Imagine a “heaven” where you first sit down and watch a great movie. After each movie an even better movie is played. And so on, in a never-ending succession of ever-increasingly more wonderful, more enthralling, and more enjoyable movies. With every movie you watch, you have the assurance that the next movie will be ever better.
But soon it hits you: This is all this “heaven” will ever be. Not even never-ending, ever-increasingly enjoyable movies is good news. A feeling of dread settles over you. This is all of what your existence will ever be. And it is nothing but vanity, or meaninglessness, and breath in the wind. Not even this never-ending, ever-increasing joy is enough to satisfy the cavernous heart of yours. You were made for something so much greater. Something is still missing.
The outlook in Ecclesiastes is even worse. The book assumes the finality of death and does not assume a resurrection (although it logically implies one at the end). And not even the conclusion, to fear God and keep his commandments, is clearly a solution to the problem the book laments.
Jumping ahead, this is the solution: “This is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (John 17:3) The solution is this personal relationship. Without it, our existence is ultimately a lonely and meaningless breath in the wind.
A story to go with this song. God had used Waterdeep to minister to me deeply, like medicine to my struggling soul. I remember some very sweet moments with me, God, and a Waterdeep CD.
I heard Waterdeep was coming into town for a performance, so I took Stacie to this very small place downdown in Dayton, Ohio. There was this other band playing before Waterdeep taking forever to finish up. So I walked up to this random lady and asked her, “Hey, do you know when Waterdeep will play?” She said, “Oh, probably in about 5 minutes.”
Well, five minutes later, she got up on stage with Don Chaffer. She was Lori Chaffer, the female singer. I felt dumb, not recognizing who she was! But then they played one of the most beautiful songs. This was it. Over the years Stacia and I have enjoyed singing it together.
“Doing missions when dying is gain is the happiest life in the world.” (John Piper)
“Laziness pretends to yearn for rest, but what sure rest is there except in the Lord? Luxury would gladly be called plenty and abundance, but You are the fullness and unfailing abundance of unfading joy. Promiscuity presents a show of liberality, but You are the most lavish giver of all things good. Covetousness desires to possess much, but You are already the possessor of all things. Envy contends that its aim is for excellence, but what is as excellent as You? Anger seeks revenge, but who avenges more justly than You? Fear shrinks back as sudden change threatens the way things are and fear is wary of its own security, but what can happen that is unfamiliar or sudden to You, O God? Or who can deprive You of what You love? Where is there unshaken security except with You? Grief longs for those delightful things we’ve lost because it wills to have nothing taken from it, just as nothing can be taken from You.” (Augustine, Confessions, Book 2)
“The reasoning of those who distort or suppress reality, or alter historical manuscripts to protect the delusions of the simple believer, is similar to that of the man who murders a child to protect him from a violent world.” (Frances Lee Menlove)
“Cast your whole vote, not a strip of paper merely, but your whole influence. A minority is powerless while it conforms to the majority; it is not even a minority then; but it is irresistible when it clogs by its whole weight.” (Henry David Thoreau)
The Book of Job puts its readers in the middle of an unresolved dialog with people struggling to understand, or claiming to understand, the reason for suffering.
“If [Job] is a theodicy, it raises the question without providing the expected answer. God’s response is that the answer is beyond the ken of men and women. Perhaps a better designation of the genre of the book is ‘wisdom debate.’ (Longman & Dillard, 232)
All the interlocutors, with the possible exception of Elihu, are rebuked for their misunderstanding, and God establishes himself as the true source of wisdom.
“The central message of the book is implied in the hymn to wisdom (chapter 28). Wisdom belongs ultimately to God (vv. 20–28), and all human attempts to grasp it or contain it are doomed to failure.” (Arnold & Beyer, 296)
In Romans, Paul says, “But who are you, O man, to answer back to God?” (9:20) Paul reminds us that God is the potter, and we are the clay. Notably, he doesn’t provide an actual, direct answer to the question in view (how can God find fault if we can’t ultimately resist his will? v. 19). Similarly, Job himself is never given an answer for the reason for his suffering.
“While God chooses not to reveal the answer to this question to his human creatures, we still learn much from this book about suffering. For instance, if we do not learn why we suffer, the book does disabuse one common belief, the so-called doctrine of retribution.” (Longman & Dillard, 234)
Specifically, we learn that retribution is not necessarily an accurate or sufficient explanation for *all* suffering. While it is gererally true that sin leads to suffering, not all suffering is due to sin. The God whose invisible hand is behind suffering is bigger than retribution. Neither is he smaller than retribution. As with the man born blind spoken of in John 9, the suffering in view may be designed by God to display his glory in a non-retributive manner.
For these reasons I think of the Book of Job providing comfort like I think of Ecclesiastes providing meaning. They both remind us that God is ultimate, but both set up inadequate answers to the problems they address. At the very least they help a person feel like they are not alone — there have been others, even those of ancient times, who have struggled with the same sense of meaninglessness and unfairness. But God is still good, and ultimate, and wise. And we can simply trust him for that. God is God, and we are not. Let us put our hand over out mouth and worship.
But that was not the end. We can now read the Book of Job now canonically, within the wider scope of a Christ-centered canon.
Quoting Longman & Dillard (235–236):
“The story of the relationship between God and human suffering does not end with the book of Job. Job teaches that God is in control; he reprimands the innocent sufferer for questioning his wisdom and power. Job appropriately responded with repentance.
“The New Testament brings us to a deeper understanding of God’s dealings with suffering. In Jesus Christ he reveals his love toward his sinful creatures by sending his Son to die on the cross. Jesus Christ is the true innocent sufferer, the only one completely without sin. He voluntarily (as opposed to Job) submits himself to suffering for the benefit of sinful men and women. As Andersen (1976, 73) states it, “That the Lord himself has embraced and absorbed the undeserved consequences of evil is the final answer to Job and all the Jobs of humanity.” In Jesus, God enters into the world of human suffering in order to redeem humanity. Jesus experienced the height of human suffering on the cross, and he did so without complaining. The early Christian community saw the connection between Job and Jesus, so it was a common practice to read the book of Job during Passion week (Delitzsch 1975, 32).
“Jesus’ death on the cross did not bring suffering to an end. Indeed, Christians are characterized by their sharing in the sufferings of the Lord. To say that Christians are removed from the evil and pain of the present world on the basis of their conversion is a perversion of the gospel. In 2 Corinthians 1:3–11 Paul likens the suffering of Christians to that of Christ in order to communicate the comfort that is also available from Christ. It is interesting that he goes on to describe the Christian community as a fellowship of suffering and comfort.
“Thus the book of Job retains its power for contemporary Christians. It can now, however, be properly read only in the light of the suffering of the totally innocent sufferer, Jesus Christ.”
Arnold, B. T., & Beyer, B. E. (2008). Encountering the Old Testament: A Christian Survey (Second Edition) Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.
Longman, T., III, & Dillard, R. B. (2007). An Introduction to the Old Testament (Second Edition.) Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan.
One of the reasons I do not believe that Mormon prophets are true Old-Testament-style prophets is that the prophets of the Bible are batty-nuts-crazy. As in, cooking food with poop, eating bugs, streaking naked, calling bears down to maul children, awkward, politically incorrect, smelly, dirty, uncivil, other-worldly, annoying, and unpredictable. You would not compliment their manners. You certainly would not let them babysit your children. If you brought your children to their conferences, you would cover their ears and sneak out the back.
“We have prophets, just like in the Bible.”
Uh, no, you don’t. Geriatric LDS leaders in suits who smile with ten-thousand-dollar teeth and politely teach safe family values from teleprompters aren’t identifiably similar to prophets in the Old Testament.
Jesus was incredulous. He was exasperated. He was furious. He insulted. He ridiculed. He told of coming judgment. He EXORCISED DEMONS. He said he was GOD. He said he had final authority given to him to judge the living and the dead. He said he had power over life and death. He scared people. He confused people. He repulsed people. He wouldn’t answer questions asked by the local authorities. He stayed away three days knowing Lazarus would die, and then wept when he showed up to his tomb. He supplied the party wine. He preached fire and brimstone. He used satire and mockery. He frustrated his mother. He told his apostles they had new names when he met them. He used frustratingly vague metaphors and parables to purposefully judge a stubborn people (fulfilling Isaiah), and then later told the hidden meanings to the apostles. He chose a forerunner who looked and smelled like a crazy hobo, and who badgered the local mayor over sexual and marital ethics. He healed people on the Sabbath just to tweak the religious elite. He monitored financial giving and gave live commentary on it. He said the world hated him and his followers. He told people to eat his flesh and drink his blood and let them walk away misinterpreting. He had incredibly awkward and blunt conversations about spiritual things 15 seconds into meeting a stranger. He let a presumably sensual woman wipe his feet with her hair. He told a female stranger that she had five husbands. He went out to eat with creepy guys who preyed on families via financial extortion. He went to the most significant religious structure local to him and said he would destroy and rebuild it, speaking of his own body and predicting the destruction to come. He said he existed before Abraham.
What is “Christ-like” about any of that?
“Yeah, his smile is like this: [cheesy smile]. And his smile is like a million miles long.” (JC)
“When I go to heaven, and when I get my body later (that is called the ‘resurrection’) I will be happier and happier every day. But I will never be as happy as God.” (Me)
“That’s because he is just soooooo happy.” (JC)
“Yup, he’s so happy we can hardly believe it. He is so happy it is hard to imagine how happy he is.” (Me)
“But sometimes God isn’t happy. Sometimes he is sad or mad.” (JC)
“Well, did you know that you can be happy and sad and mad at the same time?” (Me)
“I DID NOT KNOW THAT!” (JC; classic line of John Caleb’s)
“God can do that too.” (Me)