At the moment, in fits and starts, I am reading through the book of Job. It’s my second attempt at going through the Bible in a Year, and, as with last time, Job feels quite tricky going. It’s heavy subject matter, it’s sometimes tough to know what to think of the ‘miserable comforters’, and through it all, there is the echoing question of ‘Why?’: why Job in particular, why this suffering, why did God allow it to happen? And where is God in it all?
I am writing on a day that feels decidedly un-cheery. The news is full of energy companies failing, food supplies dropping low in supermarkets, the climate crisis, Universal Credit cuts, Afghanistan, and the now ever-present Covid-19. There are yet more similarly saddening stories. In days and times like these, it is all too tempting to echo the words of Job in chapter six: ‘What strength do I have, that I should continue to hope? What is my future, that I should be patient?’ (6:11, CSB).
How do we have hope and be patient when people around us are hurting, and our personal circumstances are difficult, painful, and stressful?
I cannot claim to have a neat answer for this huge question. I would love to be able to provide a formula, a quick outline of what to do to soothe a fractious mind. (If you have one, please do let me know!) There are, though, two points in Job where I see hope – tenuous and fragile, but there – breaking in.
The first of these is in chapter 19, in Job’s words: ‘But I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the end he will stand on the dust’ (19:25, CSB). After so long, this ‘but’ feels like a gasp of hope. Job knows that God is alive, and will always be alive. ‘Yet I will see God in my flesh,’ he says, ‘I will see him myself; my eyes will look at him, and not as a stranger. My heart longs within me’ (19:26-27, CSB). It is a longing, far-off hope, perhaps, but it is comfort nonetheless. One day, Job will see God. We, in the ‘after Jesus’ part of the Biblical narrative, might see another layer. We can have hope because Christ is alive, He is coming back, and we will see him face to face, not as strangers but as dearly beloved of God. We can have hope because we know the end of the story; we know the restoration and shalom to come.
The second is much later, in chapter 38. Here, God is speaking, asking Job a series of semi-rhetorical questions. ‘Who cuts a channel for the flooding rain or clears the way for lightning,’ He asks, ‘to bring rain on an uninhabited land, on a desert with no human life, to satisfy the parched wasteland and cause the grass to sprout?’ (38:25-27, CSB) It is an awesome read (in the old sense of the word). It might seem strange to find hope in these slightly intimidating chapters. But through these questions, God shows his power and vastness, his omnipotence, creativity, and all-knowing-ness. He shows us how huge he is in comparison to the problems that we face. He shows us that he is surely capable of bringing about that longed-for restoration, that shalom.
You may be familiar with the words of Julian of Norwich. In the account of her vision of Jesus, she records him as saying, “’I have the power to make all things well. I know how to make all things well, and I wish to make all things well.’ Then he says ‘I shall make all things well. You will see for yourself: every kind of thing shall be well.’”
As she writes, we can know that our strength and our future are in the hands of a good, sovereign God – our hope and our patience depend on him, not just ourselves. I know these are small thoughts about big things. But I hope that they, small though they might be, give you a sigh of hope today.