“Have you considered my servant Job?” – God
Our church is several weeks into a preaching series on lament. Our working definition of lament is, “a type of prayer that turns to God with honest complaints and bold requests resulting in a decision to trust.” Perhaps no mortal has had more reason to lament than Job. In my family’s Bible reading, we came to Job last night. All we have read so far is a summary of his holdings at the story’s opening. He had it all: wealth, family, spiritual depth, respect. Knowing what is about to happen makes his joy seem so fleeting. You find yourself wanting to warn him, “Job! Send extra security to guard to your flocks! Don’t let your kids go into that house! Danger is coming!” He is blissfully unaware that he is about to lose everything.
I burned my lip on my coffee cup this morning. That’s close to the extent of my suffering. I brewed the coffee from beans I roasted myself because we are financially stable enough to indulge in things we don’t need for Christmas and birthday gifts. I only have 6 children and no cattle, but my life looks similar to Job’s in chapter 1. In fact, most of us in the western hemisphere live a life of luxury history cannot duplicate at any other time or place. That may be changing. We all feel it. Which is why the language of lament is on our lips. It’s stuttering and broken because we’ve not spoken it for about four generations, but it’s here.
At the time I write this, I have lost one friend to COVID-19. Another has received a positive diagnosis, and his wife is immunocomprimised. This family has suffered far more than most over the last 20 years. I fear for them. Additionally, I have one degree of separation from six other deaths I know of. It appears these numbers will continue to rise. I know of many who are mourning in solitude because mandated preventative measures preclude personal contact. I know many have lost jobs, homes, and securities. Our world is suffering.
We cannot accurately anticipate the extent of the coming fallout, but we all know the economy we’ve been enjoying for several years will change. For the foreseeable future, travel will change. Sports will change. School will change. Church will change. It will not all change for the worse. But, a lot of it will. Personally, I find it both comforting and frightening that virtually the entire world is sharing in the weight of this experience. Asians, Europeans, Africans, Australians, North and South Americans – none of us will escape the impact of perhaps the most rapid global change since the Flood. We are not living Job’s life, but it is not an exaggeration to say this is a very real and strange suffering, unlike anything we’ve experienced before. Ever. When you drive past the empty parking lots and playgrounds, it is right to lament.
We want to know why. The human being has an insatiable appetite for meaning. A cryptic verse in Ecclesiastes says, “God has made everything fit beautifully in its appropriate time, but he has also placed ignorance in the human heart so that people cannot discover what God has ordained, from the beginning to the end of their lives.” The translation of the Hebrew word for ignorance in this verse is highly debated in certain circles. Some say eternity, others darkness. Old Testament scholars tend to agree this verse means something like, “creation is working perfectly towards God’s ordained end, but He will not allow His fallen creatures to discover its secrets in spite of our endless efforts.” Indeed, that’s Ecclesiastes’ whole point! And, it’s Job’s experience and humanity’s experience, punctuated with things like COVID-19. We clamor and yearn for meaning, but we can’t find it.
In darker times, our ancestors would find a witch to burn or a virgin to throw into a volcano. Now days we find a politician to blame, a nation to sanction, or a new technology to fear. Something within us doesn’t want to believe that volcanoes simply erupt sometimes. Viruses don’t just happen, and if things like this somehow do happen “they,” whoever “they” are, certainly should have acted sooner, or should not have acted so severely, or should be more prepared, or should have a better answer for the economy, or should consider my job essential. Someone has to pay. Someone has to be at fault. A witch needs to burn because I need closure.
Job paints a very different picture. The story is troubling for many because God is actively involved in the suffering. It’s uncomfortable how comfortable God is with great discomfort. God did not just allow Job’s suffering. He prodded Satan to inflict it upon a righteous man in order to prove how faithful he would be in his suffering. Then, people and livestock died, the man’s livelihood was destroyed, his health became tortuous, and his wife and best friends blamed him for it all. In forty-two chapters of agony, God never told Job why. Is this the same God who invited all the weary and heavy laden to Himself for rest?
Paul would say, yes. Paul who was beaten, stoned, shipwrecked, imprisoned, starved, and betrayed would call COVID-19 a “light momentary affliction.” Why? According to 2 Corinthians 4:17-19, it is maturing us, preparing us, reshaping us to carry the enormous weight of glory that awaits the Christian. Like Romans 8:18, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” The chapter continues, rifting on the biblical motif of original and universal sin as the source of all suffering. If there is a virgin to cast into the volcano, she would have to be us. We are guilty. Our sin has torn the cosmos. It is our rebellion that has poisoned the bite of asps, laced the sun’s rays with carcinogens, and unleashed novel pathogens. If you are looking for a witch to burn, look no further than your own pointy nose.
But, Jesus! The same God who prompted Job’s suffering lays Himself on the altar of sacrifice. When you and I were to blame, Jesus yielded to the Father’s will and offered himself to the volcano of just wrath. This does not mean that all conspiracy theories are wrong. It does not mean our present suffering has no nefarious agenda behind it. I don’t presume to know. It does mean, Christian, that like Job, you don’t need to know. A weight of glory awaits you. Make today matter. Not by unmasking the evil behind it, but by yielding to the hand of God in it. In your pain, have you considered God’s servant Job? In this era of strange suffering, find hope in the only place hope can be found. Rest in Jesus.
 Ecclesiastes 3:11 (NET)
 Matthew 11:28
 2 Corinthians 11:25-28