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May 20, 1991

Responding When Life Gets Dark and Lonely

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The Book of Job contains what could be thought of as the most complete psycho-analysis of any individual in the Bible. As Job sat in the ash heap, overwhelmed with pain unlike any of us have known, his friends put his life under the microscope and brutally examined its most intimate details. They left no stone unturned as they tried to figure out why Job was suffering so much.
It’s as if Job went in for a counseling session, only to have four psychiatrists examine him relentlessly, for days at a time. And if that weren’t bad enough, when they were done, they released their observations for the whole world to read. Talk about full disclosure. Job’s was a life examined in the most heightened way.
Many scholars trace the Book of Job back to the patriarchal period of 1900 to 1700 B.C., which would make it the oldest book in the Bible. Some argue that Job is a mythical figure, but the fact that other biblical writers hold him up as a man of righteousness and endurance (Ezekiel 14:14, 20; James 5:11) indicates that he was a real person who actually experienced everything his book describes.
The popular theme of the Book of Job revolves around two probing questions: Why do the righteous suffer? and How could a loving God allow good people to endure such suffering? Another theme looks beyond such theological mysteries and focuses on our personal relationships with God. It asks the question, What is the nature of our faith and how does it correspond to the nature of our relationships with God?
Because James, the writer of the New Testament book by the same name, refers to Job as a man of perseverance, we can also include endurance as a theme of this book. Job endured a heavy load of difficult circumstances, and he emerged as someone with an incredible depth of personal faith and an intimate relationship with the God of the universe. He was tested and tried; yet his faith allowed him not only to survive, but also to thrive.
From a literary standpoint, Job is a poetic book that contains a rich variety of literary styles—adventure, romance, mystery, narrative, legal argument, and lament. Structurally, the book can be divided into three parts. The stage for the book is set in the first two chapters. We learn about Job, his life, his family, his business, and his faith, and we also meet God and Satan—two other primary characters in the book. The bulk of the book, chapters 4 through 37, is comprised of the dialogue between Job and his four friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar, and Elihu. Finally, in the last five chapters, God engages in a private conversation with Job. He humbles Job, and then He restores honor to his life and blesses him.
The Book of Job holds tremendous application to the world of work. Our jobs test our endurance as much as anything else in life. At work, we encounter circumstances we cannot control. We deal with people who might mean well but offer very little wisdom or guidance. We face perplexing situations that are beyond our ability to comprehend, much less to solve. We experience downturns and setbacks that rock us to the core. All of these prompt us to ask that quiet, secret nagging question that has been echoed down through the ages: Why?
We don’t find many answers in the Book of Job. But we do find someone who experienced horrendous grief yet refused to relinquish his faith. By following Job’s example, we, too, can have the strength to say, “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him” (Job 13:15).

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