‘Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him’

The days God allots to us fragile creatures are “few, and full of trouble,” said Job. He certainly knew whereof he spoke! As time rolls on I’ve become ever more aware that each of us “springs up like a flower and withers away; like a fleeting shadow, he does not endure.” That’s Job again (14:1-2). God gives each of us crosses to bear: physical, emotional, mental, relational; he requires that some of us suffer far more than others.

That’s not a cheery way to begin a first column in a new year, you may retort. True: we know that we and this present world are subject to decay. And short of Christ’s immediate return death is inescapable. So why talk about it? It’s morbid.

Except it’s not. Job, in all his vast trouble (“trouble” is hardly the word for it!) never loses sight of God’s control of his life. Job doesn’t question that the living God is there. He understands that all is God’s to give and God’s to take away, even to life itself, and he blesses God for it (1:20). He makes that confession after his vast wealth has evaporated and his 10 feasting children have died in a day (children for whom he regularly offered purifying sacrifices, in the event they had sinned amidst their partying and were not right with God).

Job doesn’t doubt in the least that God is behind the circumstances of his suffering. (We know that there was a spirit-battle going on between God and Satan, behind the curtain, so to speak, as there is even now. Yet despite how things seem, this is not Satan’s world, but Our Father’s; and though the battle still rages, Christ has already won the war.) What Job can’t fathom is why God is dealing with him, a righteous man by God’s own standard, so harshly. Nevertheless, we read, and marvel: “In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing” (1:22).

Poison arrows

Job’s friends believe that he’s arrogant to assert his innocence, that he must be hiding serious sin, and God is “getting him” for it. To add to his suffering, he has to listen to their endless, self-righteous criticism. (Modern secular critics would see Job as the subject of some really bad karma.)

Job admits early on (6:4), “The arrows of the Almighty are in me, my spirit drinks in their poison, God’s terrors are marshaled against me.” He just wants God to crush him and get it over with (6:9). He sees God’s afflictions of him as punishment (wouldn’t we, were we Job?), but he keeps protesting that it can’t be because of his disobedience. He boldly asserts, “I will surely defend [or “argue”] my ways to his face.” I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel so secure in the good deeds of my Christian life, in my daily expression of the fruits of the Spirit that I would quite dare to defend my blamelessness so blatantly to God’s face. Rather, Paul’s words come to mind, “For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do” (Rom. 7:15). Yet we can adamantly protest our innocence before God if we are living in obedience to Christ, who in his sacrifice became our righteousness (and negated the need for those constant purifying animal sacrifices).

After all the speechifying it is instructive that when God finally replies, he speaks directly to Job; twice, in fact, and “out of the storm.” He confirms Job’s assertions of righteousness, but he mostly just reminds Job that he is God, the eternal creator whose motivations we mortals are hardly in a position to question. God doesn’t answer Job’s Why? Beyond praying for the kind of steadfastness in adversity and trust in God’s rightness that Job had, I think that’s the lesson for us here. God doesn’t tell us why, yet not one iota of our illness, our grief, our tragedy, is meaningless. Every bit of it is working for you, for me, “an eternal weight of glory” (as John Piper puts it, in line with Paul). Sometimes we ourselves can discern God’s purpose in our suffering, but he’s not obligated to tell us; and usually doesn’t.

Job makes several amazing confessions through his ordeal, but one sums up his deep relationship with God in a startling manner (13:15). It is one I want to be able to say with Job’s conviction, this year and every year God gives me breath: “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him.”

Author

  • Marian Van Til is a former CC editor who lived in Canada from 1975-2000. She now freelances for journals and writes books. Marian is also a classical musician and the music director at a Lutheran Church. She and her husband, Ed Cassidy, live in Youngstown, NY.

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