As Job feels the assault of heaven he in turn besieges the celestial gates. He comes before God with nothing but his voice. He cries out to the Sovereign. When you step back and think of it, prayer is an audacious undertaking. It is nothing short of an invasion of earthly inhabitants upon heavenly soil. It is the bold acting of a creature upon his Creator. In prayer two realms collide. Communication takes place between two dimensions. This is simply remarkable.

Job teaches us much about the place of lament in dealing with pain. He shows us that open, honest, transparent language is the appropriate way to engage with God in suffering. He shows us that silent suffering is dangerous. Communication in suffering is the lifeline of the hurting person. Voice is Job’s one remaining possession after the barrage of calamity passes. His friends try to rob him even of this. This book teaches us that voice is integral to work through pain and suffering.

3.     The whirlwind

The realms crash into each other in dramatic fashion at the end of Job. All realm convergence to this point has been subtle and muted. Both the Sovereign and the Accuser have worked through secondary means. The whirlwind is an unmediated visit of the Almighty. No messenger. No angelic in between. No written communication. God shows up and blows Job’s mind. The whirlwind reveals and conceals the Creator. He wraps himself in it like a garb to protect frail Job. A glimpse through the storm into God’s glory would bring total ruin to Job. It also reveals something of his nature. It is a fitting revelation of himself to Job. He is a storm. His origination is not of man. His direction and decisions are not swayed by flesh. He will not be fenced. He will not be controlled. He is not safe. He is glorious and awe inspiring. He is the Storm Rider. The Sovereign. The King. Let all the earth tremble and quake before him.

The sheer magnitude and weight of God overwhelms Job. Suffocated by greatness and glory Job is silenced. The one-sided dialogue that ensues is breathtaking. With broad strokes God paints a masterful picture of his exhaustive sovereignty and unassailable wisdom. All of creation is called upon to bear witness to his wisdom and governance—from the mountains to the deserts, the sun to the rain, the leviathan to the rock badger—all created things. The testimony is a harmony of praise for the wise and intentional Creator. There is nothing outside of his carefully ordered providence, nothing without intention and design.

At the end of the day it is the sight of God that changes things for Job, not answers to his questions (42:5). Encounter, presence, nearness, and vision—all more valuable and transformative in suffering than understanding. This is one of the most important lessons of this book. Job was convinced that a trial, answers, and vindication would soothe the pain and bring about the needed solution to his suffering. Like Job, we don’t know what we need.

This whirlwind conversation is a rich resource for hurting people. A few of these gems are particularly noteworthy. We learn that God’s absolute sovereignty is a surprising source of strength and hope in tribulation. Job is in the storm of adversity. God shows up in a hurricane like wind. God is not hiding the fact that he is the God of the storm. He does not cover up his governance over Job’s situation. The truth of his sovereignty is not to be swept under the rug when adversity strikes. Ironically, the source of Job’s pain is also his only hope. Cutting the kingship of God out of the conversation on suffering is not only unwise it is precarious. Only a sovereign God can help.

We also draw from this dialogue that creation theology is foundational for suffering well. It is astonishing to observe God’s approach to Job. After a barrage of lament, complaint, and petition God sits Job down for a creation lesson. By drawing everything back to creation God schools Job in the most important and foundational truths of human existence. God is the Creator. We are his creatures. Affirming these two truths and living within them has profound implications for the human being. We give God his rightful place and take our own. We affirm God’s infinite capacity and ability and recognize our limits. In this arena our perspective and questions on suffering or anything else for that matter are placed in the appropriate context. When we live within creaturely boundaries and refuse to confine the Creator we are rooted in reality and wisdom is sure to follow. God’s questions to Job are absurd precisely because he is a mere creature. Knowing one’s place before God is vital for right thinking about suffering and pain.

One final thing that can be discerned from this give and take is God’s tremendous concern for his creation. Skill and forethought accompanied every creative activity of this God. His sustained care is expressed through his extensive knowledge and ample provision for all that he has made. He is a God that delights to bring water on a land where there is no man and feed the young of animals we rarely ever see (38:26, 39-41). Jesus viewed this loving providence as a baseline for understanding God’s care for human beings (Matt 10:29-31). If the “how much more” formula can be laid over top of these final chapters then we have a striking affirmation of God’s care for Job.

Stepping back, we have spent time considering the collision of dimensions in the book of Job. We saw that the realms converge when Satan acts upon Job to afflict him with suffering. We also saw this convergence in the relationship between God and Job. We have noted that understanding the heavenly dimension is vital for a proper reading of the book. This interaction of the two realms is of equal importance for a right understanding of Job.


[1] There is a good possibility that he makes another entrance in the form of Leviathan in chapter 41. This is the argument of Robert S. Fyall, Now my Eyes have Seen You: Images of creation and evil in the book of Job (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 20. “Satan is not simply a minor figure who has a walk-on part in Chapters 1 and 2 and then disappears from the action. Rather the battle with evil is a major motif in the book as a whole.”

(1) The Heavenly Dimension

God and Satan

Chapters 1-2 take place in a realm that is foreign to Job. The heavenly throne room is the setting for the first scene of the book of Job. The main characters in this scene are God, Satan, and some other angelic onlookers. This scene is completely hidden from the sight of Job and his friends. They are never given any word from God or anyone else that this conversation went on. We the readers are granted this perspective. We, the readers, see the heavenly logic behind the earthly circumstances. This insider’s perspective is crucial to keep in mind as we read the book of Job.

As the heavenly scene opens, Satan is strolling into the throne room of the Almighty to give an account of his wanderings on the earth. He is a creature and like all creatures he is subject to the will of the Sovereign. Even his rebellion is placed in the service of the King. The conversation that ensues between the Accuser and the Almighty is shocking. God initiates the dialogue about this unique man named Job. He asks the enemy if he has considered this man. Apparently it is the vocation of the enemy to “consider” (1:8, 2:3) God’s faithful servants. But in this situation it seems his lack of omniscience had hidden God’s prized possession from his eyes. God calls Satan’s attention to this unique man from the East. There was not a man like him in all the earth. Job was a righteous, God-fearing man.

It seems that God’s boast of Job is nothing short of a challenge to the enemy.  Satan gladly takes up the challenge. He insults the Maker with his assertion that Job’s faith is fundamentally utilitarian. Satan is confident that praise will be replaced by curses as soon as the gifts of God are removed from Job. God grants authority over everything belonging to Job. His only demand is that Satan refrain from harming Job’s body, everything else is fair game.  In the second dialogue between Satan and God the ban is lifted and Job’s body is no longer off limits.

For Job, he was broadsided with wave after wave of suffering. For the reader, his suffering directly corresponds to an ongoing dialogue in the heavenly realm. Job was oblivious to this conversation. It is clear from this dialogue that God initiated and authorized the suffering of Job. It is also clear that Satan initiated the suffering of Job and under the authorization of God enacted it. The reason for the suffering is not clear from the text. In fact God says that Satan incited him to destroy Job “without reason” (2:3). The what, and who behind the suffering of Job are clear, but the why is not. The reader is in no better shape than Job on this question. Other testimonies in the canon assure us that God’s purpose and intention in Job’s suffering was not whimsical, but laced with compassion and mercy (James 5:11).

The reader must learn from these first two chapters that there is always a heavenly dimension to the various circumstances and events occurring in the earthly realm. The reality is, however, that we are like Job and his friends. We do not know what is behind the curtain. And for the most part (apart from Biblical revelation) we are not privy to that information. It is futile to try to search this out. It is also futile to try to interpret what God is doing or saying through his providential arrangements. This point is implicit in the earthly dialogue between Job and his friends. The text does invite us to understand that the earth is a battlefield. We have an enemy that roams the earth and “considers” how to best ravage its inhabitants.

The text also invites us to trust in the true God, not our perceptions of him. Most of us would like to cut out the first two chapters of Job. At the very least, we would like to edit God’s script. In these chapters we see God initiating a conversation that will undo his creature and servant Job. Job was not on Satan’s radar before this conversation! We see God granting the enemy authority to annihilate his property, destroy all his wealth, kill his entire family, and take away his health. How can God speak like this? How can God act like this? How can he give permission to the enemy to do this? If you let the text speak—astonishment and dread will grip you. If you dismiss the book of Job as an old covenant relic that’s mistaken in its portrait of God then you can go safely on your way. The truth is, there is no animosity between the testaments in their sketch of God.

Here is an immensely free and sovereign deity. Here is a God who is accountable to none but himself. Here is a God who does not explain himself. Here is a dangerous God, One who is unthreatened by our finite notions of him and unmoved by our feeble attempts to corral him. He is clearly infinite in his being, comprehensive in his dominion, and unfettered in his actions. Such a lofty God invokes reverence and awe in his creatures. This admiration will only increase when we realize that this same God used his freedom to bind himself to a body, suffer death on a tree, and conquer the sovereign grave. It is not another deity revealed in Jesus Christ. No, the God of Job is the Carpenter of Nazareth.

Like Job, when we come to terms with the expanse of his person we will put our hands over our mouths. Like the disciples, when we come to terms with a crucified King we will do away with our safe conception of discipleship. The nature of God revealed in his sovereign activity is intended to humble his creatures and inspire them to worship. These unveilings also have a way of destroying our ideas about him that we may reconstruct a proper view of his majesty in our hearts. In this regard, Job is a bulldozer.

The heavenly scene is a significant challenge to our naturalistic and mechanistic worldview. In the West, we rarely consider the possibility of a supernatural explanation for a fire, a theft, an attack, a house collapsing, a sickness, or a death (1:13-19). These are natural events that happen to people by chance.  Job helps us understand the overlap of realms that provides the context for our existence. He helps us see the ripple effects of one simple heavenly discussion. What then has been the earthly impact of other heavenly events (think for example of Revelation 12:1-17)? This does not mean we always know what is happening, but it does guard us from thinking we can explain every event that occurs.

At the end of the day, the heavenly dimension of Job teaches us that the terminal cause of all things is God. Job presents the reader with a staggering vision of the sovereignty of God. Job is correct in his assessment of the situation: “the Lord gave and the Lord has taken away” (1:21). Satan is merely a link in the chain of events. God is the creator and holder of the chain. This is why Job is also correct in his approach to his suffering. God and God alone must be pursued, argued with, lamented to, and worshipped—for he is the bringer and reliever of the pain. Walter Brueggemann has made this point well. “The lament form [of psalms]…gives expression to Israel’s most fundamental conviction, namely, that Yahweh is sovereign over the present situation and can work good out of it.”[1] The lament of Job that forms the heart of this book is the logical and correct response to his doctrine of God. Lament, not silence, is the touchstone of a robust belief in God’s unqualified rule over all things.


[1] Walter Brueggemann, The Psalms and the Life of Faith (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995), 77.

Seeing Job in the Mirror

Job only makes sense to the suffering man. We often approach this book like Job’s friends approached him. We find its message questionable and dangerous. At times we may find the message irrelevant. This is not surprising. Job himself tells us that men at ease hold misfortune in contempt (12:5). When we are free from suffering we are wearied by others suffering and seek to avoid them like the plague. We imagine that the sufferer is exaggerating his circumstances. We determine that things are not nearly as bad as they are making them out to be. We shrug off their hardship and wish them to just buck up.

This is not true for the man in the throes of adversity. The man garbed in sackcloth and covered in ashes will not scrutinize the book of Job. He will cherish it. It will be to him a drink of water in the desert that has now become his life. He will leave Eliphaz and Zophar and find a place in the dirt next to Job. His voice and Job’s wail will become indistinguishable. He will join the journey of tortuous questions and bold laments. He will walk the path of sorrow, pain, and confusion with Job. He will grieve and be stung by the words of comfort he used to throw toward the hurting. When he looks at Job he will no longer see a stranger. He will see himself.

Your circumstances inevitably influence the way you read this book. A current experience of ease or of suffering will determine your friends and your seat as you read. I assume that both experiences are necessary to understand the dynamic tension in the book of Job. I do believe, however, that suffering is the hermeneutical factor that brings this divine masterpiece out of the realm of theological speculation and into the experience of the believer. Job holds tremendous and surprising resources for the suffering man. I believe this is its purpose. God, the greatest pastor alive, takes us by the hand and leads us through this important journey called Job to equip us for life in this painful and confusing world. Job is profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness.

For the man who has seen affliction (Lam 3:1), this book will be a faithful companion throughout this earthly sojourn. Job continues to increase in value for me. In these last months I have been surprised by comfort. The solace I have known has sprung forth from unexpected and strange places in this book. This most recent journey through Job has taught me an invaluable lesson. There are resources stocked away in Scripture awaiting us. Resources we stroll by and have no use for at certain times in our journey. But there they sit and wait. Our time will come when we desperately need them. I have found Job to be such a resource. What a gracious and wise gift from the author of Scripture.

Some have argued that Job is a theodicy, a philosophical and theological attempt to explain or justify the existence of evil. I demur. The tone of this book is intensely personal and pastoral. This is no philosophical approach to the problem of evil. This is a pastoral approach to that problem. This book is filled with pastoral resources that will bolster, equip, and persevere the suffering individual and community. Equipping people against evil, not explaining it, is the intent of this book. We may have no further answers to the problem of suffering after reading this book, but we will have resources to endure and assail it. Suffering poses more of a threat to our faith than our philosophical underpinnings. A thorough explanation of the problem of evil is no guarantee that our faith will endure the evil we know everything about. The Bible is more interested in giving us what we need to go on believing and trusting in the face of absurd suffering, confusion, and evil. Answers and explanations do not do this. The book of Job is a strong testimony to that fact. God gives no answers. Apparently they are not necessary.