|Series Theme: The Anguish of Job|
1-10 roughly cover Ch.1-4
11-20 roughly cover Ch.4-7
21-30 roughly cover Ch.8-11
31-40 roughly cover Ch.12-15
41-50 roughly cover Ch.16-21
51-60 cover Ch.22-33
61-68 cover Ch.34-42
Meditation No. 5
Meditation Title: Responding to Disaster
Job 1:20-22 At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said: "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised." In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.
We tend to live in societies in the West where it seems fairly normal to blame everyone else. The media's presence in our lives means we know a lot about a lot of people, a lot about our governments or about people groups within society and we are encouraged by the media to made judgements (as they do) about these people. Thus our responses tend to be shallow and predictable, which is the last thing you can say about Job's response. We will later look at the range of possibilities of responses when, later, Job's wife joins in, but for the moment we will focus on this single response of Job.
Before we do that, we need to remind ourselves what has happened because we often have a habit of romanticising hard times. Job has just lost everything. He had had a big and beautiful family and had been very rich. Suddenly, and it is suddenly, all of that has been taken away from him. Imagine a very rich man with a big family finding one day that there has been a stock market crash and all his shares and the shares of his company have collapsed. He also finds out that one of his business partners has been into fraud and the company is bankrupt. Then he hears there has been a fire at his beautiful home and his whole family have perished. Now we are beginning to equate with Job. Suddenly, everything has gone. He has nothing left. He is destitute and alone! It is into this scenario that he responds.
What does he do? He worships God. What? Well actually that wasn't the first thing; the first thing was to tear his robe and shave his head as signs of mourning. So, the first thing he does is show that he is in mourning, but now he is in mourning, he worships the Lord. How many of us, I wonder, when we have just lost a loved one, worship the Lord? This is all about maintaining perspective! As a church we recently looked at reasons why we worship. One of the secondary reasons is to maintain perspective. When we worship we acknowledge our smallness and God's greatness. Worship is a lesser figure honouring and acknowledging a greater figure.
These verses are perhaps one of the most amazing examples given us in the Bible. When Job loses everything he does not go through a list of the things he has lost and bewail their loss; he brings himself before the Lord and worships Him. It is like he is saying ‘things' are of second importance, people (loved ones, yes!) are of second importance. THE reality is God, and I must maintain a right perspective in respect of Him. Again and again in his teaching, Jesus challenges us similarly. Don't worry about ‘things', he says, but instead seek first your heavenly Father and His will (Mt 6:33), and that was after a teaching that implied, have a right perspective over possessions.
When things go wrong, how many of us have a purely materialistic response to them? We focus on the things themselves, or our loss of them, and we forget the big picture. Yes, they are important because we are material beings; that is how God has made us so don't let's deny it. But we are more than material beings, the world is more than merely material, it is also spiritual and God is spirit. The bigger picture includes the spiritual. I am always amazed by the way the writer to the Hebrews talks about Abraham when he went to sacrifice Isaac: “Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead.” (Heb 11:19). Isaac was the material love of his life but there was also a spiritual dimension which was even bigger. The material might die but God could make it alive again. God could bring back that which was lost.
But see Job's understanding of this: “Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I will depart.” These are facts. This isn't a depressing, “Well, OK I suppose it doesn't matter if I die with nothing.” No, it is fact. When you came into the world, you had nothing. When you die you will have nothing. No, you won't! You won't take anything with you into the next world, so you may have amazing wealth but you're going to leave it behind; you're going naked into the next world! Your wealth counts for nothing in that world! This is true perspective which few of us can really grasp.
But see what follows: The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised. This is a recognition that all that we have is by the grace and mercy of God. It is often said we don't appreciate this until our lives are under threat. At that point we are grateful for whatever the tiny bit we have left – life itself, THE most important tiny bit. We don't care if we have nothing; we're just grateful that we're alive. Psychologists talk about the survival instinct. It is only when the Spirit of God shines on the word of God and something of the truth of the next world slowly sinks in can we really feel positive about it.
God has made us material and spiritual beings, and that material side seems pre-eminent so that we want to cling on to it when it is under threat. It is only the grace of God at the deathbed that enables the dying Christian to look forward to what is ahead. The apostle Paul was able to say, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labour for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far,” (Phil 1:21-23) but for most of us, most of the time, we'd like to go on living and obtain if possible, in Paul's words, “fruitful labour”.
Job has a right perspective and this is before his life is under threat. To have riches was good, but if the Lord wants them removed, so be it. In the anguish of loss of family, the same is true – but it is hard, which is why he is mourning. Do you see what we have read? First he worshipped and then he praised God. First he acknowledged God's greatness (that is worship) and then he acknowledged God's goodness (that is praise). Within that he acknowledges that it is the Lord's sovereign right to give AND to take away. Wealth, possessions and a family are all gifts of God. We don't deserve them. Because we are sinners we deserve death, but instead God gives life and then blessing. There are some amazing truths here but to really let them impact our hearts, we'll probably need to pray and ask for the Lord's help. Why not do that.
Postscript: since writing this meditation earlier today, these verses have been going round and round in my mind. Often that well known phrase is used in respect of death: The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised. Of course it wasn't spoken by Job in respect of death but we take it as such. In case there is someone in the days to come who might read this and you have a loved one who is dying, understand that this verse also therefore says, that the Lord decrees WHEN and not a moment before. Don't listen to people. Listen to the Lord.