Job was someone the Lord Himself described as “a man of perfect integrity” (Job 1:8). That’s high praise…sort of. Why do I say “sort of”? Because the book of Job is largely about the fact that God wanted something more than perfect integrity for His servant. For many of us, perfect integrity is the goal of our Christian walk, something we spend our lives desiring. But as Job and the rest of scripture shows, God has something else in mind entirely.
In order to bring Job into something more than perfect integrity, God hands him over to a time of severe suffering. God draws satan’s attention to Job; He puts Job’s family and possessions under satan’s power and allows satan to do anything he wants—short of killing Job (Job 1:12, 2:6). Job loses everything—his house and things are destroyed, his children are killed, his wife leaves him, his body is wracked with illness (Job 1:16-19, 2:7-9). In the aftermath, Job is left with three “friends” who tell Job he is suffering because somehow, somewhere—even if he doesn’t realize it—he sinned (Job 4:7-8, 8:20, 11:13-15). Job argues that he hasn’t sinned. And we know from chapter one he is somewhat right. Job was the poster-boy of religious conscientiousness (Job 1:1, 5). But Job’s words belie the fact that he still thinks God is concerned with his integrity. He still doesn’t get it.
In order to prepare Job for a different way of thinking, God sends a guy named Elihu. Elihu’s perspective has little to do with whether Job sins or has perfect integrity: “If you sin, how does it affect God? If you multiply your transgressions, what does it do to Him? If you are righteous, what do you give Him, or what does He receive from your hand?” (Job 35:6-7). Good questions. Elihu is trying to move the conversation onto entirely different ground. For the first time we get an inkling of something beyond the knowledge of good and evil, beyond an integrity based on right behavior or religious conscientiousness.
Last but not least, God Himself speaks to Job. When the Lord is finished, Job says, “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:5-6). Finally, Job realizes walking with God has nothing to do with his integrity or with him at all. He realizes that knowing God starts, in a sense, with his own negation, with embracing the Lord in place of himself. After this, the Lord tells Job’s “friends” he is angry with them, that they must make sacrifices to cover their spiritual blindness, and that Job will be their mediator: “My servant Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer and not deal with you according to your folly” (Job 42:8). At the end, The Lord gives Job a new family and grows his fortunes far beyond what they were before (Job 42:12-17). This isn’t to say Job forgot all about the deaths of his first children or the loss of all that he owned. Throughout the rest of the new life God gave him, Job no doubt carried deep scars of grief.
(To be continued…)