Have you been there? Well, there’s a part of the Bible that was written just for you — the Book of Job.

This is a story about a man who had it all, then lost it all, then had to listen to well-meaning friends who went on and on trying to explain things to him. If you need a break from reality shows on TV, take an hour to read and meditate on this Biblical reality show.

The first two chapters set up the scenario. Job is a good and upright man, and his positive life choices have resulted in robust health, prosperity, a large, happy family and a spotless reputation. Just the way it always is —Not!

Actually, in Job’s case, as in many others’, it all falls apart. This is described in two phases: the loss of his possessions (to marauding enemies) and the death of all ten of his children (to a natural disaster) described in chapter 1; the loss of his personal health and well-being (to debilitating disease) in chapter 2.

Both of these major calamities are preceded in the text by strange other-worldly conversations between God and “The Adversary” (Hebrew: Satan), in the presence of mysterious “divine beings” gathered to focus on this earthly creature named Job (1:6, 2:1). The point of this seems to be that seemingly illogical things that happen in the lives of humans may be caused by larger spiritual dramas that we can’t see or understand.  

Back on earth, Job is left barely alive after being pummeled by one calamity after another. The exclamation “Woe is me!” describes his position: His life is so dominated by one woe after another, that “Woe” pretty much defines who he is: “Woe is me!”1 All of this has happened in the first two chapters of the book. The next thirty-five chapters are taken up by extensive discussions of the meaning of it all. First Job’s wife expresses sarcastic comments on Job’s dilemma. Then three of his “friends” give elaborate arguments about why Job is suffering such loss, and he responds at length to each of them. After these repeated interactions, a fourth friend enters and tops the others with his own self-righteous perspective. Meanwhile, Job is still suffering and has no answers.

After reading a number of commentaries and studying the background of the Book of Job, I believe the four “friends” (Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar and Elihu) are not actual historical persons, but represent voices inside Job’s head, debating various possible explanations of the reason for the apparent judgment that has been sweeping over him in waves. “What have I done to deserve this? I’m willing to take my punishment, but I need to understand. Why me? Why this extreme?” After all his elaborate attempts to find meaning in it all, he’s no closer to an answer than when he started. 

BUT, there is an answer. It’s not the one Job was looking for, and it’s not the one you, the reader, were hoping for. The closing chapters, beginning with 38:1, describe a one-on-one conversation between God and Job that makes the terms of their relationship clear:

God: “Who are you to question me? I’m the Creator God. I don’t answer to you; you answer to me.”

Job: “I’m made of dust and ashes, part of your creation. I don’t have the ability to understand the ultimate meaning of anything, including my life.”

In your life, when things can’t get any worse, and then they do, do you hear assurances and explanations from friends trying to give you comfort and advice? Or maybe it’s those voices inside your head chattering incessantly, with reassuring platitudes that just don’t seem relevant. Maybe you can skip to the last chapters of Job and be reminded of the reality that God is God, and you are you. You’re not capable of understanding the ultimate meaning of anything, including the hard times you’re going through.

In Job’s case, God’s I-love-you came in the form of profound changes in his life fortunes: In the end, he gained more wealth, land and flocks than he ever had before, ten more children were born to him, smarter and better looking than the ten he had previously lost and another 140 years in longevity to enjoy it all (Job 42:12-17). The last words of the book are,

“So Job died old and contented.”

Don’t expect all of that to happen in your life. God described a fairy-tale happy ending in the Book of Job to reassure you that he’s got you covered. Some way, somewhere, somehow he’ll reward you far beyond anything you’ve suffered in this life.

– – Pastor George Van Alstine

1 “Woe” is not so much a word as an exclamation. In English, German and related languages, it’s the sound a person makes when there are no words that can express their intense bad feelings. Interestingly, the Yiddish “Oy veh!” is a variation of this.