Job is one of those books in the bible where hope, at least initially, seems in very short supply. In short order, Job loses everything - family, home and all sources of income.
His wife and his friends arrive on the scene to comfort Job who, at this point – to compound misery with disaster – is sitting on an ash heap, scraping the sores on his body with a piece of broken pot.
Almost 20 years ago, I wrote a lengthy reflection on this most challenging part of the bible. What I said then is powerfully relevant today:
…. the reality of human experience finds considerable tension in the idea of a just God permitting the suffering of a seemingly innocent person (Job 1:12). It is all very well to look at the theory but when the rubber of pain - whether physical, mental or spiritual - hits the hard road of everyday life, then theory is the last place to look when the pain and suffering has to be dealt with or overcome. Such remains the lot of the believer today, as much as it did for Job over 3 millennia ago.
What’s going on?
Those who visit Job do the right thing and it’s all ok - that is, until they open their mouths. The presence of his wife and friends do bring comfort. He seems to draw something from their sitting with him on or by the side of his ash heap, as their share his despair in silence.
It’s only when they begin to analyse, explain and suggest solutions that things begin to go pear shaped. Then, Job is subjected to a range of explanations and a session of finger pointing which only makes him feel worse until he is driven to complain loudly and forcefully to God.
What can we learn from this? Is it right to sit in silence and never look for an explanation for the issues we are facing? Do we just accept without question or analysis?
I don’t think that we should apply a universal approach to everything we face. We should be led by God to do what’s right and appropriate in the circumstances we find ourselves in. It’s always right to stand with those in need: words can be chosen carefully, explanations and guidance sensitively given when needed and necessary, but there is great strength and power in simply being. Being there, sharing the load, pointing gently to the questions which can be addressed and away from the dead end distractions which cannot.
Job could not overlook what was going on all around him yet he continued to seek that glimmer of hope that would enable him to see a bigger picture. As the story unfolds the hope becomes brighter until it is revealed in its greatest splendour; God’s there with Him and will be with Him into the future. That’s His hope and ours.
I’m concluding my thoughts today with some words from Tearfund’s response to Corona19. These are powerful and encouraging words: they are not wishful thinking but a vision of what might be – provided we commit to realising it.
What will we become?
Here is our invitation to embrace hope and to consider how we can shape the future, beginning now. “Simply be” allows us to stand with others and with God: it also prepares us for simple acts of service to needy people.
If we lean deeper into God’s love, choosing faith instead of fear, we may find that new opportunities emerge. There is the potential for communities to come together more than ever before; for families to re-discover themselves; for busy people to slow down and build a rhythm of rest into their lives; for people to reconnect with God and his world; for nations to re-tune into God’s word; for churches to learn how to use digital technology to enhance ministry; and for us to develop more local, environmentally-friendly economies.
One day, we will make it out of this crisis. But what sort of world do we want there to be on the other side? Can we repent of the world we have created, and instead look to build one without such a huge gap between rich and poor – a world where we live in harmony with creation, in which we understand that the well-being of one is bound up with the well-being of all?
In Christ, there is always hope. We can let that hope motivate how we live our lives today as we hold on to God our rock. And, with the love of Christ in our hearts, let us continue to reach out with compassion and determination.
A prayer for today
God of love and light,
In this time of fear, give us your peace.
In this time of isolation, give us your presence.
In this time of sickness, give us your healing.
In this time of uncertainty, give us your wisdom.
In this time of darkness, shine your light upon us all.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.